It would be incomplete to present the political history of Kerala without including KR Gouri Amma as one of the glorious chapters in it.
Born in 1919, in the Pattanakkad village of Alappuzha, the political journey of Gouri Amma remains distinct even today. She was an integral part of the group of communists who defied adversities to build the party and remained a part of the party’s history for several decades.
On Friday, June 21, Gouri Amma turned 100.
The Kerala government has announced a year-long birthday celebration in the state for Gouri Amma. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, on Friday, inaugurated a centenary conference to celebrate her 100th birthday. In fact, the ongoing session of the Kerala Legislative Assembly did not convene on Friday so that the legislators could be a part of the celebrations.
Gouri Amma's 100th birthday celebrations
Gouri Amma's foray into politics was at a time when women were hardly seen in public life or in politics.
She is the longest-serving MLA of the state after KM Mani of the Kerala Congress (M). She contested the Assembly elections 11 times, tasting victory on eight occasions. She was a minister holding an array of portfolios in the various Communist governments in the state - in 1957, 1967, 1980 and 1987.
She was first elected to the Travancore Council in 1952 and 1954. Gouri Amma also holds the distinction of being the first woman from the Ezhava community to hold a degree in Law.
Gouri Amma led the Kerala Karshaka Sangham (Kerala Peasants Union) from 1960 to 1984 and the Kerala Mahila Sangham from 1967 to 1976.
The leader behind Land Reforms Bill
Holding the plum portfolio of Revenue, Gouri Amma presented the revolutionary Land Reforms Bill in 1957 when the EMS Namboodiripad government came to power. She was the only woman in the first democratically elected Communist government, led by Communist stalwart and Kerala’s first Chief Minister EMS Namboodiripad.
The Land Reform Ordinance was later made into an Act. It set the ceiling on the amount of land a family could own, paving the way for the landless farmers to claim excess land, which in turn sowed the seeds of destruction of the feudal system.
She had also helped draft and present the Women’s Commission Bill of 1987 apart from presenting the anti-corruption bill the same year.
Gouri Amma with Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan
The only politician in the state who could probably replicate the life of Gouri Amma is CPI(M)’s VS Achuthanandan, who turned 95 last October.
Driving force behind Gouri s political entry
Gouri Amma is the daughter of KA Raman and Parvathy Amma. Although her father helped her get an education, she was attracted to politics because of her elder brother Sukumaran, who was a political activist then.
Raman, who used to take land on lease for cultivation, was particular about educating his daughter and had even supported her as she practised law at a court in Cherthala.
"After the death of my father, Annan (her brother) would come to my house for lunch. One or two comrades would also come with him for lunch. They used to work with Annan in various trade unions. The Communist party did not have many people from the middle class and upper class who were educated at the time. Hence, Annan had to head several trade unions. Annan would stay back for some time after lunch and would talk about Communist and labour movements,” her autobiography says.
She also described the time when she had to distribute pamphlets promoting party principles. Since the Communist party was banned then, she had to do this covertly.
Gouri Amma was jailed in 1948, the year she joined the Communist party. The party was banned at the time for its 'hostile' stance against the government. She was jailed on a number of other occasions as well for her political activities.
Gouri Amma was in prison at the Cherthala police station for six months, after which she was housed at the Central Prison Poojappura.
A love story of principles and separation
It was common for party workers to marry each other, and these weddings were mostly celebrated as a party function.
Gouri Amma married TV Thomas (popularly known as TV) in 1957, and this was part of the history of the Communist movement, too. TV was another tall leader of the movement.
“I first met TV at the Travancore committee meeting held at my house. This was after TV and other leaders were acquitted in the Punnapra Valayar case as there was no evidence against them,” she wrote in the autobiography, adding, “But there were already rumours that TV and I were in love with each other even before the Punnapra-Valayar agitation. Prior to this, I had met him only once at the Maharaja’s college in Ernakulam; but not as TV but as the brother of my friend, Thresyamma.”
Gouri Amma stood with the CPI(M) and TV with the CPI, during the historic split of the Communist party in 1964.
“I had taken leave from the party at the time and lived with TV at the house in Chathanad, Alappuzha. We had decided not to let members from both the parties inside our house and that TV could do his party work outside the house. It was like life had become peaceful after a long time. TV gifted me a Kashmiri silk sari. It was the first time he gifted me a sari, which I have treasured even today,” she had later said in an interview.
Both the CPI and CPI(M) had been allies in the government, formed in 1967.
“In 1967, they left their house in Chathanad, Alappuzha to assume charge as ministers in Thiruvananthapuram. We were allotted separate official residences, which were in the adjacent compounds. We literally destroyed the wall between the two houses and built a door to reach each other’s house. But the CPI shut that door, which came as a huge shock for me. That (door) separated us. I had a heart attack and was in the hospital for a month,” Gouri Amma said.
Gouri Amma was touted to be the next Chief Minister during the 1987 Assembly elections, which would have made her the first female CM of Kerala. The Assembly elections were fought with the slogan “Keralanaattil KR Gouri Amma bharikkum” (KR Gouri Amma will rule Kerala). But she was denied the CM post. It’s alleged that the senior leaders of the party sidelined her at the time when the final decision had to be taken.
In 1994, the CPI(M) expelled Gouri Amma for “anti-party activities”. After this, she floated a political outfit called Janathipathy Samrakshana Samithi (Democratic Protection Committee) with significant support from the Ezhava community. The JSS is based in Alappuzha.
In a major twist to her political career, she became part of the United Democratic Front (UDF), the rival group of the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) the same year. This ended her comradeship with the party, which lasted for over 45 years. She even became part of the UDF ministry from 2001 to 2006.
Gouri Amma last contested the elections in 2011, although she lost to CPI's P Thilothaman.
Even today, leaders across the state remember her as an able administrator, who used to pore over thousands of files without the help of secretaries.