V.S.ACHUTHANANDAN by Prof. Prabhat Patnaik
(scroll down for the video)
It is difficult these days, after the end of the classical period of Communism, to find a Communist leader who enjoys such mass popularity as V.S.Achuthanandan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He may not be well-known outside his state, Kerala, but within the state, which has a population of over 33 million, he is by far the most popular political leader. In fact it is difficult to think of any living Communist leader, other than Fidel Castro of course, who enjoys such massive popularity, cutting across party lines.
Born into an Ezhava family in the Alapuzha district of Kerala in 1923, Achuthanandan, who lost his mother at the age of four and his father at the age of eleven, had to give up his studies and work as a tailor’s apprentice. Later he joined a coir factory as a worker and participated in trade union activities, through which he came to Communism and became a member of the Party in 1940, shortly after its formation in Kerala in 1939. When the undivided Communist Party split in 1964, Achuthanandan who had spent almost a decade of his life in jail or underground, became one of the founding members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He spent twelve years as the Secretary of the Kerala State CPI(M) and almost a decade as the Leader of the Opposition in Kerala State Legislative Assembly, before leading the Left Democratic Front, of which the CPI(M) was the principal constituent, to a massive victory in the 2006 elections, to become the Chief Minister of the state for the next five years. The LDF narrowly lost the 2011 elections, which was itself a creditable feat in view of Kerala’s history of always rejecting incumbent governments, and Achuthanadan became once more the Leader of the Opposition, a post he holds to date.
There is something intriguing about Achuthanandan’s popularity. Despite having little formal education he commands enormous respect among the intelligentsia of this highly literate and intellectually-sophisticated state. Despite being 89 years old, he has remarkable appeal among the youth. And despite being an old Communist from the Comintern days, he enjoys substantial support among “civil society” activists. He is truly the last of the great communist leaders produced in Kerala which has been a bastion of the Communist movement in India.
Communism in Kerala, which has been a legatee of the egalitarian upsurge of the twentieth century that found expression in the Temple Entry movement, and above all in the social reform movement of Shree Narayana Guru, has been a major contributor to the remarkable transformation that the state has witnessed: from being a strongly feudal society, with such horrendous practices as “untouchability” and even “unseeability” at the beginning of the twentieth century, to being what it is today, a progressive society with egalitarian values, and with the most impressive Human Development indicators anywhere in the third world. The basis for V.S.Achuthanandan’s popularity lies essentially in the fact that, with his simple life-style, his integrity, and his abiding commitment to these egalitarian values, he embodies this great tradition of Kerala.
Five Questions with V.S. Achuthanandan
V.S. Achuthanandan is one of the world’s greatest political leaders and arguably the most popular political figures in India today. V.S. Achuthanandan’s vision for society has had a tremendous impact on the growth and success of what has been celebrated as “The Kerala Model.” His commitments to communal harmony and fundamental human equality have helped Kerala achieve socio-economic progress that remains largley unmatched by any other state in India and few other nations in the world. He locates his ideological commitment in the major social revolution launched by Narayana Guru at the turn of the 20th century that up-ended the disorder of caste and set a new frame for social engagement that ultimately provided political space for egalitarian frames that led to the successes of the Communist Party in Kerala. It was this egalitarian space for political discourse, championed by Narayana Guru, that allowed Achuthanandan to enter into politics through trade unions activities, where he demonstrated his characteristic qalities of dedication to the greater good, integrity and political acumen. Despite his great success and his long career, what is remarkable of V.S. Achuthanandan is his shrewd understanding of the current moment. This ever-youthful capacity for perception makes him one of the most popular leaders amongst young Keralites.
The above piece was written for Baraza by the preeminent Economist, Prof. Prabhat Patnaik.
As a former Kerala State Planning Board Vice-Chairman, Prof. Patnaik has worked closely with V.S. Achuthanandan to bring important reforms to Kerala’s Labor Laws. He has fought to increase the minimum wage and to expand on the right’s and benefits afforded to daily wage workers. Under Achuthanandan and with Prof. Patnaik’s guidance, the Kerala Communist Party has achieved unparalled popular support for its progressive initiatives.
Deep gratitude to V.S. Achuthanandan and Prof. Patnaik for their time and insights.