EMS Namboodiripad is Sorely Missed in Kerala’s Political Circles

Namboodiripad’s leadership, unafraid of taking a contrarian stand, is missed among younger politicians in Kerala.

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Politics
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As a temporary and opportunistic peace is brokered between the two warring factions of the Kerala CPM, EMS is remembered wistfully by the younger idealistic Communist party hopefuls. (Photo: The Quint)

A crucial meeting was being held at room number 43 of Hotel Maruti in Ernakulam, Kerala, immediately after the Assembly elections of 1965. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) had won 40 seats, the Kerala Congress State Committee (KC) had won 23 seats and the Indian National Congress (INC) had won 36 seats.

There were only 3 people in the room – CPM leader EMS Namboodiripad, Kerala Congress leader KM George and Surendra Mohan, leader of the Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP). The SSP had won 13 seats and these three parties together made up 76 seats of the 133-strong Kerala Assembly, enough to form government.

Who would be the Chief Minister, was the question. Veteran leader Namboodiripad, or EMS as he was better known, agreed to KM George’s candidature to the post but with two conditions – he had to make an open declaration against the arrest of CPM members and their branding as anti-nationals by the Jawaharlal Nehru government which toppled the Left government in 1959, imposing President’s Rule and forcing elections on the state. The second condition was that the state Assembly would pass a resolution against the arrest of CPM leaders in its very first meeting.

KM George dithered. Having been witness to the crackdown on the only non-Congress state government in the country by the powerful INC at the Centre, he did not want to openly defy them. He asked EMS to soften his stance. With that, the possibility of forming the government ceased to exist.

This, in effect, say political analysts characterises the legend that is EMS – a visionary, firebrand Communist leader who put party and ideology uncompromisingly above all else.

Post Independence, the Communist party was outlawed and EMS was forced underground for three years, with a prize of Rs 1000 on his head – not a small sum in those days. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/119115184834969/photos/pb.119115184834969.-2207520000.1458984337./535695583176925/?type=3&amp;theater">Facebook</a>)
Post Independence, the Communist party was outlawed and EMS was forced underground for three years, with a prize of Rs 1000 on his head – not a small sum in those days. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook)

Legendary Communist Leader

“If you search for the most important personalities in Kerala, EMS would be among the top five,” said Thomas Isaac, a leader of the Kerala CPM.

His contribution has been in building up the trade union movement and leading the national movement. His unique contribution comes with giving a theoretical explanation for a deeper understanding of Kerala society and history and drawing up a unified program for Kerala.
Thomas Isaac, CPM leader

Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad, the legendary Communist leader, was not a mere politician. He belonged to a highly orthodox family of aristocratic Brahmins. A radical, even in his teens, he joined campaigns for inter-caste marriage, widow remarriage and the eradication of untouchability.

EMS and the Communist party are synonymous in the minds of many. Though he is now remembered as a colossus among Communists, his political life started in the Indian National Congress as he joined the freedom movement, spending a year in prison after the civil disobedience movement. At the age of 27, he became the Secretary of the Malabar Congress Committee. Disillusionment set in when the Congress supported its British rulers during the Second World War and he threw in his lot with the Communist party.

Post Independence, the Communist party was outlawed and EMS was forced underground for three years, with a prize of Rs 1000 on his head, not a small sum in those days.

Forerunner of Coalition Politics

EMS became the first Chief Minister of Kerala after the 1957 elections. It was only the second time Communists were elected to power by a democratic process anywhere in the world, the only earlier instance being in San Marino, a tiny state embedded in Italy. EMS took this opportunity to bring in land reforms and educational reforms, laying the foundation for a vibrant society.

Under EMS, the Communists gained a stranglehold over Kerala politics – growing from 60 seats in 1957 to form the very first non-Congress state government in independent India to a low of 17 seats in 1977. EMS was also the forerunner of coalition politics in India. In the 1967 polls, he formed a coalition of seven parties to face the elections. This alliance won a landslide victory with 111 seats out of the 133, taking EMS to the Chief Minister’s seat for the second time. The party made a comeback slowly after the debacle of 1977, peaking at 65 seats in 2006.

Despite sitting in the Opposition in Kerala in 2011 with 44 seats, the party continues to dominate political discourse, with the ruling Congress too following policies espoused and influenced by the Left.

Snapshot

Why the Left Misses Namboodiripad

  • Namboodiripad was a radical, associated with social reforms such as inter-caste marriage, widow remarriage and eradication of untouchability.
  • Under EMS, the Communists gained a stranglehold over Kerala politics –the period also saw the beginning of coalition politics in India.
  • As Kerala heads to polls, in midst of intraparty tussle, EMS is remembered fondly by the younger idealistic Communist party hopefuls.
  • The distaste of having been a weak Opposition in the past five years is evident in Kerala.
The younger breed of politicians continue to turn to the textbook called EMS, a leader who, they say, was unafraid to take a stand contrary to electoral compulsions. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/119115184834969/photos/pb.119115184834969.-2207520000.1458984337./535695583176925/?type=3&amp;theater">Facebook</a>)
The younger breed of politicians continue to turn to the textbook called EMS, a leader who, they say, was unafraid to take a stand contrary to electoral compulsions. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook)

Is EMS Relevant Today?

As a temporary and opportunistic peace is brokered between the two warring factions of the Kerala CPM just ahead of a crucial election in May this year, EMS is remembered wistfully by the younger idealistic Communist party hopefuls.

“If only he were alive now, EMS could have handled the complex political problems faced by the party with ease,” stated M Swaraj, State Secretary of the DYFI (Democratic Youth Federation of India, a students’ union). “EMS not only had a great understanding of ideology but was loyal above all else to the party. The current crop of leaders who behave as if they are greater than the party should learn from his disciplined working style. The party to date, has not been able to fill the vacuum created by his death,” he said.

Practised hands at the roiling and often violent intra-party power struggle within the CPM, like Thomas Isaac, admit that EMS is a fond memory of a bygone era, remembered but not followed.



BJP graffitis on a wall in Kannur of Kerala ahead of state assembly polls on March 15, 2016. (Photo: IANS)
BJP graffitis on a wall in Kannur of Kerala ahead of state assembly polls on March 15, 2016. (Photo: IANS)

A Reformer

The younger breed of politicians feel keenly a vacuum in ideology, with leaders rarely sticking to or speaking of core beliefs. They continue to turn to the textbook called EMS, a leader who, they say, was unafraid to take a stand contrary to electoral compulsions.

“During the Iran-Iraq war he openly declared his position stating – ‘We are with Saddam, who are you with?’” said JKC Thomas, state president of the SFI (Students’ Federation of India, a students’ union). “He had also publicly declared his stand on the need for reforms in Sharia laws, despite opposition from the Muslim community,” he said. EMS had also famously derided Mahatma Gandhi as a “Hindu fundamentalist”.

As a fractious Left party – still boiling with bitter personality clashes – heads reluctantly into polls, the distaste of having been a weak Opposition in the past five years is showing. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sniffing blood, is circling in for the kill, tying up with the influential SNDP (Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Movement), a prominent voice for the majority Ezhava (OBC) caste in the state, the traditional votebank of the Left parties. The ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) hopes to brazen out corruption charges in the polls with popular welfare schemes introduced by the government.

It is at this crucial juncture that the very frank and no-nonsense EMS is missed the most.

(The writer is a journalist based in Ernakulam, Kerala)

Also read:

UDF Confident of Facing Assembly Elections, Says Oommen Chandy

Four Big Takeaways from Kerala Civic Poll Results

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