BETWEEN December 1991 and March 1998, octogenarian E.M.S. Namboodiripad wrote 128 columns for Frontline on an impressive - indeed awesome - range of subjects. For these seven years and more, his was simply the most dependable contribution from the standpoint of the editorial desk. The EMS column always arrived early, invariably on time, and never strayed beyond a self-judged readability limit. No full-time professional journalist could hold a candle to EMS when it came to showing deadline discipline or responding to breaking news or accommodating a special theme-related publishing request. He was a Master at handling history on the wing.
Between December 1991 and April 1994, EMS wrote one column a month for Frontline. Then he proposed in a letter that he had decided to write for every issue, an offer that was gratefully and immediately accepted.
“Perspective”, the EMS column, ranged over politics, philosophy, economics, education, social movements, literature, cultural affairs, religion and books. He wrote about Marxism and revolutionary socialism, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, Gandhism, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian freedom struggle, other liberation movements and their leaders (especially Nelson Mandela), the ruling classes, planning, secularism, the Rig Veda, Advaita, Hindutva, Centre-State contradictions, budgets, new economic policies, self-reliance, foreign policy, liberation theology, religious fundamentalism, corruption, the politician-criminal nexus, Congress affairs, Sitaram Kesri, Sonia Gandhi, the United Front, coalitions, panchayati raj, decentralisation, nuclear policy, working class struggles, empowering women, and handling river water disputes. His last column, posthumously carried in this remembrance issue, is titled “Centre, States and river waters”; it is sharply critical of the AIADMK’s demand that the Centre should take over the States’ rights over river waters.
How the EMS column began for us may be of interest to readers. EMS has always valued serious journalism and been contemptuous of trivialising, entertainment-led tendencies masquerading as journalism. When he was in Chennai for the 1991 Party Congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), he conveyed to Frontline’s Editor appreciation of what the magazine offered (revealing that he read it from cover to cover) and contrasted this with the vast amounts of “trash” put out in print. When a request was made that he write a regular column, it was accepted and, in typical EMS style, immediately acted upon.
Within a couple of days after the first cheque by way of payment for the column reached EMS, it was returned with a courteous signed letter. EMS noted that for quite some time he had not been accepting any payment for his articles, royalties and so forth. He was therefore returning our cheque. However, if Frontline wished, any payment for his contributions could be sent to the AKG Centre in Thiruvananthapuram (to which he had assigned all his royalties and so forth). The party’s receipt on account of royalties and payments for articles due to EMS has been very substantial.