Communism claims to end class hierarchy and establish a classless society which accords complete social equality to all members. However, reality has turned out to be different. Marxism has just been a potent instrument for the acquisition of power. By overthrowing the real nobility and consolidating the newly acquired power, Marxism helped its perpetrators to advance their position as the nobility of the new order.
The story of the Indian Nomenklatura, the Communist parties and their last bastion, Kerala, is no different.
On 5 April 1957, the world’s first democratically elected Communist government came to power in Kerala. The gullible Communist workers in the state would have been shocked to see the apostles of revolution undermine their ideology to join the democratic bandwagon for power. Immediately after assuming power, the government under E M S Nambuthiripadu introduced the Land Reform Ordinance aimed at ending the old feudal relations and bestow land ownership to the peasants and agricultural labourers.
After sixty years long attempts to de-monopolise farm production and re-engineer social relations, the Communist party has itself evolved into a new generation of ‘Feudal Lords’.
Hypocrisy in Land reforms
The Communist party’s perspective on issues about land ownership and agrarian relations was based purely on the traditional analysis of class and economic relationship. The majority of the tenants and agricultural labourers were the Hindus of the Backward and Scheduled Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribe (ST) category.
The land reform measures gave them small strips of land where any agricultural activity was impossible. It left them ghettoised. Most of the farmlands where the principal crop, paddy, was cultivated, were distributed as fragments among the beneficiaries of the land reforms act. Agricultural production came down leaving the poor SC/ST Hindus unemployed. They became easy targets for Maoists, hoodlums, and missionaries.
On the other hand, there was no ceiling on estates. This also facilitated large-scale migration of Syrian Christians from central Travancore to the Western Ghats region of north Kerala. Uncultivated forest land was converted into farms and plantations. Despite the land reform measures, the neo-rich could secure the ownership of vast estates.
The Communists failed to recognise the ‘agricultural labourer’ and endeavoured namesake tenancy reforms just to topple the status of the traditional aristocracy. Thus, the scheduled castes and tribes were entirely left out of the ‘reforms’. The Communists snubbed those very people who had rallied behind them as unworthy of land ownership.
Informal tenancy has been rising with the self-help groups (mainly controlled by the Communist party or the Church) involved in farming and other activities in larger land holdings. The comrades took over the role of ‘Feudal Lords’ and governed the calendar, employment, and supply chain of the agricultural labourers as well as the paddy farmers. This ruined the paddy cultivation in the state and left the farm workers jobless and poor.
Even though the International community has been lauding the Kerala model of development and the high marks achieved by the state on the Human Development Index, the indigenous population of the adivasis has been struggling to cope up with the means of daily survival. The migrants from the lowlands took over the lands that were once the pristine abode of the tribal communities of the Western Ghats region by paying some tobacco and alcohol.
Now after sixty years, only stories of misfortune and deaths come out of the tribal hamlets. Malnutrition is the reason for the countless deaths of children and mothers in Attappady and Wayanad.
The success of ‘Kerala Model’ could not end lethal diseases like cholera, tuberculosis, anaemia, etc. among the tribes of Kerala. The primary cause of these illnesses is poor hygiene. Most of the vanavasi community do not get proper health care facility and safe drinking water.
A study conducted by the Chittur Government College, Palakkad, says that the Human Development indices of Irula, Muduga, and Kurumba tribes of Attappadi are far below those of Ethiopia. Governments after governments have been pumping funds as special packages for the adivasis only for them to end up in the hands of middlemen.
The vanavasis, who once lived as the children of the dense forests of Western Ghats, have been conducting continuous agitations for a strip of land for themselves. None of their cries received any serious action from the Communist governments either. While the Church plants its cross on acres of land in thick forests and high mountains of the Western Ghats, the scheduled caste/scheduled tribes of Kerala fight for a piece of land for their basic sustenance.
Although the government has around five lakh acre of land with expired lease period and around three lakh families remain landless, the requests of the agitators fighting for land remain unfulfilled. Instead, the rulers try to sabotage the agitations.
Usually, politicians remember the vanavasis only during elections. They forget the promises immediately after the polls. Hence, Maoists find a lush grove among the tribals. Even as we write this, a silent genocide of the adivasis of Kerala is happening due to sexual exploitation, intoxication, poor health care facilities, malnutrition, human trafficking and religious conversions.
Upperclass Elite Leadership
The CPI(M), which claims to demolish class and establish an egalitarian society, has failed to accommodate enough number of leaders from the SC/ST communities and women in the higher hierarchy of the party. So far, only people with an aristocratic background could become general secretary.
Hardly any members of the Scheduled Caste and Tribes can be seen in Polit Bureau, the highest body of the CPIM. The mainstream Communists have not put any sincere efforts to bring any SC/ST cadres into the leadership levels.
A woman autorickshaw driver from the SC/ST community, Chitralekha has been fighting the oppression by the local leadership of CITU, the worker’s front of the Communist party in Kannur.
Marxist vengeance against SC/ST communities is not new. Whenever they walk into the corridors of power, they systematically try to force their supremacy over the downtrodden. Atrocities against the people belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes are on the rise in Kerala after the ascendancy of Pinarayi Vijayan as Chief Minister. The mishandling of the Jisha rape and murder case by Kerala police and involvement of Marxists in the Walayar rape and hanging case of two minor girls has sent terrifying signals to the SC/ST community.
Among the 12 Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) workers mercilessly killed in the last ten months of Pinarayi government, at least three were from the Scheduled Castes. Siblings belonging to the Scheduled Caste community were arrested and put in prison in Kannur for raising their voice against CPI(M) workers who allegedly insulted them by referring to their caste.
Lakshmi Nair, a Communist sympathiser and principal of Kerala law academy who allegedly abused SC students and called them caste names still hasn’t ‘t faced any legal remedy. A top CPI leader of Pathanamthitta abused a left MLA referring to his caste; no action was taken. In Kottayam, the student’s wing of CPM forcefully intoxicated a student, Avinash, severely damaging his kidney. Rajesh Babu in Thiruvananthapuram, Vivek and Deepa M Mohan in MG University, Sruti Mol of RLV College, Tripoonithura, also are victims of the SFI atrocities in the educational institutions in Kerala. These incidents established that what Rohit Vemula told about SFI was indeed true.
The arrogance of the SFI students has not even spared teachers either. A group of students belonging to the SFI ‘felicitated’ the Principal of Palakkad Government Victoria College on her day of retirement by digging a grave for her. According to Dr N Sarasu, the victim, the students were under the influence of the teachers affiliated to the leftist teacher’s organisation, who used the students for their dirty tricks. Few student activists of SFI protested against the advice of the Principal by burning the chair of the Principal in Ernakulam Maharaja’s College. Here also, the leftist organisation of teachers took a stand justifying the students.
The Communist elites are unable to reckon with the concerns of the poor. They do not view the marginalised communities of Scheduled Castes and Tribes as people to be empowered but those to be exploited.
While the Marxist leaders push the children of ordinary citizens into student agitations ruining their studies, their children enjoy sheltered life with high-class education and employment opportunities. Pinarayi Vijayan’s daughter, T Veena, runs an IT firm, and Bineesh Kodiyeri was allegedly the Vice President of a Dubai-based company. Vijayan’s son did an expensive MBA from Birmingham. Kids of top CPM leaders Srimati, EP Jayarajan, etc. are highly placed using political signatures.
Reports of growing clout of wealthy NRI businessmen in the Communist leadership have also been doing rounds in the media. The Chief Minister’s daughter was reportedly the CEO of a company owned by NRI tycoon Ravi Pillai earlier.
The Marxists have completely ditched the SCs and STs which form a remarkable section of the dying Hindu population in the state. While granting special benefits for the converted Christians, this discrimination has further escalated. CPM believes that it can survive without the Hindus given the support they receive from the demographically stronger organised communities.
So, for the Communists of Kerala, the sole purpose behind their every action is sustaining Party rule by all means, whatever that may cost. After all, all men are equal, but some are more equal than others, and they should always rule.
Commies are the same everywhere: radical morons.
Kerala’s social attainments, sometimes referred to as a ‘model’, brought to scholarly attention by the UN study Poverty, Unemployment and Development Policy (1975), has occupied a prominent place in development literature. It is only a post facto generalisation of a historically evolved transformative experience in delivering broad-based healthcare (low infant mortality, high life expectancy, high female-male ratio etc), universal elementary education and social justice to a society once deeply divided by caste and class inequities of the worst order.
That this was achieved unsupported by high growth or industrialisation has baffled the received wisdom in economics. A pioneering paper in the International Journal of Health Services (1978) by John Ratcliffe on the demographic transition of the State from explosive population growth in the 1960s to low net birth rate within a span of 15 years, identified mass participation in development and equitable delivery of services (notably healthcare and education) as factors that clinched the process of change. To be sure, this was an unusual experience, a sort of ‘model’.
About semanticsRobin Jeffrey points out that the word was first used by Malcolm Adiseshiah in my book, Kerala Economy Since Independence (1979). Although Amartya Sen on his own and in several joint works with Jean Dreze popularised Kerala’s achievements through public action as an exemplar, they never used the term ‘model’. They even warned: “The rhetoric of ‘Kerala model’ is convenient for debunking purposes than for identifying what there is to learn from Kerala’s experience.”
Indeed, in their book, India’s Tryst with Destiny, Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya did subject the ‘Kerala model’ to a ‘debunking’ exercise. By wrongly mixing non-comparable historical facts out of context, they come to the spurious conclusion that whatever human development achievements Kerala has, was due to the private sector, economic growth and globalisation. I do not propose to counter their arguments which do not mention, leave alone debate, democratic politics, justice and freedom, values that made Kerala a ‘model’.
Jeffrey, an acknowledged scholar on Kerala, never formalised it as a ‘model’. He subtitles his book, Politics, Women and Well-being (1992) with the tagline, How Kerala Became ‘a Model’. He captures Kerala’s transformation thus: politics + women = well-being. The politics he refers to emphasises the distribution of power and wealth from the 1880s and the 1950s. The period certainly cannot go beyond 1980s, by which time Gulf money begins to flow and coalition politics has already changed the development paradigm that made Kerala famous. The sharp shift towards neo-liberal policies since 1991 hastened the process.
Focusing on just three aspects of the ‘model’, namely, democratic politics, social equity and women’s agency, I argue that it has lost its ethos.
Impact on political discourseOne, the coalition politics of Kerala with innumerable small parties aligned on either side of two fronts, the United Democratic Front led by the Indian National Congress and the Left Democratic Front led by the Communist Party (Marxist) has vitiated the character of democratic politics in the State. The moves and counter-moves of coalition politics have rendered common development goals and collective efforts difficult if not irrelevant. The growing intolerance of dissent and disrespect for the rule of law has worsened matters — political murders appear to have become endemic today.
Kerala society is deeply fragmented on the basis of rent-seeking coalitions such as caste associations, liquor contractors, PWD contractors, quarry contractors and the like broaching opportunistic alliance with some political party or other for mutual gains. Hartals, a staple of Kerala’s everyday life, are no longer an instrument of people’s protest. It is difficult to endorse the claims of Patrick Heller (1999) and others who consider Kerala a radical social democracy.
Two, Kerala’s egalitarian quest has been lost. Scheduled castes, tribes, fisherfolk and plantation labour are outliers in the ‘model’. Despite radical land reforms the communist slogan, “Land to the tiller”, remains unrealised. A study in the Economic and Political Weekly based on NSSO 70th round data shows that in 2012-13, 93.2 per cent of scheduled tribes and 72.3 per cent of scheduled castes in Kerala are landless (owning no land other than the homestead). Kerala’s Gini coefficient, 0.83 (only Punjab and Bihar have higher numbers), shows that land distribution remains highly skewed.
Although in 1957 the revenue minister announced in the State assembly that 7.82 lakh ha of land would be available for redistribution, hardly 5 per cent of it was redistributed. The exemptions given to plantation crops and the series of amendments made to ratify mala fide transfers since 1957 and that too when land became a lucrative means of accumulation of wealth thanks to Gulf money, the egalitarian significance of the reform was lost.
Following the rapid commercialisation of health and education since 1991 the pricing out of the poor from these services has become the rule. While as a percentage of SDP, health expenditure expanded at the rate of 0.30 per cent per annum and that of education 0.91 per cent during the 1980s, in the last 15 years (2000-2015) there has been a decline of the order of (-)0.49 per cent and (-)1.85 per cent respectively.
Growing inequalities in the distribution of monthly per capita consumption expenditure (MPCE) over the last two decades as well as exemplified in the various household consumer expenditure surveys of NSSO are significant. The disparity ratio between the average MPCE in the bottom 10 per cent to the topmost decile has widened since 1993-94. Those belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes, fisherfolk, plantation workers, dhobis and others who constitute only a negligible proportion of Gulf migrants, continue to remain marginalised.
Gender mismatchThree, the mounting evidence of crime against women, relatively high female suicide rate, the adverse female-male ratio of children in the age-group 0-6 years since 1991, and so on render it difficult for women to play their rightful role in the transformation of society. Macroeconomic factors and the social environment that shape gender relations in Kerala need serious re-examination. Indeed, Kerala is fast losing its credentials as a ‘model’.
The writer is an honorary fellow at CDS, Thiruvananthapuram