Indian Communist patriarch EMS Namboothiripad made an interesting observation when Rajiv Gandhi took over as prime minister in 1984 upon the death of his mother Indira Gandhi – “Rajiv is a pilot and he should stick to flying and leave politics to people who know politics; (brother) Sanjay knew politics but not flying. He tried flying and see what happened.” As everyone in India knows, Sanjay died in a plane crash while trying some aerobatic stunts while Rajiv met his end at the hands of the LTTE, which extracted revenge over his government’s flip-flop
Sri Lanka policy. If
EMS were to be alive today CPM’s new General Secretary Prakash Karat would have got some advice on the same lines as Kerala politics, particularly of the Marxist variety, is a different ball game. It is not for Marxian ideologues like Karat living in the ivory towers of
New Delhi .
The raging row in the Kerala unit of the party over the denial of a seat to popular leader VS Achuthandan in the state elections has brought to the front the role rootless ideologues have in setting the direction for the ossified party. Interestingly, the row has been given a twist, with the popular press calling it an ideological fight between the ‘reformists’ and the ‘hardliners’. But the fact remains -- the popular mood in favour of a grassroots leader like VS has less to do with him being a hardliner and more to the respect he commands from millions outside the party rank and file for his unvarnished integrity and unflinching, principled stand on many issues, which on many occasions has held the state in a thrall and equally in other instances given the party a dour image of being stuck in the past.
Sure, VS is the last leading dinosaur in the antediluvian party, which is forever cursed to continue blowing the trumpet of the not-in-fashion-anymore slogan of proletarian revolution. But what the hell, that is what he has been doing all his life and that was what the party has been saying all along and that why he is a leader in his own right. To call this rebellion an ideological war between the ‘hardliners’ led by VS and ‘reformers’ led by the state party honcho, the scam-tainted Pinarayi Vijayan, is pure hogwash. This collapse in discipline in the cadre-based party has more to do with the miscalculation and ignorance of rootless wonders like Karat than any ideological issue.
The Pinarayi-VS clash has its genesis in the Malabar versus Travancore (North versus south) clash that erupted in the mid-80s. Interestingly, the Communist movement in present-day Kerala was built up by grassroots leaders like the legendary KPR Gopalan and AK Gopalan (AKG) in North Malabar and EMS in
South Malabar and MN Govindan Nair in the Travancore region. Though MN parted company with the others after the party split in 1964, the Communist Party Marxist (CPM), which is the torchbearer of the movement, still swears by the ideals of AKG and
EMS . And the leaders of the Malabar region always had a big say in the party, thanks mostly to the unrivalled respect AKG and EMS commanded in the party and also due to the second rung Malabari leaders like CH Kanaran, MK Kelu and Azhikodan Raghavan and EK Nayanar who had no real rivals in the south, save for KR Gowri, a formidable leader in her own right.
The ascend of VS, who is from central Kerala, as the state secretary in the early 80’s coincided the party’s return to power after more than 11 years in the wilderness. The new government was led by Nayanar, a simpleton and an unknown commodity in the south where the capital Thiruvanathapuram is located. The seeds of the present-day North-South fracas actually were sown then. And the division continues. Postings on a popular web site for set up for VS now goes on to say: “Comrade, we are with you to finish off the Malabar Mafia!”
Though VS rose to leadership on his own after a lifetime in popular struggle, including the disastrous but ‘heroic’ Punnapra-Vayalar uprising against the misrule of the maharajas in the south, he was a lightweight in the North. And for the North Malabar Communists (mostly from the Kannur and
Kozhikode districts), who considered themselves the blue-blooded Marxists, Punnapra-Vayalar was no big deal. They swore by the Kayyur-Karivallur rebellion against the British. For them AKG, KPR,
EMS and others fought the real big boy, the British. KPR was even sentenced to death by a British court and only Mahatma Gandhi’s intervention saved his life. This being so, it was only natural the third generation of the ‘Kannur Mafia’ comprising story petrel MV Raghavan (MVR), Patiyam Rajan and others like PV Kunjikannan fell out with VS and the party line taken by him. And it was an open secret that Nayanar was involved in this from behind the scenes, something which he denied.
VS as party honcho got the Kannur Mafia rusticated from the party on classical Marxist charges of ‘revisonism’ and in this, surprisingly, he had the whole-hearted support of patriarch
EMS . For a while it seemed the North would breakaway as MVR had the masses with him. But timely intervention by EMS, who cobbled a front with the old guard of Malabar, which included the
Kozhikode honcho, the much-respected MK Kelu, saw the rebellion was confined to Kannur alone for some time.
EMS ’ whirlwind tour of the region with meetings in every nook and cranny cooled tempers and saved the party. MVR’s rebellion died a natural death as is the case in all cadre-based parties though his new outfit still survives.
Now the old ghosts are revisiting the party. And this is the time for the new generation leader Karat to show his skills for the new century. But instead of leading from the front he has allowed regional satraps like Pinarayi to set the policy for the divided state unit which flies in the face of common sense, thereby letting the issue to snowball into a public controversy on the eve of an election so crucial for the party. Karat should have realised that VS is no pushover and he should have been handled with more care considering his seniority, reputation and standing among the common people. Instead he was unceremoniously dumped on the on the sidewalk of Communism’s road to nowhere for no clear reason, something not even the diehard opponents of VS would agree was the right thing to do.
Karat’s position now resembles Rajiv Gandhi’s, who soon after making his famous speech to rid the party of ‘power brokers’ had to buckle down due to his lack of experience. Karat problem is that he more at ease with the classical Marxian approach with theory than to the rough-and-tumble of politics of the Kerala variety. The sooner he gets off the ivory tower and gets a handle on the issue the better it will be for the party and the millions of Keralites who have put their trust in the party for generations. And this time around there is no
EMS for the party to turn to.