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A Visionary of Yesteryears

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If one is asked to name a legendary figure of Kerala for leaving an indelible mark on the political, cultural and literary scene of the state, and for creating an impact at the national level, the answer would unhesitatingly be EMS. Amongst all politicians, EMS was of a rare breed and was respected both by his supporters and opponents.

EMS passed away on March 19, 1998. It is not possible here to relate and dwell upon his various traits as a leader. Leaving aside his political thinking, I hold him in high regard on three specific counts which I believe, kept him in good stead at all times, enabling him to stand head and shoulder above others, including the so called communist think-tanks.

The first and foremost characteristic was his insatiable zeal for work. Notwithstanding his age, EMS was always active - reading, writing or participating in intellectual discussions, etc. These activities were not merely restricted to politics, but extended to culture, history and literature. His ability to recollect what he had read or seen years ago was indeed abominable. I still recollect my attending and listening to one of his election speeches two decades ago when I was in Kerala on a holiday (I had attended his meetings during my school days, but then I was too young to understand the points brought out by him). Though he spoke only an hour or so, I was amazed at the references that he had made to various Indian and international publications, including books, magazines and newspapers, brought out in local and English languages which were published nearly 25 to 30 years ago. During the course of his speech, he referred to an opinion poll of India Today which had hit the stands that very morning. EMS was candid enough to quote its findings which stated that there was corruption under both LDF and UDF, and that the extent of corruption was less under the LDF regime. I wonder whether any politician would dare to make an admission in his election speech!

The second aspect relates to his ability to look things from a different perspective and voice issues without waiting for an official confirmation from the Mecca of the party. He was the first politician to raise an issue on the Shah-Banu (Sheriat) case. He did not wait for the politbureau to discuss this and come out with an official statement, and argued that in the case of a divorce, irrespective of her caste, creed or religion, woman has the right to receive a fixed sum from her husband for looking after the family.

Similarly, he wrote as early as four decades ago that there are numerous flaws in our constitution and as we go along, these would only aggravate. Hence he advocated the need to think “de-novo” our constitution, and make major amendments. He said that whenever we plunge into a constitutional crisis, the legal luminaries advocate for the presidential form of government as a panacea for all our ills. He attributed this school of thinking as “greener on the other side” syndrome. Similarly, at times, he had no hesitation in expressing his disagreement with the policies pursued by the Chinese counterpart. Also, though the Communists were at loggerheads with the Congress, he had supported the right policies of the Congress. It is only because of his perceptible thinking and farsightedness that his views on crucial issues were considered by the “Brahmins” of various streams.

The third count is his commitment towards the party and the people. He donated everything, including his personal assets to the party. In a scenario where the politics has touched its nadir, and almost all politicians are inundated with numerous scams and allegations, and the investigating agencies are finding out unaccounted money even from the pillows of politicians, EMS was a rare politician against whom no charges, whatsoever, were leveled. 

His contributions can be viewed from four angles – as the first Chief Minister of Kerala, as a hard core communist, as a revolutionary, and as a literary exponent. As the first chief minister of Kerala, who was elected by democratic methods, he had laid down the foundation to the state’s all round development. If Kerala is far ahead of other states vis-a-vis education (particularly women’s education), family planning, public health, implementation of land reforms, etc. it would not be out of  place to say that it is because of the foundation that was laid by his Ministry. When one compares with northern States, on these parameters, Kerala can be proud of its achievement. 

 

During the long period stretching almost seven decades, the communist movement, both in India as well as all over the world, had passed through various stages. On the international scene, the rise of communism in Russia and other Eastern blocks, its split resulting in Russia and China following different paths, its downfall and aftermath. All these developments had repercussions on the communists in India, and being a think tank, EMS had played pivotal roles at various stages. He was the “Shilpi” to form a non-communal and non-congress force in India.

As a revolutionary, he questioned the blind beliefs and inequalities. The very fact that though he was on top in terms of the caste hierarchy, he advocated entry of all castes to temples a right, then denied to the lower caste, is a true testimony of his forward looking attitude.  It is a shame that while pitched battles are being fought in other parts on caste and religious lines, and atrocities on lower castes are going on unabated, and even the most notorious Sathi was enacted in Rajasthan only about a decade ago, the politicians of today vie with each other to get maximum mileage from such episodes. 

As a voracious reader and erudite writer, he had written several articles and books both in Malayalam and English, apart from his being the Chief Editor of the party publications. His thought-provoking articles were rated high.

While all said and done, this does not mean that EMS was a man without any shortcomings. His somewhat rigid stand and staunch comments on certain issues did create confusion among his own supporters. This could be partly attributed to his farsighted thinking and inability of his supporters to “read between the lines”.

While the credit for the labour movement in Kerala could be given to the Communists, this has led to a situation where no industrialists are willing to put up units in the State, thanks to the militant trade unions! This, in turn, has led to rise of unemployment, and migration to other industrialised states, as also abroad. Now the situation has come to such a stage that the economy of the state is primarily dependent on the money received from migrants. Also, thanks to the high-handedness of these unions, the state is flooded with workers from other states who are willing to work at substantially low wages.

EMS per se did not do any harm, as this was a gradual process. However, being a part of the  ‘echelons’ of the party, which has a close nexus with the trade unions - and which strictly believe in a proletarian class as the staple feed of communism - one wonders whether the red brigades could have thought that while labour movement and trade unions are necessary  for getting the “Rights”, they should be perceived as two parts of the same “continuum” and hence, tried to keep them within the “tolerable limits”. This would have created a climate wherein both the management and labour work together for their mutual benefit -