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Punnapra Vayalar uprising can't be part of freedom struggle

D Jose in Thiruvanathapuram

The ghost refuses to be exorcised.

With the central government's recent recognition that the Punnapra Vayalar uprising was indeed part of India's freedom struggle, the Communists in Kerala had thought the 51-year-old ghost was, finally, off to the other world and peace.

But no, it's back stronger than ever -- packaged as scathing criticisms, flowing from 'anti-Communist' (read political leaders and historians) tongues.

"It's a farce on history," raged Bharatiya Janata Party stalwarts, "to call it a freedom struggle."

"Total distortion of facts," said Congressmen.

"A blot on Indian history," historians held, "It was no freedom struggle."

According to BJP leader Sreedharan Pillai, the Centre was wrong in according such a recognition ''solely on the merit of a report submitted by a Communist-led government''.

"The report (submitted by the E K Nayanar government) was diametrically opposite to the memorandum which the Communist Party of India presented before the Cabinet mission in 1946," he said, "While the earlier memorandum stated the stir was aimed at ensuring freedom for provincial states to remain sovereign if they wanted to, the latest report claims it was a struggle against the move to form an independent Travancore state!"

In fact, Pillai continued, T K Varghese Vaidya, a leader of the struggle, had even gone on record saying it was a rehearsal for a larger revolution with the ultimate objective of establishing a Communist India. How, then, could it have formed part of India's freedom movement?

"By wresting such a recognition, the Communists are trying to find a place in history which they truly do not deserve," said state Congress president Vayalar Ravi.

Historian A Sreedhara Menon (who snubbed the government's attempt to get a book written on Kerala's role in the Indian freedom struggle) said the current claim -- that the struggle was aimed against an independent Travancore -- was really 'farfetched'.

"When the stir began in Alapuzha district there was absolutely no move at all for an independent Travancore," he said. The Travancore dewan, Sir C P Ramaswamy Aiyar, came out with the proposal only later. And he himself dropped the move after a meeting with Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Menon said.

"The struggle cannot be given the status of a freedom movement as it was started only after a national government assumed office under Nehru," he argued, "What was the need for killing hundreds of people for freedom when we had already attained it?"

The uprising, he added, was nothing but a social and economic revolt against landlords.

Veteran Communist Party of India-Marxist leader E M S Namboodiripad, for his part, defended the freedom status of the struggle vociferously in his weekly talk on Asianet television channel.

The criticisms, he said, was sired by those who were jealous of the achievements Kerala made as a result of the uprising. The struggle had both national and local goals.

At the national level, the Communist party was at variance with the Congress and Muslim League, the two powerful political forces of then. While the Congress was striving for freedom for the entire century through conciliatory talks with the British rulers, the Muslim league wanted a Muslim land. But the working class and the peasants felt the Britishers should be thrown out.

"The Punnapra Vayalar struggle was the result of this thinking," Namboodiripad said, "It established a unified Kerala."

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