Kerala, which is considered to be one of the most progressive states in India, is also a hub of political killings owing to the left-wing extremism prevalent in the state. It was the first Indian state where Communists were voted to power. The labour movements of the 1930s around the Malabar region and the national liberation movement led to the emergence of a powerful left-wing in the state.
With the continuity of culture and prosperity of natural resources, Kerala could have been the richest state in the world. But the communist government’s mismanagement of resources has made it financially bankrupt.
Marxist ideology gained popularity in India after the Bolshevik Revolution, wherein Indian activists like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal hailed Russia and Lenin. Two Indians, Abdul Sattar Khairi and Abdul Zabbar Khairi, even went to Russia and met Lenin when they learnt about the revolution.
The colonial authorities were disturbed by the growing influence of Bolshevik sentiments in India. As a counter move, the British tried to keep Indian Muslims away from communism through various ways. The Home Department created a special branch to monitor communist influence and the Customs were ordered to keep a check on the imports of Marxist literature into the country.
The Khilafat movement also contributed to the rise of the communist movement in India. It crystallised anti-British sentiments among many Indian Muslims who had left the country to fight for the cause of the Caliph of Turkey. These Muslims were known as Muhajirs. Some of them became communists, remained in the Soviet territory and served the communist cause.
The birth of the Communist Party of India
The Communist Party of India (CPI) was formed in 1925. It led a fierce movement against imperialism and trained Indian revolutionaries to fight for national liberation. The party members also formed communist groups in different parts of the country. But the British had banned all communist activities, which made it difficult for the groups to work in unity.
Prominent communist leaders of India had to face conspiracy trials by the colonial authorities. In order to integrate these communist groups and other socialist groups that were already in existence, the All India Workers and Peasants Party (AIWPP) was formed in 1928. The revolutionists of this movement were convicted by the British in the Meerut Conspiracy case. However, they used this opportunity to popularise the conspiracy by the colonialists against the communist leaders and fuelled the working class with strong sentiments against them. Realising the importance of forming an independent Communist Party in addition to All India Workers and Peasants Party, the first central organisation of the Communist Party was established in 1933.
A new road
In Kerala, some communist leaders, such as P. Krishnapillai, A.K. Gopalan and E.M.S. Namboodiripad, who were then a part of the Indian National Congress, started laying the foundation of the future of CPI by developing communist ideology among the working class, student groups and the intellectual class. While they were once mainstream leaders of the nationalist movement and loyal to the Indian National Congress, they gradually shifted their ideology to Marxism-Leninism.
Gandhi’s methods of Satyagraha and termination of the civil disobedience movement had agitated the communists within the Congress Socialist Party. According to them, the Gandhian principles were too lenient to fight against British Imperialism, and it was only possible to overthrow them by force to achieve freedom from their oppressive rule. Thus, they decided to implement the revolutionary plan of action drafted by the central committee of the communist party in the famous document, ‘The Proletarian Path’.
With the Second World War breaking out in 1939, the ideological struggle between both wings of the Indian National Congress intensified. The communists, while remaining members of the Congress, became increasingly critical of its leadership. This led to polarisation within the party which later split into a radical wing, upholding the Marxist-Leninist ideas, and a moderate wing which opposed the militant ideas.
The aim of the Communist Party was the formation of a classless society, for which they mobilised the masses and united farmer and trade unions against the government. In 1940, they organised processions and protests in which peasants and labourers participated in large numbers. The Communist Party also organised agrarian rebellions in the Malabar region, which led to mass killings of several party members. Similar violent agitations were witnessed in many parts of the state. Common people gave their lives for the cause of communism. Moreover, relations between Britain and the Soviet Union remained strained. Consequently, the British government banned these units.
In the pre-Independence days, communists could merely express their disagreement over the national policies and reforms to be introduced in Kerala. The Communist Party began functioning lawfully when the ban on communism was lifted on 26th July 1942. The communist movements in Kerala resulted in extremism after Independence, a time when the situation was deplorable, and poverty, famine and starvation was the norm. The CPI won the state’s very first election in 1957.
When it came to power in Kerala, it framed policies and measures for the agricultural development of the state.
Kerala became one among the first democratically elected Communist governments in the world.
Hargun Kaur is an aspiring journalist pursuing Media Studies. She is also a part time anchor at The Fourth Pillar News.