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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 27, June 20, 2009

The EMS I Admired

Monday 22 June 2009, by Kuldip Nayar

I was Home Minister Govind Ballabh Pant’s Press Secretary when I saw E.M.S. Namboodiripad for the first time at the meeting of State Chief Ministers. He looked different from the rest. He wore a coloured bush shirt while they donned white khadi kurtas; they left him alone when they exchanged small talk between themselves.

The agenda before the Chief Ministers was about the extension of Preventive Detention Act, a British measure which was used to pick up leaders to stall any movement or protest. All Chief Ministers, who belonged to the Congress party, were in favour of extending the Act. EMS, the CPI Chief Minister of Kerala, was the only one who was opposed to prolonging the life of the detention law. He openly expressed his dissent.

There was hush in the room and the Chief Ministers seemed horrified. Pant appealed to EMS to withdraw his objection. But he stood his ground. He said that he represented the Communist Party of India which did not favour detention laws. This, he said, did not fit into the ethos of independent India which should do away with the oppressive laws of British rulers.

Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, the tall Chief Minister from West Bengal, took umbrage to the stand taken by Namboodiripad. In anger, he walked out saying that a boy was teaching him how to defend freedom when he had spent the best part of his life in jail for opposing the British rule. EMS said that he meant no offence to anybody. He wanted only to register his note of dissent.

I was so impressed by Namboodiripad’s stand that I called on him when I visited Kerala next. His was an austere office compared to the huge, ostentatious rooms of some other Chief Ministers I had visited. I reminded him of his stand against the Preventive Detention Act. He said that he was shocked to see how those who fought the British so bravely and so relentlessly tended to follow their footsteps when it came to governing independent India.

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A few years later, I heard EMS at the National Development Council meeting, an apex body for the country’s planning. The meeting had been convened to find reasons for economic stagnation and recession. The call was for “a concerted and united effort to pull out of the rut”. But it was left to Namboodiripad, still Chief Minister of the Communist Government of Kerala, to say openly that the country must have all key industries nationalised.

What Namboodiripad’s government was dismissed, I was still in the Home Ministry. It was clear that the Government of India was so determined to dismiss the CPI Government. True, the initiative was taken by the then Congress President, Indira Gandhi, who blessed public rallies at Trivandrum and in other parts of Kerala. But her main support was the Home Ministry. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was reluctant over Namboodiripad’s dismissal but she forced him to dismiss the Communist Government in Kerala on July 31, 1959 even though it had a majority in the legislature. (According to EMS, Nehru expressed his “unhappiness and helplessness”.)

The last time when I met Namboodiripad he had grown grey. He was then the party’s ideologue in interpreting Marxism and the communist philosophy. When I run into the Communist leaders of today I can see the difference between them and Namboodiripad. It is probably comparing today’s Congressmen with Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Just as the Congress party can never come up to the standards set by them, the present Communist leaders cannot come near EMS and persons like him. The difference is not that of knowledge about communism but of vision.

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