Readers Write In #403: How the govt of Namboodirpad was toppled by Nehru and Indira and the Cong ecosystem

Posted on August 31, 2021

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(by Sudharshan Garg)

Author’s Note: In this multi part series I will cover lesser known periods of Indian history post 1947. Part 1 is the dismissal of the Communist govt in Kerala 1959

In April 1957, the second democratically elected Communist govt took charge in Kerala under EMS Nambodripad (first was San Marino iirc). By June 1959 iirc it was dismissed. Why it was dismissed and by whom is a fascinating tale of misadventure and a downright trampling of democracy.

EMS was a tall leader (it is another matter that he sat out the independence struggle entirely), well read, well meaning and personally incorruptible to the core. He had a clear vision for Kerala (ideally his vision would if applied pan India would have changed India for the better decades ago), one where worker interests took priority. He wasn’t some rabid communist though, he didn’t even come close to the likes of Indira Gandhi and her 95% Income tax (or was it 98%?) and nationalisation of banks. You could argue that by ideology he was a communist, but by governance he was a socialist.

He pioneered a set of far reaching reforms (though he wouldn’t ever pass most of those, future govts not just in Kerala but in neighbouring states took a cue from them).

Agrarian Reform package – He first tabled this iirc sometime in 1958, it was a landmark legislation and still is. It broadly pushed for fixed tenure for tenants (earlier, peasants were like contract labour and to a large extent they still are, landlord doesn’t like you? Bump, you lose the land. Landlord wants to fuck your wife and she / you don’t like it? Best of luck living on a starvation diet etc etc). Landceiling was capped at a very generous 15 acres, beyond which the state would take over the land and redistribute it. Mind you this was per person, so a rich landlord could distribute it to his blood relatives and easily touch 100 acres before the redistribution would begin. Ownership rights for the peasant tillers (fair right) and fair wages for tilling the land (till then, they were considered bonded labour and neither wages nor a portion of the harvest went to them).

As you can see, these are all fair and very non controversial, common sense reforms. Yet, the landed Nair caste along with the Cong that was upset at having lost power, started stirring up trouble. Mass protests began, they started to turn violent even which is when the….

The Kerala Education Bill of 1957 was introduced. Again, absolute common sense. EMS wanted both private and public schools and colleges to raise wages for teachers (better pay = better quality of teachers right?). It laid down basic requirements for teacher hiring. Arguably the only possibly draconian element of this was, the agency to fire teachers was taken away, so if a school had to fire even a single teacher, they had to approach the Kerala govt for punishment. Primary education was made compulsory. Schools were mandated to provide clean drinking water and clean toilets, by law! Govt aided private schools were mandated to give priority to the children from SC / ST / Dalit families. The kicker? If any school violated the laws, the govt reserved the right to take over these schools.

Every single one of these laws is logical, reasonable (except maybe the firing one arguably) and was for the benefit of the citizens.

The Church though, that controlled education in the state was having none of this and started protests. The Landowning Nairs who also ran a lot of schools and colleges basically said yeah, sign me the fuck up for some of the protest action and joined in.

The Congress which was licking its electoral defeat basically saw an opportunity to get back at the Communist govt. By now the Muslim League also decided to get in on the action (I honestly don’t know or understand why they did what they did as except for Malabar, you really didn’t have Muslim landlords and Madrasas and religious schools were exempt from this law).  Thus was born, Vimochana Samaram (Liberation Struggle).

Mass protests began, they started turning violent and in Angamaly, in 1959 things came to a head. The police resorted to firing at the crowd and some 10 people died in it. Their bodies were then displayed around town to rile up the populace, and then buried in a mass ceremony in which most leaders of the Vimochana Samaram were present and issued one incendiary speech after another.

Nehru who held total control of the state wing could have stopped the participation of the Cong (and thus take the wind away from the protests) or supported the lawfully elected govt as a neutral party agnostic PM did neither.

In another firing that followed a pregnant fishwerwoman was killed by police bullets and she became a rallying point for the protests and now it was a general protest by the entire populace and not just the Congress, Church, Nairs and Muslim League.

Nehru then dismissed the govt, and in the succeeding elections, the now thoroughly maligned Communist govt was utterly routed.

Now this is in the realm of fact. We do have other pieces to the puzzle that are outside established fact.

In his autobiography on Feroze Gandhi, the Forgotten Gandhi, historian Bertil Falk (Dane iirc) has said that Indira was very upset at EMS and Communists coming into power, and she urged her father to outright dismiss the govt, but he dithered. Ergo she used the disturbances using pet AICC cronies in Kerala to widen the scope of the protests and make it to be an immense law and order problem. Knowing her MO from later (Punjab, TN come to mind) this is very plausible and compared to what she did in Punjab, (create the monster Bhindranwale)

The second is even more murkier, even back then, the Communists alleged that the CIA funded these movements, and might have been dismissed as conspiracy nuts, but is it really?

Remember, this was when Nehru was an active participant in the CIA’s ST CIRCUS, the CIA covert program in Tibet to destabilise the Chinese. SO CIA assets were on the ground in India and given a free run of affairs.

You then have declassified CIA files from that era – (https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/esau-15.pdf) that clearly lay down Communists winning elections as a possible threat and again, knowing that America was at the height of “red terror” and India was a key partner then (and also the largest amount of aid in the late 50’s flew to India) and this is clearly a plausibility.

You then have the US Ambassador to India (1973-75). D P Moynihan claim in his biography that CIA wired funds directly to Indira Gandhi who then used it to destabilise two communist governments, the Kerala and later the West Bengal (https://www.nytimes.com/1979/05/08/archives/moynihan-charges-on-cia-aid-stir-call-for-inquiry-in-new-delhi.html),

DPM was no simple rabble rouser, he had worked with the Kennedy and the Johnson administrations, and while admittedly it was in economics and policy making, he has deep credentials in the US state. After Johnson he switched to the RFK camp, and was known to be a close ally of RFK. He then switched to the Nixon camp and joined the Whitehouse as an advisor to Nixon. Then he became the UN Ambassador to the UN then becoming the Ambassador to India. Slight aside, he spearheaded a program to stop the conflict between India and Pakistan, and wanted debts written off, and handed to some minister a cheque for $ 2bn in 1975 money which apparently is the largest ever such cheque written in banking history. Then he went back to the UN as ambassador, then he went onto win a senate seat. He held that senate seat from 1976-2001, a long duration of almost 25 years.

Why am I spending so much time on this gent? To validate the claim that he was not some random rabble rouser, he was the quintessential Washington insider and HE claimed in his memoirs that the CIA funded Indira who funded these riots in Kerala…..I would give it some credence.

Even conspiracy theories aside, what Nehru did was unconstitutional. Instead of supporting and standing by a democratically elected govt, he allowed his party to fan violent protest. He sat by when the protests expanded. He is not on record condemning the Kerala Congress and its means. Then when things broke down, he simply dismissed a govt that only wanted to do good by its people!

Allow me to quote DPM in closing,

>>In 1974 Mrs. Gandhi was still making speeches about the ever‐present danger of subversion by the C.I.A., while I was talking to the relevant Indian officials about our common interest in China. In New Delhi I had pressed the embassy to go back over the whole of our quartercentury in India, to establish just what we had been up to. In the end I was satisfied that we had been up to very little. We had twice, but only twice, interfered in Indian politics to the extent of providing money to a political party. Both times this was done in the face of a prospective Communist victory in a state election, once in Kerala and once in West Bengal. Both times the money was given to the Congress Party, which had asked for it. Once it was given to Mrs. Gandhi herself, who was then a party official.”

What about the role of Nehru you might ask, well….                  

In the next part, we will address the lie that Nehru was above politics and did his best to protect the EMS govt.

Nehru was deeply involved, he addressed the press on contentious issues on the Kerala education bill.

His close aide  V K Menon visited Kerala during the height of the Cong lead agitations. He reported directly back to Nehru. In 1958 Nehru himself lead the charge against EMS and strongly came down on EMS for the anti President (of India) rhetoric emanating from Kerala. In March 58 he himself criticised the violence employed by the opposition (his own Cong engineered) . In a later speech he believed Commies in Kerala were being Leninist and accepting a bourgeois democracy to only later install a violent Communist regime.

In an interview with an English paper in May 58 (Daily telegraph iirc) he went on record saying that the Kerala govts days were numbered.  It broke in Aug 58 in a press conference.  Chacha went full throttle against EMS, accused him of terrorism! It was then that U N Dhebar  visited Kerala on a tour as Cong President, but instead of taking it to the govt he took it to the CWC.

The CWC in verbiage very similar to the nonsense spewed by it to this day said that “there was a state of insecurity, murderous assaults on innocents and a massively discriminatory Govt”. Nehruji then addressed the CWC threatening constitutional action. EMS saw the writing on the wall and issued a point by point rebuttal of Nehru and CWC’s accusations but it fell on deaf years.

He then personally met Nehru to ask him to take a neutral view of things.

On Sept 12, 1958 Chacha Nehru struck. Using a proxy (plausible deniability)  a motion was tabled in Lok Sabha about the law and order situation in Kerala. The speaker in a pretence at neutrality wanted the GoI to provide SUpPoRTinG docs. 7 days later the speaker approved. Happy with the documentation provided.  EMS and the Kerala govt  once again sent a detailed rebuttal of the motion in parliament, EMS personally telegrammed the Home minister and pointed out the unfairness in only Kerala being discussed and that too using lies and slander as a basis. This was allowed but it was too late. Chacha’s close personal friend, Minoo Masani a gujju MP moved a motion directly against EMS. At this point Chacha asked the army to plan a move to move into Kerala to appease it.

Let me repeat in bold, Nehru ASKED THE ARMY TO PLAN A MOVE INTO KERALA TO APPEASE IT.

U N Dhebar in Nov as INC president upped the ante in a public letter where he accused EMS of being a totalitarian.

Then in Feb 2. 1959 Indira Madame was elected President and EMS had his days numbered. She in her maiden AICC speech said “Kerala govt is a communal one using communal poison to achieve political power”. This is the same garbage Sonia and Pappu spew to this day. 

The media got in on the act (had been for a while) all manner of what we call “fake news” was freely published  working up public ire across India against EMS. As late as June 1959 EMS wanted a direct meeting with Nehru but this was declined. Kerala Cong stepped up the violent agitations and acted in consort with the Clergy and Muslim parties (they were the ones being communal). The AICC held a meeting in June 59 in Ooty, EMS sent his personal emissary Krishna Iyer to make a plea to Nehru to stop this assault on a democratically elected govt. Nehru gave Iyer as much attention as Pappu gave Hemanta Biswas which was none. At a AICC session in Coimbatore Indiramata stepped up the rhetoric and asked for centre to take action. When asked about Cong tie ups with Clergy and Muslim parties, Nehru said “they were not congressmen but Catholics and Muslims acting on their own” wah wah Chachaji watte master stroke.

Madame then sent Congi workers Sadiq Ali and U N Dhebar to tour and report. They reported that there was “rising intolerance” and Xtians were being targeted. Again, the Cong playbook is unaltered in decades it seems. Nehru then ordered the Army Southern command chief  to tour Kerala to plan defense of central govt offices. Finally Chacha consented to tour Kerala and he did so from June22-24 1959. Madame then wanted to put on a show for the Emperor to prove the lies they themselves had constructed. Mass gatherings of Congress party workers and their allies  organised, 10’s of thousands of “protestors” including women and children #shaheenbaghkeralastyle lined the cavalcade route of Chacha. Chacha met people but they were vested interests including the anti communist  governor and declared that the situation was worse  than what he imagined. He did clamp down on using children and Harsh language by protestors and this was shut down. June 27 the Cong parliamentary board recommended to Madame and Chacha fresh elections and suspension of the education bill.

A coalition of parties sent a letter to the President in Jul 59, asking for the dismissal of the EMS govt. EMS again met Chacha in Shimla in July 59. Nothing doing. The church then sent church lawyers to file a petition with the President face to face and had the same  #risingintolerance rhetoric common to this day. A whole host of Congi stooges from V P Menon to K M Munshi to Acharya Kriplani then cried that India was doomed if this evil communal govt was permitted to continue.

25th July 59, Madame met President and openly asked for the dismissal of the Govt. The same day Chacha met the president along with the Home minister to understand options. 28th July senior leaders of the communists appealed directly to Nehru to cancel a massive demonstration  planned by the cong and its partners but Nehru said it was their democratic right and declined. The news media though spun this and reported that Nehru was all for helping EMS govt. A big fat lie. The governor of Kerala on Jul 16 th submitted his report, word to word a copy of the KPCC memo published earlier on.  This only had the Cong side of things, ignoring facts and reality. Aug 1 govt was dismissed.

Nehru and his cronies were involved every step of the way, to argue that this undemocratic act was done only by Indira (when the conspiracy was moving much before she was president) unknown to Nehru is a lie of Goebbelsian proportions.

Nehru was a  power hungry despot but Cong hagiographers have cleaned up that image. The truth should be told to defeat these lies.