An icon for millions

Published : Jan 23, 2015 12:30 IST

Thiruvanathapuram, 1957: E.M.S. Namboodiripad being sworn in as the first Communist Chief Minister of Kerala.

Thiruvanathapuram, 1957: E.M.S. Namboodiripad being sworn in as the first Communist Chief Minister of Kerala.

Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad, Marxist politician and theorist, was the Chief Minister of the first elected communist party government in Kerala, from 1957 to 1959. He was Chief Minister of Kerala again from 1967 to 1969. He passed away on March 19, 1998.

IT is with a very heavy heart that I am writing this piece. I am yet to grasp the meaning of the reality of my Comrade EMS Namboodiripad being no more. I write in grief with no certain idea of how much justice I will be able to do to his memory.

Comrade EMS was to me what he was to millions of others in Kerala and outside, a dear and near one. He was one of my closest friends and colleagues. To millions of ordinary people in Kerala, EMS, as he was popularly known, was an icon. No other single individual has made as immense a contribution as EMS has in the shaping of the destiny of both Kerala and the Communist movement in this country. The millions who rushed to Thiruvanantha-puram on hearing of his death with tear-filled eyes bear testimony to the love and affection they had for Comrade EMS.

EMS was loved, respected, adored. To the ordinary people of Kerala, a mere sight of their dear leader was a life’s desire accomplished. He was an affectionate comrade, caring and enquiring about the well-being of his comrades; he was a leader par excellence who combined theoretical understanding with practical work; he deeply felt for the poor and underprivileged, who in turn cared deeply for him; he was a colleague who respected the views of others even if he had reservations and differences; he was like a saint to many; he was one who lent an ear to anyone who approached him. These are the qualities that set Comrade EMS apart from the broad spectrum of political leadership in the country. He was one of the tallest personalities the 20th century has produced.

Comrade EMS was initiated into politics at a very young age. He began his work by trying to initiate reforms in his own Namboodiri community through the Namboodiri Yogakshema Sabha. He came from a wealthy upper-caste family. Yet he gave up his college education midstream to pursue his goal of being in the service of the people. There was no turning back from this path. In 1931, he was drawn into the Congress movement, and jailed for participating in the Civil Disobedience struggle. Disillusioned with the Congress, he became one of the founders of the Congress Socialist Party in Kerala with a view to linking the struggle for national freedom with the struggle for social revolution.

In this the October Socialist Revolution was a big inspiration. Comrade EMS’ everlasting thirst for knowledge led him to study the theory of scientific socialism. In 1938, he along with P. Krishan Pillai, A.K. Gopalan and others formed the illegal Communist Party in Kerala.

EMS was also one of founders of the All India Kisan Sabha in 1936.

When he was elected to the Madras Provincial Legislature Assembly in 1939, he marked himself out as a legislature of a new genre. He was a revolutionary parliamentarian who linked up the issues and demands of the people, particularly the peasantry, with the freedom struggle.

In the first Congress of the Communist Party of India held in 1943, EMS was elected to the Central Committee of the party. From then, the cause of the party remained foremost in his mind. He gave all he had for the cause of the party. As I noted earlier, EMS belonged to a wealthy landlord family. He had inherited a substantial part from the ancestral property. He donated the entire proceeds of the sale of this property, Rs. 1.8 lakh, an astronomical sum at that time, to the party funds.

EMS was a prolific writer who wielded a lucid pen. His language was straight and simple. He spoke from the heart. An orator par excellence, EMS had his audience mesmerised. People turned out in large numbers for his meetings, wherever they were held or at whatever time, and heard him with rapt attention. His audience did not consist of party comrades alone. His political opponents, despite their disagreements, would come to hear EMS speak. That was the level of respectability and acceptability he commanded throughout the country.

In the history of the Indian Communist movement, the period after the Third Party Congress was one of crisis. Although the Communist Party of the Soviety Union (CPSU) tried to help, the programme and policy statement that was adopted at the special conference in 1951 and endorsed at the Third Party Congress failed to stand the test of time. India, which had been submitting to U.S. imperialism, had started taking a stand against imperialism in support of national liberation movements. The Bandung Conference marked a significant turning point in India-China relations. With this started a debate inside the Communist Party.

This debate, which began in 1954-55, led ultimately to a split in the Communist Party in 1964. As opposed to the three trends that were emerging in the Party, EMS always tried to take a stand which he thought would help unify the party. At Palghat, the line of class collaboration was being advocated. One-third of the delegates, however, opposed this line. Comrade EMS stood with those who wanted to fight the line of class collaboration.

It was during this tense and uncertain period that the relationship between EMS and me grew closer. He frankly exchanged views with me. Till the end of his life, the healthy practice of placing one’s views forthrightly was a trait observed in EMS. Whenever he disagreed, he used to note down his views and submit them in writing.

Para 11.2 of the CPI(M) programme, which envisages participation in government in the States, was an original contribution from EMS. Initially when the programme was drafted, this clause did not find a place. EMS initiated the discussion on this point and it was made part of the programme.

He was an internationalist in the true sense of the term. During the India-China war in 1962, braving the chauvinist onslaught, EMS campaigned throughout the country advocating a peaceful settlement of the border dispute. Similarly, during the India-Pakistan war, he advocated a peaceful settlement of the dispute. As a true Communist, he always thought the Indian Communist movement to be a part and parcel of the world revolutionary process. In all solidarity campaigns in support of the national liberation movements, in defence of peace and socialism, he was always in the forefront. He left an imprint on leaders of Communist parties the world over. Whenever I go abroad, enquiries are made about the health of Comrade EMS.

EMS was more than an inspiration. His life and work are a guide for future generations.

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