As the Kerala Assembly celebrates its Diamond Jubilee, the state might seem settled in its stable and predictable bipolarity. Alternating almost automatically between the LDF and the UDF every five years, Kerala’s politics today reveals little of the tumult of its earlier years. But, as a look back at the state’s history reveals, Kerala walked a long, hard road to this settled pattern.
The Kerala Chronicles looks at some of the fascinating ups and downs, triumphs and tumults of Kerala politics, since the state’s birth in 1956 to the current day.
The year 1964 was a turning point in the political history of Kerala and that of the Communist Party. The United Communist Party split into two, which led to the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The differences of opinion in the party began as early as 1962. The conservative section of the CPI rallied behind the Nehru government. By 1964, the differences among the Communists had become irreconcilable. The famous walkout of 32 members of the CPI at the National Council Meeting in Delhi happened in that year. This was later followed by the founding of the CPI (M).
In the Assembly elections of Kerala held in 1965, no party was able to gain a majority. Political parties were not willing to form a coalition and hence the Assembly in 1965 was declared void. From 1965 to 1967, the state was under President’s rule. In 1967, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) took the initiative to break the ice between the CPI and CPI (M).
KG Parameswaran Nair, the senior-most journalist in Kerala says, “MN Govindan Nair was the tallest leader of the CPI and EMS Namboodiripad was that of the CPI (M) in the state at that time. The idea of the RSP was to form a strong front to resist the Congress. During this time, the CPI (M) had formed the Sapthakakshi Munnani (a coalition of seven parties). There were only 134 legislators at that time in the Assembly".
RSP’s efforts to reconcile the differences of opinion between the CPI and CPI (M) were successful. CPI (M) was one among the coalition partners of the CPI. The other parties were Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Indian Socialist Party (ISP), Kerala Socialist Party (KSP) and Karshaka Thozhilali Party (KTP). The coalition won 117 (including 4 Independents) out of the 133 seats. EMS was sworn in as the Chief Minister for the second time on March 6, 1967.
EMS in the assembly
“But even before completing 30 months, conflicts surfaced in the Sapthakakshi Munnani. The coalition couldn’t tolerate the differences of opinion between the CPI and CPI (M),” recalls Nair, who covered the Kerala Legislative Assembly proceedings from 1962 to 1998.
So, during the swearing in, EMS had said that he would take care of the ministry like his own eyes, but soon fights erupted. The different parties started accusing each other of corruption and public spats ensued. Then in a dramatic move, the rebel leaders of the Opposition led a march to the then Thekkethara Ground in Thiruvananthapuram (East Fort now) against the government. Though EMS opposed the move, he was not able to prevent the Opposition protest. His government fell 32 months after assuming power on October 24, 1969. Following this, the CPI, RSP, IUML and ISP left the coalition.
For the first time in 1967 when the Sapthakakshi Munnani ruled Kerala, Muslim League members became ministers in a Kerala cabinet viz. CH Mohammad Koya (Education) and MPM Ahmed Kurikkal (Panchayat, Fisheries).
Mohammed Koya won by a huge majority from Mankada. Koya retained the education portfolio subsequently under Karunakaran and AK Antony. He also went on to become the CM of Kerala for a short while in 1979. He played an important role in establishing the Calicut University. Koya began his political career as a founder member of the Malabar Muslim Students Federation in 1930. He became a member of the Kerala State Assembly in 1957 after being elected state secretary of the Muslim League. For the next 22 years, he continuously served as a member of Parliament or state legislator.
Koya in 1979
It was on April 26, 1967 that the government had issued the order for lifting the ban on liquor. In the policy document issued by the Sapthakakshi Munnani in 1966, it had said that "abandoning of liquor ban will be re-examined as it was a complete failure". Interestingly the document supported lifting of the ban not in an open manner, but very subtly. It said "The issue will be re-examined considering the ill effects of consuming hazardous foreign liquor. To avoid the use of foreign liquor, measures will be taken which will also curtail the ill effects of drinking to the maximum.” The silence on liquor ban during election time was to avoid any problems that may put Muslim League in trouble since it was opposed to liquor consumption on religious grounds. But after assuming power, the ban was lifted without much delay. First toddy, then arrack and then foreign liquor were made available for sale.
When Chief Minister EMS resigned in October 1969, all the coalition partners—with the sole exception of the CPI (M)—unanimously decided to invite Achutha Menon who was then serving as a Rajya Sabha MP, to lead the United Front Ministry in Kerala, and the CPI central leadership endorsed this. He subsequently took over as the State’s Chief Minister in November that year.