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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 44 New Delhi October 24, 2015

Kerala mid-term elections: Dress Rehearsal for 1972

Saturday 24 October 2015

by C. Achutha Menon

Kerala has been the laboratory for all kinds of political experiments, especially for various kinds of United Fronts with all sorts of permutations and combinations among a variety of political parties.

Here it was that the Indian National Congress first lost its absolute majority in 1952 and tried to bolster itself up with a coalition with the Tamilnad Congress, a dissident group. Here it was that the first experiments in contesting elections on the basis of a Left UF were tried, the Communist Party of India forging an alliance with the RSP and the KSP in Travancore-Cochin and with the KMPP in Malabar.

Again, it was here that the Left United Front consisting of Communist and Socialist parties tried to broaden itself by having a limited understanding with the PSP in the Travancore-Cochin election in 1954. The bitter taste in the mouth was left by the post-election betrayal of the UF by the PSP. Its leader, the late Pattom Thanu Pillai, formed a minority Ministry in which the PSP had only 19 members in a house of 117, with the support of the Congress opposition.

The Communist Party decided to go it alone in the 1957 elections and won an unexpected victory. It formed a Government which was in office for 28 months. Incidentally, it was the first Ministry after the formation of the State of Kerala, by joining together parts of the old Travancore-Cochin and Madras States.

Congress and League

After the dismissal of the Communist-led Ministry in 1959 following the so-called “liberation struggle”, the Congress formed an alliance with the PSP and the Muslim League and won the mid-term election in 1960. This election had the distinction of seeing the Congress and the Muslim League coming together and campaigning jointly for the first time since Independence, the Congress tri-colour and charkha flying along with the Muslim League’s Green and Crescent on all flag posts.

The honeymoon was, however, short-lived with the Congress spurning the Muslim League once its purpose of winning the elections and grabbing power was achieved.

The process of disintegration of the Indian National Congress and the formation of various parties called by different names like the Jana Congress, Bangla Congress, etc. also first started in Kerala with the formation of the Kerala Congress in 1964, which brought about the downfall of the Shankar Ministry.

In the ensuring elections which saw both the Communist Party and the Congress divided, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, again for the first time, evolved the now familiar strategy of an alliance in fact, while apparently fighting on opposite sides, with the Muslim League. It is now on record that he tried to rope in the Kerala Congress also in 1965, but failed in the attempt.

CPM Alliance

It was as a culmination of these various trials that the wide anti-Congress alliance of 1967 was brought into being with the CPM at its head, and comprising the CPI, RSP, SSP and Muslim League, not to mention minor elements like the KTP and KSP. The alliance, however, could not hold together for long for various reasons, into which I am not going now.

This led again to another combination consisting of the CPI, ISP, RSP, Kerala Congress and Muslim League, on the one side, supported by the Indira Congress and the CPM and SSP, on the other.

What is going to be the pattern of alignments for the mid-term elections in Kerala? Although the final shape has not emerged it is more or less certain by now that the CPM will have an open alliance with the SSP, KTP and KSP and unwritten, but not secret, alliance with the Syndicate Congress. The ISP which has broken away from the ruling coalition has also willingly walked into this parlour.

The coalition which made up the Government till the dissolution of the Assembly, will face the above combination in alliance with the PSP in place of the ISP, and an understanding with the Indira Congress.

E.M.S. Namboodiripad has stated in a press conference that he regards all the three Congress, namely, the Congress led by Sri Jagjivan Ram, the Congress led by Sri Nijalingappa and the Kerala Congress, as equally reactionary which deserve no support and with which no kind of alliance is permissible for a proletarian party like his own. On what theoretical or political grounds he makes this assessment is not clear; he has not chosen to disclose that. In the very nature of things this is an impossibility. It is now clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Indian National Congress split in 1969 not becaue of clashes of personalities, although personal equations and other considerations may have determined individual Congress leaders’ choice of their side in the quarrel. But the split itself occurred on ideological and political grounds, not because of personal feuds.

Conflicting Stand

The practice of Namboodiripad’s party, the CPM, the tactics it followed after the split in the Congress, itself gives the direct lie to his present statement. Although the CPM, it must be conceded, has scrupulously avoided the appli-cation of the adjective “progressive” to the Congress led by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the tactics it has followed in supporting her Government in Parliament on various occasions is the clearest possible proof, if proof is needed, of the statement that the CPM is not equating both the Congresses.

If both Congresses are equally bad, why take the trouble of supporting and bolstering up in power Smt Gandhi, what does it matter if Sri Morarji Desai takes her place? We need not wait for an answer from Namboodiripad, the mere asking of the question is enough.

Besides, Comrade Sudarayya in his character-istically forthright manner, has made clear in innumerable press conference that his party considers the Syndicate Congress as more reactionary than the Indira Congress.

It might be asked: why is it that Namboo-diripad insists that all the Congress groups are equally bad? The reason is clear. In the coming mid-term elections in Kerala, his party is busily engaged in giving shape to an alliance in which the Syndicate Congress has to play a key role. The situation in Kerala is such that this can no longer be kept a secret. He therefore wants to give a theoretical justification to his unscru-pulous association with and encouragement of this reactionary force. That is the simple truth.

From the Syndicate Congress side this sentiment is reciprocated. The fact that Comrade A.K. Gopalan, who has no faith in the Indian Constitution, has filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court questioning the validity of the election in Kerala at the same time as Sri Amaravila Krishnan Nair, the Syndicate Congress Secretary who swears by the Constitution, has filed another writ in the Kerala High Court for the same purpose, is more than symbolically significant. While the Syndicate Congress denounced both the Communist Parties as a danger to the country, it does not fail to make clear its preference by saying that the CPI with its extra-territorial loyalty to Soviet Russia is more dangerous than the CPM which is a national party! That this discovery should come precisely at this moment is very significant.

The operational plan is simple. The CPM along with its “firm”, allies the KSP and KTP, and possibly SSP, will form the United Front. The UF will put up candidates in all consti-tuencies in which it has a reasonable chance of success. Since the electoral strength of the KTP and KSP is just zero and that of the SSP not much better, this is equivalent to saying that the CPM United Front will put up its own candidate in all constituencies in which the CPM standing alone has a chance of success. This may come to about one-fourth of the total number of constituencies in Kerala. But what they will do with the rest is more important. In the rest the CPM will give its support and votes to “Independents” who, in turn, on the basis of an understanding, will be supported by the Syndicate Congress. Thus Namboodiripad and thorough-bred revolutionaries of the CPM can solve their conscience by maintaining the revolutionary purity of their party by not voting for reactionaries and at the same time defeat the coalition led the CPI! As for the people who are called upon to vote for reactionaries put up by the Syndicate Congress and with their support, the CPM leaders are not worried, because they (the people) have no revolutionary conscience to look after. Their duty is only to do what the CPM asks them to do!

No wonder that Sri George Fernandes, the SSP leader, has gone back from Kerala fully satisfied. He feels his mission has been successful. His task had been lightened, for EMS had taken over the job which the SSP planned to do and he could do it far more effectively than any leader of the SSP. The SSP in India, as everybody knows, is playing the classical role of Social Democracy the world over by paying the way for a Right takeover. George, who flew to Kerala with a heavy heart after the debacle of the Grand Alliance under Morarji’s leadership in Delhi, was beaming with smiles at the Trivandrum aerodrome press briefing at the easy success of his mission of bringing together all forces which are against Indira and the CPI. He openly declared that the combination of the Indira Group with the CPI was the Enemy Number One in India today. If there are no Swatantra and Jana Sangh in the alliance in Kerala today, that is because of the peculiarities of the Kerala situation where these two parties are not strong and can be safely ignored.

Only Way

This is the danger in India today and the danger that is going to loom large in the 1972 General Election. The danger is all the more serious because of the fact that a Left party like the CPM is allowing itself to be used as the cover for the subversion of democracy and the negation of all that is healthy and progressive in Indian public life today.

The only way to combat this danger is for all Left and democratic parties to come together and forge a firm alliance based upon a minimum programme for realising our cherished goals of secularism and democracy and social progress. (Incidentally, it is significant that Namboodiripad has stated that his election alliance in Kerala this time will have no programme or manifesto.) The CPI in Kerala is trying to forge such an alliance. The CPI along with the RSP and the PSP together with the Muslim League and the Kerala Congress has already agreed upon a programme and manifesto. This coalition which had run the Government for the last nine months (minus the ISP faction, which has now gone out) is trying to have an understanding with the Indira Congress so as to avoid triangular contests. The Indira Congress is contesting the election upon its own programme and manifesto, but has made clear that after the election, its policy will be to support a stable and progressive administration.

Namboodiripad had ever since the formation of the Coalition Government in Kerala in November 1969 denounced it as reactionary on the ground that the Kerala Congress, a reactionary party according to him, was a partner in it. Latterly he has chosen to club the Muslim League also along with the Kerala Congress, although in the beginning he was careful to avoid it, because obviously it would have been too much to begin denouncing the League so soon after his own association with the League. The CPI has, on the other hand, all along maintained that both these parties, though not socialist, are democratic parties and the present stage of the movement in India today requires not a purely socialist or Left UF, but a much broader Left and democratic UF if we have to successfully perform the task of completing the democratic revolution so as to pave the way for socialism. This is not to say that the CPI does not envisage any kind of ideological conflict or struggle within the UF. On the other hand, such a struggle will be necessary and in order to broaden out the alliance and deepen its democratic content, the party has to concentrate upon building up powerful mass organisations of the working class, the peasantry, the intelligentsia, the youth and others.

This is the task that faces the Left movment today.

August 7, 1970 (Mainstream, Independence Day Special, 1970)

A renowned CPI leader, the author was one of the most distinguished CMs of Kerala.