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March 19, 1998


E M S Namboodiripad dead

D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram

EMS NAmboodiripad Master theoretician. Renowned Communist. A revolutionary in percept, but a Gandhian in practice. Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad -- or EMS, as he is famous -- was all that.

He died on Thursday afternoon, at 1540 hours in the Cosmopolitan Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, of "bilateral pneumonia and secondary cardiac failure."

He was 89.

Namboodiripad was admitted to the hospital at 1330 hours following breathing trouble. He had just completed his column, Prathiwara Kurippukal, for the Communist Party of India-Marxist weekly Deshabhimani when he had to be shifted to the Cosmopolitan hospital. The Marxist leader, who dictated the report to his secretary, had, in fact, made some corrections in the copy in his own hand. The column, scheduled for Friday, deals with the problems of a hung Parliament.

Chief Minister E K Nayanar, Fisheries Minister T K Ramakrishnan, Local Administration Minister Paloli Mohammad Kutty and family members were at Namboodiripad's bedside when the end came.

The veteran's body was later moved to the A K G Centre, the CPI-M state headquarters, for homage. The body will lie there till Friday afternoon when it would ceremonially be taken in a funeral procession to the Thycaud electric crematorium. The cremation will be with full state honours.

The government has declared a holiday on Friday as a mark of respect to the leader. The 1998-99 budget, scheduled to be presented in the assembly on Thursday, has been postponed to next week.

Namboodiripad, who retired from public life on medical advice in 1996, could not resist the temptation of campaigning for the party in the general election. He addressed more than half a dozen meetings in different parts of the state.

Though ill health confined the veteran to his home, he was not away from public activity. He influenced the party's political decisions by extending advice, and aired thoughts on current political and social development through the print and electronic media. He did not attend last fortnight's CPI-M central committee meeting, but his views on the position the party should adopt was presented through fellow members.

Namboodiripad has fascinated students of politics ever since he helped the Communists capture power in Kerala in 1957, for the first time through ballot box in the world.

He was born in an aristocratic and orthodox Namboodiri brahmin family in Palakkad district on June 13, 1909. He created a flutter among the Namboodiris by defying their rigid customs and practices. His father Parameswaran Namboodiripad died when he was a small child. He was a promising student, who received his education in the Victoria high school and Victoria college, Palakkad, and St Thomas college, Thrissur.

As a young student he was greatly influenced by the speeches and writings of Gokhale, Gandhi and Tilak. He was attracted towards the freedom movement launched by Gandhi in the early 1920s. While a graduate student, he was arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment. He was released in 1933 when Gandhi withdrew the satyagraha movement.

The turning point in Namboodiripad's life came when, in the Kannur central jail, he met Kamalnath Tiwari (of the Lahore conspiracy case), and Sengupta Chakravarthy and Acharya of the Anshilan group from West Bengal. The seed for the Communist party was sown there.

He was a founder of the Congress Socialist Party when it was formed at Patna in 1934. He was elected as one of its joint secretaries. Later, he was also elected as a member of the All India Congress Committee and as head of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee. The Congress became a mass organisation in Kerala under his leadership.

Namboodiripad was elected to the Madras assembly on a Congress ticket in 1937. He became a member of the undivided Communist party in 1940, when the entire CSP turned into the Communist Party of India. He was elected to the CPI central committee in 1943 and was a member of its politburo till the split in 1964.

He attracted world attention in 1957 when he headed the first Communist ministry in Kerala, the first democratically-elected such ministry in the world. His ministry, however, did not last long and was brought down by Congress machinations. It took EMS eight turbulent years to return to power.

He became chief minister again in 1967 by forming a coalition, which included the CPI. The government fell in October 1969 when the CPI outsmarted the CPI-M. He was not to forgive the CPI for this betrayal for the rest of his life.

During his two terms as chief minister EMS laid the foundation for whatever achievements the state made in socio-economic fronts. The land reforms and educational policy he pursued brought revolutionary changes in the state.

With his achievements, Namboodiripad assured himself a place in Indian history as an ideologue par excellence. During his early school days he had shown a keen interest in Sanskrit and Vedic studies, which his parents encouraged. He was a highly sensitive child, and made his mark at the age of 12 when he participated in the first all India political conference at Thrissur.

Namboodiripad was simple in dress and habit. He always wore a white dhoti and a white shirt, like any other Malayali. Thus, his identification with the common man was sincere in every respect.

The octogenarian, who was the CPI-M general secretary from 1978 to 1992, had strived in his post-retirement period for setting up a secular front, equidistant from the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress. He was totally against Congress policies and predicted that the party was on a wane.

Additional reportage: UNI

Read what EMS said on Rediff

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