History repeats itself in Kerala
Kerala is witnessing a repetition of what it saw way back in the 1950s against the first elected communist government in India led by E.M.S Namboodiripad. Known as the ‘Vimochana Samaram’ (Liberation Struggle), this has been recognized as an organized political coup that compelled the communist government to step down in 1959 and was followed up by the imposition of president’s rule. The anti-communist protests were carried out by a wide range of political, community and caste groups in the wake of two bills introduced in the assembly.
Dealing with education, agriculture and land, these bills were perceived to have harmed the privileges of what can be described as the church-caste-community nexus. The protagonists of this rainbow coup presented the bills as a communist conspiracy against Christians, Muslims and the upper castes and were strongly supported by the Congress, the Muslim League, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh as well as caste organizations such as the Nair Service Society. The protests were also supported by major media houses and Kerala’s mercantile giants.
Mannathu Padmanabha Pillai, one of the leading catalysts of the coup, had warned, “It would be better for the communist ministers to quit voluntarily without giving room for unrest and bloodshed. If they try to stick on to the ministerial chairs, the consequences will be terrible. If people wrest power from these ministers and subject them to trial, their ears and noses will have to be chopped off or they will have to be whipped in public.” In another speech, he demanded that “all communists should be hated like lepers and not a single communist can be admitted to any house. There is no way other than dragging them by their legs and hurling them on the ground.” Similarly, religious discourses across the state projected communism to be an antithesis to religion. Priests across communities envisaged the coup as a theologically desirable project. Since they presented ‘communism’ as a pervasive enemy that required eternal prohibition, a large number of ordinary Muslims and Christian migrant settlers allied with the coup leadership.
Close observation of recent political developments in Kerala reveals uncanny similarities with what happened in the late 1950s. There is a strong chance of the Left coming back to power in the forthcoming assembly elections despite a long history that goes against such continuity. This possibility has unsettled an undeclared, but tangible, rainbow alliance. The intention of this perceived collective has been expressed by P.K. Kunhalikutty, the leader of the Indian Union Muslim League. “Power should be wrested from the Left by any means,” said Kunhalikutty, “to ensure the survival of the UDF [United Democratic Front] alliance system.” This reaction may be the result of the perception that the Left Democratic Front government has been appreciated for its management of the recurring floods and Covid-19 even though there is considerable disgruntlement with the police administration.
The Opposition has got an opportunity to stir up trouble, courtesy the ‘gold smuggling case’, which, it has been alleged, was conducted by contract staffers in the government via the diplomatic channels of the Dubai consulate. The case is now being investigated by the National Investigation Agency. Much like the first rainbow coup, a sensational narrative, designed by the Bharatiya Janata Party in this instance, is being carried forward by the Congress, the Muslim League and some sections in the church. The collective has picked on K.T. Jaleel, one of the visible Muslim faces of the current government, to manufacture an Islamophobic narrative. The narrative thread spun by the rainbow alliance has concentrated on ‘charity food’ that was apparently sent to various religious institutes by the Dubai consulate during Ramazan. Even though the majority in Kerala think that such transactions are integral to soft diplomacy between India and Dubai, the sangh parivar has expended its energies on creating Islamophobic spectacles on the streets, deviating from the seriousness of gold smuggling and its global networks that could destabilize the financial apparatus of the country.
Facilitating creative political engagements based on substantial issues is a tried-and-tested method for Opposition parties. But the rainbow collective is leaving no stone unturned to polarize Kerala along religious lines.
The earlier version of the piece erroneously mentioned that K.C. Mammen Mappillai, the second Chief Editor of Malayala Manorama, "got Atal Bihari Vajpayee to inaugurate a major coup meeting in southern Kerala in 1959." Mr Mappillai had passed away in 1953. We apologize for the mistake.