31 March 2021
James Whitmore / The LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION / GETTY IMAGES
James Whitmore / The LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION / GETTY IMAGES

EMS NAMBOODIRIPAD (LEFT) and members of his cabinet head to lunch from their offices in Trivandrum in April 1957, shortly after he was sworn in as the chief minister of Kerala.

The Communist Party of India won the largest share of seats in the inaugural election to the Kerala legislative assembly and formed one of the world’s first elected communist governments—in the thick of the Cold War, and amid a Congress monopoly over all other state governments at the time. Namboodiripad’s administration struggled to contain massive backlash to its programme of reforms. Its tenure was cut short in barely about two years and three months, when the central government under Jawaharlal Nehru imposed president’s rule in Kerala.

Namboodiripad was a Congress man early on, and in the mid 1930s he was part of the Congress Socialist Party, a bloc trying to move the bourgeois Congress in a socialist direction. As a communist chief minister, he enacted land reforms promised but never realised by the Congress itself—including stronger tenure rights for the peasantry, a ceiling on holdings and the redistribution of surplus land, all anathema to a powerful class of large landowners. His government also pushed ahead with regulating Kerala’s private educational institutions, then largely under the grip of the Catholic Church and community groups such as the Nair Service Society.

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