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Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 9, February 19, 2011

M.N. Govindan Nair—Evaluation of a Neighbour on his Birth Centenary

Monday 21 February 2011, by K G Somasekharan Nair

Renowned CPI leader M.N. Govindan Nair’s birth centenary fell on December 10 last year. This article, by a neighbour in his native village in Kerala, was written at that time but could not then be used for unavoidable reasons. It is now being published here as an evaluation of the personality based on the author’s personal views, ideas and impressions.

The birth of MN took place on December 10, 1910 at Pandalam, a remote village in Kerala. He was brought up and started his public activities in this village. This author’s birth, growth and life is as a neighbour of MN’s parental house. Ours is a crude village having narrow roads, dusty and pitted in summer, muddy and pooled in rains, contributed by the three-tier Panchayati Raj system. In my boyhood, I remember MN’s two or three visits to my home to see my grand- father, his old friend. On all these occasions, I kept myself at a distance because he became a prominent leader before my birth itself. Since he was not my relative, I never dared to speak him, even though I saw him smoking cigarette when I came face to face with him on several occasions as an ordinary pedestrian on the road at Thiruvananthapuram.

This article is not influenced by MN’s sagas sung by his comrades, friends and relatives. I am not an MN devotee or follower of any communist fraction. But I have made use of rational materials in those sagas, as he had written only an incomplete autobiography. Also memories of old news and references of his CPI comrades have also been made use of. The relevance of MN in Kerala’s history is in his application of the Marxist ideology to provide a decent and successful governance for Keralites for a decade between 1969 and 1979. Also, MN could lead his party at the all India level on Marxist lines as expounded by Lenin on July 23, 1920 in the Comintern. [For the relevant extract of Lenin’s speech, please see “Indian Communists versus Marxism-Leninism” published by Mainstream, August 7-13, 2009.]

During his life, nobody like MN had faced such sharp criticism. Even now, nearly three decades after his death, it continues. Recently a famous patchy writer in Malayalam, among other trivial allegations ridiculously said that MN was an aristocratic Nair. Of course, he was an aristocratic Nair. It was not because his family was wealthy. It was only a lower middle class one. But his aristocracy was due to birth alone, for which he was not responsible. Even though there are some Shudras in our caste, living traditionally as barbers, washermen, potters and oil crushers, the majority of us are not Shudras. Valour, brilliance, prowess, non-abscondence from the battlefield, giving donations, providing mercy to the aggrieved are the traditional qualities of aristocratic Nairs. These are the Karmas destined for the Kshatriya Varna by the Bhagavad Gita (18.43). But historians, who believe in only blonds and yankees, may see William S. Logan in Malabar Manual (1887):

I would more especially call attention to the central point of interest, as I look at it, in any descriptive and historical account of the Malayali race—the position, namely, which was occupied for centuries on centuries by the Nair caste in the civil and military organisation of the province—a position so unique and so lasting but for foreign intervention there seems no reason why it should not have continued to endure for centuries on centuries to come. Their functions in the body politic have been tersely described in their own traditions as “the eye, the hand and the order” and to the present day we find them spread throughout the length and breadth of the land, but no longer—I could almost say, alas—preventing the rights of all classes from being curtailed or suffered to fall into disuse. This bulwark against the tyranny and oppression of their own rulers secured for the country a high state of happiness and peace.

SPURRED by this Nair proclivity to fight against injustice and oppression perpetrated against any class of people, MN started organising the untouchables from the days of his youth since untouchability was a bane of the caste system. By then he had completed the intermediate course and was employed in an NSS middle school at our village headquarters. Simultaneously he supervised paddy cultivation in his family property for which he had to cross a large slum of untouchables in our village. They were agricultural labourers living in deplorable condition. Moreover they had been exploited and tortured by the cultivating tenants, because the only landlord of our village as a whole was Lord Shiva, a harmless diety having legal entity alone.

While organising the untouchables MN exhorted them to practise personal cleanliness, pursue education and learn the importance of eradicating untouchability. He instituted a school to educate them in Cherikkal, their slum. In association with people who thought on similar lines he extended his activities to surrounding villages. At the same time he was an active organiser of the NSS constituted by Mannath Padmanabhan and K. Kelappan, the renowned Kerala Gandhi, for upliftment of the Nair caste. Then a majority of Nairs became orphans of the world after the per capita sharing of joint Nair families enforced by the Nair Regulation Act 1912. As forecasted by William Logan, it was the result of English colonisation and influence of the Christian Personal Laws on Hindu rulers and leaders. His activities in the NSS brought him close to Mannath and led to a life-long friendship between them two even though they had differences of opinion on many issues.

At all annual meetings of the NSS, the last day was dedicated for the Hindu session. Irrespective of caste discrimination anybody could participate in it. Once in Mavelikara, some 16 kilometres west of Pandalam, there was such a Hindu session. Entry to the meeting hall was through a street of Brahmins, who were refugees absconding from Malabar, fearing Tipu’s invasion. That street was prohibited for untouchables, if any such person entered it they were manhandled. MN conducted a procession of untouchables, coming to one hundred and twentyfive, with enough cudgels for counter-attack, if needed. However, nobody dared to attack but only stared at them. After the Hindu session they returned through the same street, shouting slogans. It made the untouchables confident of standing their ground such an organisation.

After that, MN joined college at Thiruvanantha-puram for a degree course and on completion, he joined the NSS High School, Pandalam wherein too he left the imprint of his activities. There also he continued his work for the untouchables and NSS. A few years later he joined the Law College, Thiruvananthapuram where he came in contact with the Gandhian ideology for national liberation and eradication of untouchability. Leaving the Law College education half-way, he joined the Gandhi Ashram, Wardha. His training, supervised by Gandhiji, enabled him to abandon all pleasures, and this he observed all his life. In Wardha, he befriended almost all the prominent national leaders including Nehru. Moreover, he studied innumerable books in the vast library of the Ashram and was influenced by the new ideas of Marxist ideology, socialism and Russion revolution. Returning to Pandalam he involved himself in his earlier social activities and participated in organising the coconut plantation workers throughout Kerala against the import of copra. During Gandhiji’s visit to Kerala MN requested him to visit the school in the Cherikkal slum which he himself had established. Gandhiji visited the school and appreciated MN’s work. This lent further momentum to the Gandhian movement in middle Kerala.

MARXISM-LENINISM, which he had studied in Wardha, attracted MN to the communist movement and his organisational capacity, proved already, and influence on society as a whole elevated him to the State leadership of the Communist Party. MN proved his mettle to lead the Communist Party in the aftermath of the Punnapra-Vayalar and Calcutta Thesis. When the Communist Party was banned, he used Pandalam as the place for the operation of the underground State Committee of the CPI. Being an NSS leader he used the cellars and heavy ceiling of aristocratic Nair houses for sheltering the Communist leaders. His endeavours for organising the untouchables enabled him to shelter dark-skinned Communist leaders in the Cherikkal slums. Thus MN saved many Communist leaders from the prison and police bullet. But his unexpected arrest and heavy torture in police custody and jail of independent India, not of Gandhiji, made him a tuberculosis patient. However, even that disease he used for jail-breaking.

Kerala had been reorganised in 1956 and MN became the State Secretary of the CPI. EMS was then known only in the Malabar district. Being attracted by a silent slogan “After Nehru, EMS” in the communist nodules of Malabar, he shifted to the Delhi office of the CPI and was involved in writing a series of books to become equal to Nehru. At that time the State Committee Secretary of the Communist Party was in status and prestige much above the arithmetical sum of the CPI-M and CPI Secretaries now, and could be really termed as Kerala’s Stalin. Being a Gandhian and NSS leader as well as a direct leader of the anti-untouchability movement, MN could not, however, become a Stalin. But MN believed that though EMS could not be the Prime Minister of larger India, he could become a good Chief Minister of the smallest State, Kerala. Above all, MN wanted to see that T.V. Thomas does not become the Chief Minister due to various reasons connected with the latter’s functioning. MN brought EMS to Kerala promising him Chief Ministership and for that he had to pay a heavy price and rue subsequently.

After independence, Mannath was much aggrieved because of the partiality of the majority Christian leadership of the Congress in Kerala. Unfortunately this continues still and prevents the re-entry of K. Muraleedharan, the ousted KPCC President (who is a chatterbox but a capable person), into the Congress. Mannath wanted to prevent a Congress rule in Kerala and MN contacted Mannath and was able to get the assurance of NSS support to the Communist Party in the forthcoming (1957) elections. Mannath gave an open call to the Nairs to vote for the Nair candidates of the Communist Party in those elections. As a result all the Nair candidates of the CPI (12), in a large belt from Perumbavoor to Neyyattinkara, were victorious. That belt was free from the communist saga and martyrdom.

THE Chanakya strategy of Mannath and MN, that is, “the enemy of one’s enemy is one’s friend”, which is application of the arithmetical logic (-1×-1=+1) in politics, contributed 60 seats to the Communist Party out of 125 in 1957. Even then the percentage of votes for the Communist Party was 34.98 whereas the Congress won 37.40 per cent of the total votes cast. In order to ensure a simple majority in the Assembly, the CPI was forced to include three unaccountable and irresponsible independents in the Ministry supported by them and the EMS Government came to power on April 15, 1957. Independent and indisciplined words and deeds of the independent Ministers encouraged the people to go against the Communist Government. Under the Indian Constitution, the government is independent of the party leadership unlike in communist countries and MN lost control over the government. But like other communist governments in the world ‘the Party’ is directly involved in the maintenance of law and order as well in administration of justice. Whenever the people organised themselves against the government using freedom of opinion and speech assured by the Constitution, the government applied police force to suppress it, and this resulted in a series of martyrdom and non-bailable criminal cases.

Mannath was much satisfied with the Kerala Education Bill by which the government undertook financial liability for payment of salary to private school teachers at the government pay-scale. It made the NSS a highly profitable company that had been incorporated under Section 25 of Indian Companies Act. Investing a huge cash balance in the Profit and Loss account to be filed before the Registrar of Companies, Mannath decided to establish an engineering college at Palakkad and approached the government for that purpose. The Brahmin cabal in the Cabinet had already promised an engineering college for a sham society formed
by Tamil Brahmin tycoons at Palakkad. The government rejected Mannath’s request ignoring the fact that “the first Communist Government in the world formed through the ballot” was the benevolence of Mannath. If Mannath was not kind enough to support the Nair Communist candidates, the destiny of Communists in Kerala would have been equal to their comrades in Telangana now. That inordinate ingratitude infuriated Mannath. Knowing that, CIA agents in Kerala approached Mannath with the request to depose the Communist Government by launching a struggle. Likewise the Congress leadership also requested him to lead the struggle and in return they promised the engineering college. He didn’t want to perform extreme unction of the government by baptised hands; moreover he expected conciliatory talk from the government side. “It was obvious that E.M.S. Namboodiripad was interested only in polemics and not in real solution of differences.” (Collected Works of C. Achutha Menon—Vol 15 in English) Using constitutional power, EMS unknowingly became a Stalin, though Stalin was not a polemicist. In the meantime, the judicial enquiry report by a sitting High Court judge ratified the Andhra rice scandal against the then Food Minister. EMS raised subterfuges to save his Minister instead of asking him to resign and face legal actions; that only fuelled wider mass protests.

Mannath realised that it was the proper time to oust the government two years after its formation. He organised all political parties (except the Communists), trade unions, religious organisations and became the supreme leader of the liberation struggle in 1959. A large number of people in all sections of society, including Communist sympathisers, joined the protest movement, coming out on a massive scale in the streets demanding the resignation of the State Government. The police gunned down about 20 persons belonging to the proletariat class and they included two pregnant women. Simultaneously ardent Communists attacked the procession. The people’s reaction was vehement. They drove away the Communists with staff and stone. MN, knowing the pulse of the people, realised that if the government was allowed to continue for some more period, the Communists would be wiped out by the people. Otherwise if the State Ministry was dissolved by the Central Government, they would be able to regain power wearing the rubricated nimbus of martyrdom, at least after some elections. MN maintained friendship with the central Congress leaders including Nehru, that he had forged during his stay in Wardha’s Gandhi Ashram. He approached the Central Government and urged for the dismissal of the State Government. The Congress at the Centre found that the only supporter of the Communist Government outside Kerala was V.D. Savarkar, co-accused with Nathuram Godse in Gandhiji’s murder. The spirit of Savarkar was in favour of the Brahmin leadership of the Kerala State Government and the Hindu majority of the MLAs. On the secret request of MN and strong support of Indira Gandhi, the Centre dismissed the State Government on July 31, 1959 using the powers conferred upon it by Article 356 of the Constitution.

The election in 1960 saw the people of Kerala ratifying the Centre’s step by cornering the Communists and compelling them to sit in the Opposition. In 1964, a minority of fortune-hunters left the CPI and formed the CPI-M on some fake ideology. In the ensuing general elections for the State Assembly in 1965, the CPI got three seats whereas the CPI-M secured 19 in spite of the split in the Congress and formation of the Kerala Congress. As no party could form the government for want of majority in the Assembly, the election result had no meaning. After two years of Governor’s administration, another election was held in 1967. The CPI-M initiated to form a United Front of seven parties without considering whether those parties were bourgeois, proletariat or communal. The Congress and Kerala Congress contested separately. Naturally the UF captured 117 seats out of 132 only on arithmetical merit. The Congress was reduced to nine. After the result, EMS, as the team captain, declared that the UF’s unity would be preserved like “the apple of the eye ”. When Ministership was shared among the seven parties, the CPI-M was satisfied with four Ministers, including the Chief Minister, and EMS became the CM. Soon after the swearing-in ceremony, EMS declared that the policy of his government was “rule and struggle”. But Agriculture Minister MN decided only to “rule” from his department within the constitutional limits.

MN, an old agriculturist, knew that even if his portfolio was an unimportant one, he could do many things to effectively tackle the food problems of the State by promoting farmers and stock breeders. He started his administrative activities by conducting meetings of agriculturists to hear their opinions and suggestions throughout the State. He believed this was better than rousing illiterate and ignorant farmers with all kinds of unworkable ideas. MN was a participant in all those functions, he mingled with the farmers to give the impression as if he was one among them. These assemblages gave him new ideas, ‘intense farming’ and ‘hard farming’ which were accepted by the farmers wholeheartedly. In order to translate his ideas into reality he formed a non-governmental agency, the area development unit of farmers. Collective discussions, unanimous decisions and joint enforcement were salient features of this programme. Before MN became a Minister, the bureaucracy had introduced Thaiman-3, a high-yielding hybrid paddy, all over State. But on cooking, all rice became a single glue unit in the pot. Relying on MN’s assurance, farmers cultivated other high-yielding paddy hybrids, which were a grand success. It increased the total paddy production of Kerala and agriculture became a profitable enterprise.

MN’s next attempt was to enhance the total area of paddy cultivation by reclaiming broad areas of wasteland with people’s participation. The thermal power station, Kayamkulam is in one of such reclaimed areas. He organised people’s squads to collect water hyacinth and African moss that hampered farming and to make organic manure out of these. Under his supervision, thousands of acres of wasted dryland were used to plant tapioca cassava and in another ten thousand acres of such land sugarcane was planted. He promoted the Farming Corporation for sugarcane cultivation in thousands of acres of forest land vested in the government. All the sugarcane was used to feed three major sugar factories, now abandoned, in the State.

In order to mechanise and industrialise agriculture on Marxist-Leninist lines, small scale agriculturists had no capacity to buy tractor or tiller. MN set up a public sector undertaking, the Agro Industries Corporation, which started hiring stations all over Kerala to provide peasants agricultural machineries on rent. Under the same Corporation he started processing and packing centres for cultivating pepper, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon for export. He instituted a public sector undertaking, KAMCO, to manufacture tillers which had high demand all over India.

The evergreen memory of the younger generation about MN is the cultivation of one ‘para’ (equal to 10 litres) paddy for Onam, enforced by the Agricultural Department through the pupils. Inspired by its success, MN promoted small scale vegetable gardens and poultry farms around homes which assured participation of housewives in social production. He started a large Central Hatchery at Chengannur using the vast wasteland linked to the Pandavan rocks for distributing high-yielding chicks and quails under the Animal Husbandry Department. A pork processing factory was started at Alwaye and the government promoted laymen around it for swine farming to ensure raw materials. A state farm of 15,000 acres was established in Kannur with Soviet assistance. But now the government was trying to assign one acre land each to the Dalits to ensure that 1.5 lakhs of them vote for ‘the Party’. A blueprint for establishing an Agricultural University in Mannuthy, Trichur was prepared by MN. In order to create a monolithic substratum for food production, he organised Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Irrigation and Co-operation Departments under the Agricultural Production Commissioner who was of the Chief Secretary rank. The inception of a Farm Information Bureau was also carried out by MN. Within two years, the Agricultural Department, that was the most unimportant in Kerala, became the most attractive.

AROUND this time EMS’ “rule and struggle” of policy became the “rule of the struggling parties”. This was due to the attempts of the CPI-M to manipulate all departments using the powers of the Chief Minister. Nobody had alleged that EMS was corrupt. But he had a habit of protecting corrupt Ministers on hidden terms, knowing that harbouring a criminal is a crime in India. In 1969, grave allegations were made against Health Minister B. Wellington who was a leader of the liberation struggle in 1959 and had been stabbed by the Communists then. Despite the repeated requests of four parties headed by the CPI at the UF level, EMS refused an enquiry on equivocatory explanations. A resolution against Wellington was moved by the Opposition in the Assembly on October 3, 1969 and this was deferred to October 18 for discussion and voting in the State Assembly. EMS realised that if there was voting, four parties on the Treasury Benches would vote to get the resolution passed and if that happens it would be tantamount to no-confidence against his Ministry. In order to avoid that crisis he declared on October 17 in the Assembly that he was ordering an enquiry into the allegations against B. Wellington without evaluating prima-facie evidence. Likewise without prima facie evaluation of evidence, he also ordered enquiry into allegations against MN and T.V. Thomas. That statement infuriated MN and placing his right palm over his chest he exclaimed: “You Namboodiri, you did it to me!” Manifest in that were a hundred questions and answers. MN and TV resigned. EMS applied a logic for equating Wellington with MN and this was legally enforced later by the BJP Government at the Centre to equate dog-killing with cow-slaughter. He invoked same the logic in the 1990s for equating Gandhiji with Abdul Nassar Madani and Bal Ganghadar Tilak with Ibrahim Sulaiman Sait! But without a no-confidence motion, EMS was bound to resign on October 24; still he hoped to get an unanimous invitation from the UF for Chief Ministership because MN and TV had been incapacitated to be the Chief Minister and no party in the UF was ready to face elections.

MN also thought of avoiding an immediate election in another way. After discussing with the other four parties he responded against the CPI-M’s democratic tyranny. The Congress and Kerala Congress assured their support to form a Ministry led by the CPI. MN found a new Chief Minister in C. Achutha Menon, a member of the Rajya Sabha. MN discussed with the central leadership of the CPI and Indira Gandhi who was much aggrieved by the decline of the Congress in 1967. She assured all support to the new CPI-led government to be formed. But the arrival of Achutha Menon in Thiruvananthapuram shocked EMS who knew well Menon’s administrative capabilities for he was a Minister in his Cabinet in 1957-59. On day of oath taking by the new government ‘the Party’, that is, the CPI-M, ‘celebrated’ the event with an all Kerala Bandh. On that evening EMS pledged, like Droupadi in Mahabharata, he will depose the new government by “joining hands with the Satan”. In order to conjure up the Satan, EMS conducted a series of necrogenous sorceries in Kerala, said to be the holy land gifted by Lord Parsuram to the Brahmins.

In the meantime, the judicial enquiry commission appointed by EMS acquitted MN and TV and both joined the Cabinet. Housing, Transport and Electricity were MN’s portfolios. He had a deep knowledge of the problems and anxieties faced by the landless-homeless people whom he had met and interacted with while building different organisations at the grassroots. So he launched a one lakh housing project for rehabilitation of one lakh homeless families, without investing anything from the State exchequer. The scheme needed 60 million tiles, six million bags of cement, two million cubic feet of hard wood and billions of burnt bricks as well as millions of rupees for payment of wages. Indira Gandhi waived the cost of land from the side of the Central Government. But MN completed the project within one year. It was bigger than any project in India including the Bhakra Dam or Bhilai Steel Plant. For that success MN depended only on the assistance of the people in various sectors of society. He untiringly travelled to various corners of Kerala for days together and collected lakhs of rupees every day directly from the people without giving any formal receipt. Everybody in Kerala, except EMS, had full confidence that MN would not misappropriate even a paisa contributed by the people. That confidence alone ensured the success of the one lakh housing project.

Another great contribution of MN was the 750 MW Idukki Hydro Electric Project. It was designed many years back but could not be executed due to various political and financial reasons. MN cleared everything with the help of Indira Gandhi and the Central financial institutions. Work was carried out on war-footing. On February 12, 1976, Indira Gandhi dedicated the Idukki project to the nation. MN was in charge of Railways then. He worked hard to convert the 220 km narrow gauge to broad gauge—from Ernakulam to Thiruvananthapuram. He instituted the Kerala Shipping Corporation under the State Government.

WHEN the Congress declined all over North India because of Jayaprakash Narayan’s anti-Emergency compaign in the 1977 elections, the Congress-CPI front in Kerala registered a resounding victory in the Parliament and Assembly elections only due to the performance of the Achutha Menon Ministry for eight years at a stretch. Achutha Menon himself thereafter decided to withdraw from active politics. MN was elected to the Lok Sabha. He was then 67. Ignoring his advanced age MN led a grand procession of Dalits to Parliament in protest against the atrocities on them in North India. Starting from Cherikkal, Pandalam while in his youth, MN became the all India hero of the Dalits. After a brief interregnum P. K. Vasudevan Nair, the CPI leader, took over as Kerala’s Chief Minister.

On analysis of the election results for the State Assembly of 1970 and 1977, EMS arrived at the conclusion that so long as the Congress-CPI alliance continued, the CPI-M would not be able to rule Kerala at any cost. He thus unveiled, with ideological sophistry, the process of building a nationwide unity of Left and democratic parties to defeat the Congress and Jana Sangh/BJP simultaneously and capture the Central Government. He delivered hundreds of humorous speeches, both inside and outside Kerala, on the LDF mirage. However, the tireless speeches of EMS and continuous resolutions of the CPI-M based on revolutionary fantasy inspired the CPI to approve the LDF line of EMS in their Bhatinda Congress. By then MN had become more aged. Without much delay EMS put forward the “clean state” theory which, in simple words, meant the resignation of P.K. Vasudevan Nair from Chief Ministership. As if spellbound, the CPI obeyed, PKV resigned. In the 1980 elections to the State Assembly and Lok Sabha, the CPI became a simple fraction of the LDF led by the CPI-M which snatched the Chief Ministership from the CPI. Nobody, including the CPI leadership, is bothered about the “karmaphala” of the CPI.
But in the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency the CPI-M arranged a friendly trap to defeat MN. It was the last pitfall of MN’s political life. EMS ultimately fulfilled, to his great satisfaction, his longstanding ambition of successfully taking vengeance against MN that began with the secret political machinations in 1959.

Without gaining anything out of political life, MN donated everything belonging to him and his wife, the member of a big landlord family. Like his younger brother Krishnan Nair alias Swami Krishnananda, MN accomplished “nishkamakarma” by 1980. On November 2, 1984, MN breathed his last. But Kerala and his native village will not forget him and his extraordinary efforts and incessant activities for the welfare of the people of the State. His constructive work in this direction while in government will also remain ever fresh in memory.

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