I came to know that CPI (M) Kerala State Committee and EMS Academy are observing this year the birth centenary of Comrade EMS Namboodiripad. This observation in honour of one of the outstanding exponents of Marxism of our times is a fitting tribute to his memory.
My relation with Comrade EMS spans for over 60 years and the bond that we shared during all these years was very cordial. We worked together for many years, taking many decisions to build up political–ideological and organizational movements achieving our goal to build an exploitation-free society. There were debates, exchanges of opinions and most importantly consensuses, in our joint effort to build a communist party based on a correct ideological path as a part of the collective leadership of the party. He was both a visionary and a communist with a strong practical bent of mind. He had a strong political acumen and at the same time he was a versatile and knowledgeable politician with commendable hold on a vast range of issues.
He was brought up in a wealthy and respectable Brahmin family, but he gave up his studies to join the movement for India’s independence from the colonial rulers. It was in the 1930s that he established contact with the communist revolutionaries of Bengal and Punjab. The country and generally the world, then was witnessing a turbulent phase that was marked by intense anti imperialist and anti fascist struggles. Comrade EMS too was influenced by the intensity of this struggles and he was slowly drifted into the socialist fold and then in the subsequent years started working to build the communist party.
His campaign against ill belief and superstitions and prevalent casteist feelings had started even earlier when he undertook the tedious task of reforms among his own family members. He took an exemplary role in building up the communist movement in the state of Kerala.
It was in 1939 itself that he became a part of the parliamentary politics in Kerala. In the early years of the 40’s he had to go underground and he went to work with the poor peasants and became a part of them by adopting their lifestyle in a befitting manner. The love and sensitivity that he showed towards the poor peasants remained an intrinsic part of his characteristics for the rest of his life.
He was elected to the leadership of the Party from the time since its very first congress in 1943. He made invaluable contribution as a leader of the Party.
In the fifties, when the party was in the midst of an inner- party ideological struggle he played a significant role by guiding the party and insisting on the fact that a communist party should retain its revolutionary characteristics. He was elected Party General Secretary in 1962 when the ideological struggle in the party became intensive. Comrade EMS boldly expressed his opinion in the party, and many a time we had debated on his opinions. I too, had some opinions in the party on ideological issues and later it was decided to incorporate both the opinions into the party fold for elaborate discussions. All of us at that time decided to work together to strengthen the party. After the division of our party in 1964 Comrade EMS took a vital role in building up party organization and also penning down our party’s programme. During his tenure as the general secretary from 1977 to 1992 he contributed commendably to shape up party’s political–organizational line.
From the fifties onwards he played an important role at the party centre and gave his vital inputs as part of the collective leadership of various movements. In the subsequent elections in 1957 when Kerala became a full fledged state under the Indian Union, the first communist government under his leadership emerged. It was under his chief ministership the first non - congress government was established in any state of independent India.
While we were not successful in West Bengal at 1957 assembly election, Kerala was building a new history under the leadership of Comrade EMS Namboodiripad. For the first time, the people elected a Communist government in the country and reposed on us a new responsibility for the days ahead. I still remember it was the third week of March 1957. As soon as we learnt of the news Kakababu, Comrade Muzaffar Ahmad, immediately sent a telegram to Trivandrum saying, "We have just heard of the success of the Communist Party in Kerala. We congratulate you on behalf of members of the party in West Bengal and all democratic forces in the state." The Communists alone got sixty seats. Independents backed by the Communists got five, PSP nine and the Congress won forty three seats. The total number of seats was 126. Comrade E M S Namboodiripad was elected the legislative Party leader with Achutya Menon as his deputy. E M S became the first Communist chief minister of the country. The other ministers included K. P. Gopalan, T. A. Majid, P. K. Sathan, Joseph Mundaseri, V. R. Krishna Iyer, K. R. Gouri Amma, Dr A. R. Menon and K. C. George.
I remember, on April 7, we called a meeting at the Kolkata Maidan to celebrate the formation of a Communist government in the country and the gaining of strength of the CPI in Bengal. The rally, which was presided over by Muzaffar Ahmad, began with a famous song which had been written in the memory of the martyrs of Kerala’s Malabar district. I proposed a resolution which said, "We have gone one step ahead with the victory of the Communist Party in Kerala. Our congratulations go out to the people of Kerala and we resolve to forge stronger ties among the democratic and peaceful forces in this state in the fight against imperialism."
After taking over as chief minister, E M S introduced a 16-point programme including major land reforms, farmers’ rights on their land and growth of the agricultural industry. He also appealed to the industrialists to take an active role in progress of the state's economy. The new government started work in earnest. In a matter of few days, the historic Ordinance which gave agricultural rights to 10 lakh labourers and five lakh sharecroppers came into being while one lakh acre of agricultural land was distributed to landless farmers. All political detenus were released. The Kerala government also announced that the police would not be used to break any democratic agitation.
All these were noble efforts, particularly compared with the experience of long Congress regimes earlier. This was a major responsibility; on the one hand the government had to function within the bourgeoisie-zamindar political structure while, on the other hand, the onus was on the government to lend a revolutionary role to the people’s struggle.
In 1952, the Communist Party had won 27 of the 60 Lok Sabha constituencies that it had contested while out of the 122 it had contested this time, 29 had been elected. But the number of votes polled for the party had doubled.
The party had formed the government in the state during second general elections by becoming the single largest party. Jawarharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister then, while his daughter, Indira Gandhi, was the president of the AICC. We all know how tirelessly Prime Minister Nehru and his daughter tried to prevent the Communists from coming to power in Kerala. However, they did not succeed.
E. M. S took over as chief minister amid a wave of people’s support and encouragement in Kerala. But on July 31, 1959, the President used Article 356 to dismiss the state Assembly.
There were many tactics which were adopted to prevent the Communist ministry from working to a programme. The AICC with Mrs Gandhi at its helm entered into an unholy alliance with reactionary and opportunistic forces and parties. A disinformation campaign was launched which said that the masses wanted the Kerala government to go. It isn’t exactly a top secret that Prime Minister Nehru had called E.M.S. and asked him the resign, dissolve Assembly and call fresh elections. But E.M.S. ignored this pressure tactics and thus the unrelenting efforts to dismiss the Kerala government continued.
The progressive attitude and some of the virtuous Bills on land reforms and the education system had set the cat among the pigeons in Kerala. These steps had come rudely shocked the vested interests in the state. The so-called popular "mass movement" against the Kerala government had not touched the majority of the people of the state because by the time, an agitation to protect the state government had spread throughout the nation. The people’s demand was to get the Congress out of Kerala.
When the disinformation campaign failed and the much expected mass movement against the Kerala government did not come by, the Centre resorted to Article 356 and imposed President’s rule in Kerala.
On June 6, E.M.S. had come to Calcutta and two lakh people were there to receive him at the Maidan. Women blew conch shells to welcome the first Communist Chief Minister of the country. I was in Delhi when the decision to impose President’s rule in Kerala was announced. Bhupesh Gupta and Dinesh Roy were there along with me. We had gone to present a memorandum of grievances against the West Bengal government.
On August 7, a huge rally was taken out which culminated in the Maidan protesting against the action in Kerala. On July 14, a resolution was adopted at the National Council of the CPI which rejected the proposal for re-election in Kerala.
On July 15, 1959 Triguna Sen, journalist Vivekananda Mukherjee, Dr Paresh Chandra Sen, Satyajit Ray, Susobhan Sarkar, Hemanta Mukherjee, Gopal Chandra Halder, Sambhu Mitra. Mihir Sen, Binoy Ghosh, Asitbaran, Suchitra Mitra, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and other intellectuals like Nandagopal Sengupta appealed to the President and the Prime Minister in which they said, "Those who are unified to oust the Kerala government by unholy means are working to strike at the roots of Indian democracy. We request that such efforts be stopped immediately. "A separate appeal entitled Intervention shall not be allowed in Kerala" was sent to the President by playwright Bijan Bhattarcharya, actor Bhanu Banerjee and scientist B D Nagchowdhury. On July 15, 1959, a letter signed by 17,336 residents of Calcutta was sent to the President carrying the same message.
On July 3, the party’s West Bengal state committee held a rally at the Monument which was attended by more than one lakh people. Indrajit Gupta and I spoke on the occasion. I said that the need of the hour was not to get disillusioned but defend the forces of democracy against Congress dictatorship with fortitude and discipline. A strong movement was necessary for this. Amar Bose of the Forward Bloc (Marxist) presided over this rally. On the same day, when the demand to place the Kerala Governor’s report in the Lok Sabha was rejected, the majority of the Opposition members staged a walkout. At that time, Dangey was the leader of the Communist Parliamentary Party. On that very day, I was addressing a press conference in Delhi where I placed the views of the West Bengal State Council of the party. It was during this press conference that we got news that the Kerala government had been dismissed.
Shortly before going to Delhi, I had met Dr Roy. He had told me that he was against the tactics of the Congress in Kerala and that he did not like the way an elected government was being harassed. He had indicated this to the Congress Working Committee. I remember Dr Roy telling me that it needed a strong hand to run a government. I asked him what he would have done if he had been in E.M.S.’s shoes. The Chief Minister replied, “I would have arrested all the agitators and taken strict administrative steps." Needless to say, we had ourselves been subject to the "strong administrative steps" as suggested by the Chief Minister. Bhupesh Gupta and I went to meet Feroze Gandhi after the press conference. He did not stay in the residence of the Prime Minister at that time and had shifted to one of the flats allotted to parliamentarians on North Avenue. While asking us to sit, Feroze Gandhi said "A murder has been committed today. Democracy has been killed in Kerala." That day, he told us many other stories. That does not require mention here.
However, during this brief tenure the state government embarked on radical land reforms and had taken concrete steps on democratization of education system and strengthening health facilities and took steps to uphold the rights of workers and farmers. The stand taken by EMS government acted as a torchbearer for future struggle in the history of Indian democracy. He was successfully able to consolidate the struggle both inside and outside of the Parliament. His legendary skills helped in shaping our party’s political strategy in the later stages of struggle.
In 1967 assembly elections, non-Congress governments came up in eight states of India, including West Bengal. In Kerala again a non-Congress government was formed under the stewardship of Comrade EMS. But unfortunately CPI, a partner of the left withdraw themselves from this government and joined hands with the Congress. Again the non-Congress government in Kerala though destined to fall was able to have an impact by introducing pro-people policies distinct from its predecessors. This invaluable experience helped us immensely while we managed the successful Left coalition in the State of West Bengal in 1967 and 1969 as part of the United Front government.
Comrade EMS was a glaring example of a communist leader, who showed all the qualities that one communist should have, and he rightfully had earned accolades, nationally and internationally.
Though he was extremely busy to keep his political and organizational commitments, still he managed to find out time to write the history of India from the Marxist point of view. He contributed immensely to Marxist literature. His writings on the history of India’s Freedom struggle, trade union movement, and cultural movement are considered to be masterpieces. His fame as an eminent author and as an acclaimed intellectual was spread even beyond the Party circles. His opinions, writings also served as guidelines to our party at some of the important junctures of national politics. Comrade EMS was not only a national leader but also a leader of the international communist movement.
Apart from Party Polit Bureau and central committee meetings we met and exchanged each other’s views many a time. His simplicity, exemplary honest behavior, his life as a communist earned respect of those who came in touch with him. In his death the country has lost a prodigal and idealistic personality.
Comrade EMS’s contribution in all these seven long decades will be a milestone not only for our party but to the entire nation. After 1992 due to illness his movement was restricted to his home state of Kerala though he regularly wrote his opinions about different subjects to various party forums on different issues and was a regular contributor to the party’s literary circuit. His ability to study sequentially different issues was another rare attributes of his memorable life.