The changing face of communism in Kerala

Kerala is one state where you can cover the entire stretch, travelling almost vide a straight line. It is a unique, distinctive feature that differentiates Kerala from other states in India.

There are quite a few other traits too, that are unique to Kerala. We are hard workers outside Kerala, lazy when we work here. We love coalition governments. We use coconut for all aspects of our daily life, be it cooking, bathing, agriculture or dairy farming. We are textbook secularists, theoretically, but practically, utter communalists.

And yes, the most prominent one – communists to the core.

The world had communist governments for a long time. All of them had come to power through methods that are anything but democracy. It is quite an irony to note that most communist rules countries had the prefix Peoples Republic before their name, but most of the times, it came into power without the verdict of the people of the country. Therefore, it is always a proud moment for me to boast to anyone that the first democratically elected communist government in the world was in Kerala.

It was in 1957 that Kerala had the first Communist Government, yes, and this happened before even Bengal became a Red Fort.

Till then, they were actively involved in the agrarian revolts that rocked much of the Malabar, Cochin and Travancore states that were today’s Kerala. When the Congress was looked upon as an elitist party, the League with separatist agenda, it was the Communist movement of the early days that was looked upon by the common  man – the tiller of the land, the toddy tapper, the fisherman –  as their redeemer.

They almost did their bit too when they came to power, at least for the working class.

The Kerala Land Reforms Act that came into force as legislation was one of the single most important factor that changed the whole landscape of the land holding pattern in Kerala. Though dismissed by successive Congress governments at the Centre, crass communism slowly started building up into the basic psyche of the common malayalee.

Now, there was a time when the communist party used ideals and ideology to attract people. The basic principles of communism were very much in sync with the basically feudal structure of Malabar, Cochin and Travancore areas, and this was very much a factor in developing the idea of communism in Kerala.

But now, times have changed.

It is said that those who can change with times, are the ones who can survive through the ages. There are a few good and some bad ideals that have stood the test of time. Communism in Kerala too has had a dramatic change over the generations. But has it been for good or bad?

Now, for a second let us go back to the first line of this post – “Kerala is one state where you can cover the entire stretch, travelling almost vide a straight line”

Imagine a person passing through Kerala, his journey starting from the northern most districts, Kasaragod, to the southernmost tip at Trivandrum. Across the roads, on both sides, he would be able to prominently banners, posters and flex boards set up by the communist parties at their various strongholds across the highway.

Ten years ago, a journey would see a similar pattern across Kerala. From Kasaragod to Trivandrum, the reds would be splashed with portraits of Castro, Che Guevara, Mao, Lenin and Stalin adoring them. True, they were leaders from communist governments and movements across the world. But there was nothing much of their relevance in the basic Kerala structure. Kerala always had its great communist leaders. But it was the foreigners who always captured their imagination.

Just look at the profile of the men who mattered on the portraits:

Castro: Not exactly an icon of democracy, ruling Cuba single headedly for a long time.

Che: A tough revolutionary, but violent too, out of sync with the basic malayalee culture.

Mao: Chinese leader who presided over the war with India. I personally do not consider him a friend of our country.

Lenin: Got Russia under his control, but moved from Czar to a Leninist rule, again, this guy had nothing to do with democracy.

Stalin: Needs no mention, one of the biggest mass murderers in history.

Now, see who they have put up. Mass murders? Warmongers?  Those who have killed democracy and democratic movements?

Oh, wait! The justification is there. They all stood for anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism and anti-Americanism! That’s what an ideal communist should be. So they are role models.

So, America is the greatest evil, and those who fight them, through whatever means it is, deserve to be revered. Good thought! (I will come back to this point end the end)

Okay, now back to today’s world. Travel across Kerala – north to south. Nothing much has changed across the roads. The hoardings, flex, all are there. But the faces on them are different.

The old timers, Che, Stalin and Castro are still there. Add to them a few more names. Saddam Hussein, Bhagat Singh, Hugo Chavez, don’t be surprised, even Swami Vivekananda, Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Malala Yousofzai.

Flabbergasted?

How could all of the names mentioned above be seen together? All of them have least in common.

Bhagat Singh is fine – An Indian revolutionary he is.

Jesus? – Oh!!! These commies say he was the first communist in the world. They say his teachings have a lot in common with Das Capital.

Hugo Chavez – Now, what has he done to deserve a place in Kerala? I still cannot come with an answer, nor do some of the commies whom I had asked the same question.

Malala – Okay, this kid I don’t mind being in the posters for genuine reason. Bur the context in which it is being used is depressing. (Point clarified some paragraphs below)

Saddam – for me he was no better than LTTE Prabhakaran.

Mother Teresa and Swami Vivekananda – What are nuns and saints doing on a communist agenda? Aren’t commies supposed to be atheists?

Why do we see these changes?

As I said earlier, communist parties, like all other political players need to survive. So, to survive, they need to be ready and play a few dirty games, which mean they need to muddy themselves in the utterly polarized caste and community mindset of the populace.

Kerala politics is basically split in the middle between the mostly Christian and Muslim UDF (led by Congress, supported by Kerala Congress and Muslim League) while the Communist parties are mostly Hindu. The BJP is insignificant in Kerala politics, so you can count them out. Also the demographic distribution of the population is such that you cannot call any community a minority or majority. (See my previous post on that topic here). One another aspect of Kerala, especially northern parts of the state is that whenever a comrade is thrown out of the party, he straightaway jumps to RSS, and not to Congress or any other party, so you know where his basic loyalties lie. It’s not ideology that drives a comrade these days, it’s something else.

Coming back to the portraits, basically you would find Vivekananda in North Kerala, Malala and Saddam in Malappuram, Mother Teresa and Jesus in Central and South Kerala. Now for better understanding, the religious demographic is such that you can make out which community is better placed in the parts of Kerala mentioned here, if they need support flaunt it. Otherwise, what would saffron clad Vivekananda or a Saddam in green doing on a CPIM poster?

A portrait of Swami Vivekananda used for a DYFI banner

What do we understand out of this? For the communists in Kerala today, it is just a matter of religion and caste that they look into while preparing their banners and posters. Some comments received on my twitter pages do confirm that others also feel this – it’s definitely a combination of ideological bankruptcy and vote bank politics.  Add to that a tinge of anti-imperialism and anti –Americanism to that, the original communist ideology.

In that case, the day is not far away, when you would see Osama Bin Laden appearing on posters across commies in Kerala. He was anti-America after all.

 

A typical CPIM art work in Kannur

 

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