Watch: Democratic India got its first Communist Government 60 years ago, in Kerala
Their radical agricultural and education reforms made a long-lasting impact.
As Kerala’s Left Front government starts yet another protest against a Central government policy, it’s worth remembering that 2017 marks 60 years of India’s first democratically elected Communist government coming into power.
In 1957, the Communist Party of India (CPI), led by EMS Namboodiripad became one of the first democratically elected Communist governments in the world, winning elections Kerala.
The video above details this extraordinary journey. Kerala, at the time, was one of India’s poorest states, rife with inequality, a food deficit, and an oppressive caste system. The CPI was thus built on the foundation of building a welfare state. The new government commuted the sentences of those on death row, opened thousands of “fair price” shops to ensure availability of food, and introduced pioneering reforms in the fields of education and agriculture.
But the going wasn’t easy. These radical reforms, especially the Agrarian Relations Bill and the Education Bill, led to an outburst of discontent and dissipation of social support for CPI. The Catholic Church and the Nair Service Society were overtly opposed to the CPI, branding them as “Godless Communists”.
On May 1, 1959, a Vimochana Samara Samiti or Liberation Committee was formed which consisted of the Catholic Church, the NSS, members of major political parties like the Indian National Congress (INC), Praja Socialist Party (PSP), the Kerala Socialist Party and the Indian Union Muslim League. It was alleged, and later proven, that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funded the agitation against EMS’s communist government to prevent “additional Keralas” and suppress communism.
What followed was continuous unrest in the city, leading to clashes and police action. President’s rule was imposed on Kerala by the Nehru Admninistration on July 31, 1959. This move was deemed by many as misuse of Article 356 from the young Constitution by the Centre – the first such instance – and set an unhealthy precedent.
There have been many Communist governments in Kerala since then, the standard for which was set by the 1957 one. Though their revolutionary rule was dismissed and met by much agitation, their welfare programmes and their endeavours to uplift the working class – continued by subsequent governments, both Left and non-Left, have since then contributed to making Kerala India’s best state on many indicators of human development.