Bhagavan Macaroni, CIA and the Vimochana Samaram in Kerala.
Updated: May 25
Image Credit: TheQuint
God’s own country, Kerala, is known for its rich culture, Delicious curry and realistic movies. It is also well known for its Left wing movement as it remains the only state in India which is ruled by the reds. As the BJP is uprooting communism and arresting all its dissenters, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is putting up a strong fight against the “fascist” rule. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has time and again criticised the Central Government and announced that the State would not implement many of the BJP government’s policies.
The two main communist parties, Communist Party of India and Communist party of India(Marxist) are the largest political parties in Kerala. The Left Democratic Front (LDF) is the major coalition of the Left-Wing parties that has come to power alternatively over the last two decades. It is also the ruling coalition right now. The State had gone to elections on the 2nd of April and is awaiting results. The opposition coalitions of United Democratic Front (UDF) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have promised to crush the LDF and win over power in the elections that have just been held. Though there have been several drawbacks, the LDF has been appreciated for its commendable handling of floods, Nipah Virus outbreak and Coronavirus pandemic. Exit poll results also indicate a second term for the Left Democratic Front coalition. However, the attempts of the opposition alliances cannot be ignored as they are gaining strength after pointing out several misgivings of the ruling coalition. This endeavour to eliminate communist parties in Kerala is not anything new. The Vimochana Samaram (Liberation Struggle) of 1959 which ousted the first democratically elected communist government in the world was the first attempt to this.
In the 1957 elections, the Communist Party of India won sixty seats to become the single largest party in the Legislative Assembly. On 5 April 1957, the first non-Congress Chief Minister EMS Namboothiripad formed his eleven-member ministry in Kerala. From the day it assumed power, the ministry was in a hurry to implement land reforms and pass a new education bill. However, twenty seven months after it came to power the government was dismissed and the President's rule was imposed on the state.
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Rajan was a labourer at a Coir factory in Alappuzha. Like most of his coworkers he was also a Communist. But soon after the Communist government rose to power, Rajan lost his hope in communism and he produced and directed a kathaprasangam (lyrical narrative or story-telling performance) called Bhagavan Macaroni. This play became widely popular and competed against the play Ningal Enne Communist Aaki (You made me a communist) on several stages. Bhagavan Macaroni mocked the government’s suggestion to consume macaroni during food shortages. This play was among the building stones of protests against the newly formed government and paved the way for Vimochana Samaram.
The main reason for contention was the Education Bill introduced by the Namboothiripad government. The Education Bill aimed at providing better wages and working environment for the teachers in private schools and colleges. These private schools and colleges were mainly run by the Church, Nair Service Society and similar Muslim organisations. Thus, these groups led by the Congress started agitating against the new Education bill. Students also seemed dissatisfied as promises made to them were not kept. Now, all student organisations gathered to conduct a protest which resembled the Orana Samaram, which was also organised by student organisations to make boat charges free. As the other organisations came together, left student organisations were isolated and unable to take a proper stance.
Similarly, an agrarian relations bill was to be passed which aimed to confer ownership rights to tenant cultivators, to grant permanent ownership of land for agricultural labourers, and to put a ceiling on individual landholdings so as to distribute the surplus among the landless. This naturally left the land owning communities in opposition to the government. The famous Ooty conspiracy happened where Congress members met to find ways to oust the EMS government. Soon, with the support of the NSS, IUML (Indian Union Muslim League), PSP (Praja Socialist Party) and the Catholic Church, Congress observed the Vimochanasamara Dinam (Liberation Day) on 12th of June, 1959. This marked the beginning of the struggle against the communist government.
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EMS Namboothiripad invited Nehru,the Prime Minister, to explain the government’s stance and himself analyse the situation. Nehru was welcomed by the Chief Minister at the airport, but, on the roads on his way to the Raj Bhavan (the Governor's office) he was greeted by protestors holding banners which asked for repealing the Communist government. Nehru then asked help from the Governor and talked to all stakeholders. While returning he explained to the media that it was a Bahujan Munnettam (popular uprising), thus showing that he was in support of the protests. The Governor was asked to submit a report on the condition of the state. In his report, the governor to his own dismay had to elucidate that the law and order situation had gotten out of the control of the government. On 31 July 1959, the Communist government was dismissed.
Interestingly, there are arguments which indicate the CIA’s role in the Vimochanasamaram. As Dennis Kux (retired State Department South Asia specialist) had pointed out, the election results "rang alarm bells in Washington", where "preventing additional Keralas became an important argument for augmenting US assistance to India". It is said that the CIA funded the political protests and helped in creating a mass uprising. It was apparently a move to prevent “additional keralas’’ said Ellsworth Bunker,the American ambassador to India during the 1956-61 period. Daniel Patrick Moynihan who was ambassador to India in the early 1970s admitted that financial assistance was provided by the CIA in his 1978 book A Dangerous Place.This became a controversy as he accused the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to be the receiver of these funds.
The recent Sabarimala protests also saw the Congress and BJP turn against the Communist government, and both of them separately campaigned against the government. There were articles written on how the Sabarimala protests could be seen as BJP’s liberation struggle in Kerala. However, the Namajapa Samaram lacks momentum unlike the Vimochana samaram. The situation today seems to resemble 1959 as the present Central government is also keen to oust the Communist government and bring an end to the left movement in Kerala as was the aim of the supposedly CIA funded Vimochana samaram. Nevertheless, the Communist government in Kerala seems strong in fighting against what the Chief Minister calls ‘fascist’ measures.
By Meenakshi Senan
Meenakshi Senan is a second year Political Science Honors student at Hindu college. Apart from writing, she enjoys reading and cooking. Struggling to breathe while gulping down icecream is how Senan describes her life.
Jayasankar,A. (2012) Communist Bharanavum Vimochana Samaravum. Mathrubhoomi Books.
Issac, T.M. Thomas (2008) Vimochana Samarathinte kaananpurangal, Chintha Publishers.
John, K.C (2000) Kerala Rashtreeyam: Oru Asambhandha Naadakam. Pen books.