Historic Significance of the First Kerala Ministry

P.Govindan Pillai

The Success and the experience of the first communist ministry in Kerala has thus national and international relevance as comrade Jyothi Basu who headed the West Bengal left front ministry for two and a half decades was eminently correct when he said that the first kerala ministry blazed a new trail for India as a whole and Bengal and Tripura in particular.

April 5 of 1957 was a red letter day not only in the history of the state of Kerala but also in the Indian union as a whole. It is on that day the first popular ministry of the united Kerala state was sorwn in the under the leader ship of comrade EMS Namboothiripad.The state legislature consisted of 126 member plus a nominated Anglo Indian. The community party of India had a total of 65 members including 5 independents who subscribed to the Party’s electoral program and fought on its behalf. Before calling upon Namboothiripad to form the ministry the Governor took the unusual step to invite each one of the independents on the pretext of ascertaining their loyalty to the Communist party of India-But actually it was an attempt to wean them away from CPI alliance. But failed and the ministry was formed with 11 members including 3 independents

Through none of the 65 member’s waiver in their loyalty till the end, the union government under the leadership of famed democrat Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru swooped down on it and dismissed it under the article 365 of the Constitution of India and tarnished his famous democratic image. Thus the first ministry of the united Kerala state which was formed only on 1st November 1956, could rule only for 28 months for no fault of its own. How such a short lived ministry in a small state of Kerala comprising about for percent of the population of India which only limited power of a federal unit came to attract the wrath of the vested interest and great admiration of the people at large and dispassionate observers in India and abroad? Even mighty imperialist countries like the USA were incensed by the Kerala Phenomenon that they gave not only verbal support to the reactionary attempt of anti-communist forces in Kerala to oust the ministry but also provided with material support. The out standing American statesman senator Patrick Moynihan who served as an ambassador for a term to India was only conforming the general perception when he admitted in his memoirs that the CIA had generously financed the so called notorious “Liberation Struggle” (Vimochana Samaram) against the first EMS ministry. Why this world wide interest in and opposition to an apparently short lived political experiment in a comparatively minor state of Indian Union?

Began with a Bang

The Composition of the ministry was itself remarkable achievement.. The eight communist ministers and the three communist supported independent minister were all without a single exception well known for their efficiency, incorruptibility and long tradition of sacrifice and service to the to the social reform and freedom movement and was both an activist and intellectual of eminence. The next in line was C.Achutha Menon who proved to be a meticulous administrator and later made history as chief minister for a record period of seven years (of course in alliance with the congress after the split in the party). The labour minister TV Thomas who functioned as the leader of opposition in the erstwhile Travancore-Cochin was an able parliamentarian and outstanding trade unionist. His wife KR Gouriamma who handled the revenue portfolio and so was entrusted with the piloting of the famous agrarian bill proved her worth by her hand and studious performance. VR Krishna Aiyer who was later to rise in the judicial hierarchy to the position of a Supreme Court judge and a great judicial activist and advocate of human rights was a rigorous and an innovative administrator too. Professor Joseph Mundassery who handled the education portfolio created history by his education bill which drew the admiration of students and teachers and the fierce hostility of private school managements who were deprived of their illegal prerogatives. The health minister Dr. AR Menon who was among the pioneers of the freedom movement in the state was also a competent physician who laid the foundations of the present public health policies which marks Kerala As the healthiest state in India. The food minister KC George was almost a sage among freedom fighters and communists. The speaker Sankara Narayana Thampi was a militant freedom fighter and a professional lawyer. He proved his mettle as an efficient speaker in a turbulent house.

Land to the Tiller, Power to the people

Though the election manifesto of the communist party had promised all round reforms touching all aspects of social economic and political life the primary item on its agenda was land reform. From 1938 on wards when he was a young member of the legislative assembly of Madras province EMS had written many articles and books on Kerala’s land system which taken together look like a blue print of the future course of action when party comes to power after the freedom struggle. In Travancore Cochin and Malabar district party members in legislatures had presented a number of bills to stop all types of eviction and fix fair rent for peasants of various types of tenures. Though many of them echoed the promises given by the congress in its faizpur resolution of 1936, they never cared to implement them during the previous 10 years of their power. As a matter of fact almost the same neglect of the peasant rights persist even after 60 years of freedom in states ruled by the congress and the groups and section that broke away from theme and formed regional or communal parties. In contrast to this stark neglect of the toiling peasantry the first Kerala ministry with in a week of its installation promulgated an ordinance (11 April 1957), which banned all types of evictions, even evictions by the court judgments. This was to prevent the landlords from preemptive the land reform measures to come by evicting the peasants and making the reform a futile exercise.

There was another hurdle to land reforms. CPI and Kisan Sabha were for the abolition of land lordism without compensation. But the constitution did not permit that. To over-come this, fair rent was fixed as one sixth of the annual produce and it was stipulated that if fair rend is paid in six years or the same amount in a lump sum it would be considered compensation. People committees with panchayat and mass organizations representatives were formed to supervise the operation and fulfillment of land reform measures. naturally this far reaching land reform which formed the basis of the so called ‘Kerala Model of development’ with its emphasis on social equity and security roused the ire of vested interest. They added grist to the mill of the anti-government sabotage.