Jnanpith laureate MT Vasudevan Nair delivered a powerful keynote address at the seventh edition of the Kerala Literature Festival, causing unrest in the political circles of Kerala. His remarks on the influence of power dynamics and a stern warning against the Stalinist cult have ignited speculation that his references were directed at Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The speech was a verbatim reproduction of his 2003 essay titled “A Historical Necessity”.
The 90-year-old literary luminary, popularly known as MT, took centre stage in Kozhikode on the evening of Thursday, January 11, invoking the names of Communist stalwart EMS Namboodiripad and his distinctive style, sparking contemplation about the implicit comparisons drawn between EMS and Pinarayi. Also present on stage while MT spoke was Pinarayi Vijayan.
MT lamented the erosion of values in politics, challenging the prevailing notion that the decline is merely a consequence of the absence of worthy individuals. MT began his speech by stating, "For long, we have been hearing laments about erosion of values in politics. Debates on why this happens is met with the lethargic response that it's due to absence of worthy individuals."
Delving on political power, MT highlighted the common perception that political positions are pathways to supremacy or autocracy, rather than as opportunities for public service. He observed, "The idea that assuming such power is an exceptional opportunity to serve people has been buried many years ago."
Turning to the legacy of Communist leader EMS Namboodiripad, MT underscored EMS's worth as a leader by emphasising his commitment to transforming the masses into a responsible society. MT said, "EMS became worthy of revolutionary adulation as a great leader because he thought of power as an opportunity to herald a movement to transform the masses."
MT shared an anecdote about being wonderstruck when EMS expressed his ability to continuously refine his perspective while engaging in debates with political opponents. According to MT, EMS viewed such inquiries as an ongoing and essential process in the realm of politics.
“Time will evict people who continue to hold on to dogmas from the past related to freedom and progress of society. In my understanding, EMS strived to change the thought that one person should lead and others be led. This is the reason why he steered clear of worships associated with leadership cults,” MT said.
“In certain moments of history as determined by the times we live in, some persons reach leadership positions like those ordained. A leader who accepts responsibility with respect and without fear, and is desirous of creating a society that wants to be free of all kinds of repression, needs to generate thoughts for new pathways and visions for new horizons. In that moment, the leader ceases to be someone who is ordained and turns into a historical necessity. EMS was such a leader,” he added.
Many Left critics in Kerala interpreted his words as a direct criticism of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, sending shockwaves through political corridors. While leaders of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) rushed to defend Vijayan, asserting that MT did not intend to criticise him, CPI(M) strongman EP Jayarajan went further, dismissing media interpretations as entirely wrong.
Attempting damage control, State Cultural Fisheries and Cinema Minister Saji Cherian sought to downplay the significance of MT's statements. However, a revealing insight emerged from someone close to MT, NE Sudheer, who disclosed that during a recent meeting at MT's residence, the veteran writer had indicated his intention to make a statement, having prepared his thoughts in writing. Sudheer clarified that MT said, "I was not criticising; instead, I told facts as I felt if it is of any use for anyone to introspect, it would be good."
Congress veteran Ramesh Chennithala asserted that MT's statements were directed not only at Vijayan but also at Prime Minister Modi. Chennithala expressed hope that MT's words would serve as a wake-up call for those implicated.
After the issue heated up, MT reacted to CPI(M) mouthpiece Deshabhimani saying his words were not intended for the state government. He also said that he is not responsible for what the media says.