Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad (13 June 1909 – 19 March 1998), popularly EMS, was an Indian communist politician and theorist, who served as the first Chief Minister of Kerala state in 1957–59 and then again in 1967–69. As a member of the Communist Party of India (CPI), he became the first non-Indian National Congress chief minister in the Indian republic. In 1964, he led a faction of the CPI that broke away to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM).
As chief minister, Namboodiripad pioneered radical land and educational reforms in Kerala, which helped it become the country’s leader in social indicators. It is largely due to his commitment and guidance that the CPM, of which he was Politburo member and general secretary for 14 years, has become such a domineering political force, playing a vital role in India’s new era of coalition politics.
Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad was born on 13 June 1909, as the son of Parameswaran Namboodirippad, at Elamkulam, in Perintalmanna taluk of the present Malappuram district into an aristocratic upper-caste Brahmin family. In his early years, he was associated with V. T. Bhattathiripad, M. R. Bhattathiripad and many others in the fight against the casteism and conservatism that existed in the Namboothiri community. He became one of the office bearers of Valluvanadu Yogaskshema Sabha, an organisation of progressive Namboothiri youth. During his college days, he was deeply associated with the Indian National Congress and Indian independence movement.
He was a writer and author of several literary works and his book on the history of Kerala is notable. He was well known for his stammer. When asked if he always stammered, he would reply, “No, only when I speak.
In 1934, he was one of the founders of Congress Socialist Party, a socialist wing within the Indian National Congress, and elected as its All India Joint Secretary from 1934 to 1940. During this period, he was also elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly (1939).
He remained committed to socialist ideals, and his compassion towards the working class led him to join the Communist movement. The Indian government considered him to be one of the founders of the Communist Party of India (CPI) in Kerala, forcing him to go in hiding. During the 1962 Sino-Indian war, he was among leaders who aired China’s view on the border issue. When the CPI split in 1964, Namboodiripad stood with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)). He served as a member of the Central Committee and the Politburo of the CPI(M) until his death in 1998. Namboodiripad became general secretary in 1977, a designation he held until 1992. A Marxist scholar, he influenced the development of Kerala, of whom he was the first Chief Minister.
During his political career, Namboodiripad lost to K. P. Kuttikrishnan Nair (founder of Trade Union Movement in India) of the Indian National Congress by a huge margin from the Kozhikode constituency. In 1957, Namboodiripad led theCommunist Party of India to victory in the first election for the state government, making him the first communist leader in India to head a popularly elected government. The first democratically elected communist government in the world came to power in San Marino in 1945. It was also the first time for a regional party in India to win state elections. On 5 April 1957 he was appointed as the first chief minister of Kerala. His government introduced the Land Reform Ordinance andEducation Bill. In 1959, the Central Government dismissed his government through the controversial Article 356 of the Indian Constitution following “The Liberation Struggle”.
Indira Gandhi convinced Nehru, who was hesitant to dismiss a democratically elected government, to make such a decision. A few declassified Central Intelligence Agency documents show that the first Communist government concerned them and “preventing additional Keralas became an important argument for augmenting U.S. assistance to India”. According to the biography of former US Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, “the election results rang alarm bells in Washington”
He became the Chief Minister of Kerala for the second time in 1967 as the leader of a seven-party coalition including the Muslim League. He wooed the Muslim League by promising them a district of their own, which has been seen as a highly selfish move to make for a communist. This time his tenure lasted for two and a half years, and he created a separate district called ‘Malappuram’ during this term as per prior agreement. Soon after becoming Chief Minister again, on 31 January 1968 he inaugurated Asia’s first mechanised coir factory called Floorco in Pozhikkara, Paravur.
Namboodiripad was the Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Legislative Assembly from 1960 to 1964 and again from 1970 to 1977. His vision of decentralisation of power and resources (People’s Plan) and the Kerala Literacy Movement influenced Kerala society. He authored several books in English and Malayalam. Chintha Publication, Kerala has published all his books under the title, “E M S Sanchika”. He was well known as a journalist as well.
During the 1962 Sino-Indian war, other parties portrayed left-wing parties as pro-China, since both were Communist. Namboodiripad stated that the left was focused on solving the border dispute through talks.
Namboodiripad, Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, Joseph Mundassery, M. P. Paul and K. Damodaran were architects of “Jeevat Sahitya Prastanam”, renamed Purogamana Sahitya Prastanam (Progressive Association for Arts and Letters). Though the party considered Kesari one of the visionaries of the Progressive Movement for Arts and Letters in Kerala, serious differences of opinion emerged between full-time Communist Party activists and other personalities, namely Kesari and Mundassery. In this context, Namboodiripad famously accused Kesari of being a “Petit-Bourgeois intellectual”, an appellation he retracted. Namboodiripad also acknowledged some of the earlier misconceptions of the Communist Party with respect to the Progressive Literature and Arts Movement. This debate is known as “Rupa Bhadrata Vivadam”, an important milestone in the growth of Modern Malayalam Literature.
Namboodiripad died on 19 March 1998. He was married to Arya Antharjanam and had two sons and two daughters.