In difficult discussion on Kerala,two leaders courteous in disagreement

It was with a “top secret” telegram on the night of July 30,1959,that Nehru conveyed to Kerala governor B Ramakrishna Rao

Written by Seema Chishti | New Delhi | Published:August 27, 2013 1:12 am

The role of the telegram,now dead,as a form of rapid communication is reflected in the Selected Papers of Jawaharlal Nehru,the three most recent volumes of which,edited by historian Madhavan Palat,were released last month.

It was with a “top secret” telegram on the night of July 30,1959,that Nehru conveyed to Kerala governor B Ramakrishna Rao the union cabinet’s decision to dismiss the communist government in that state,and that the governor should “send for chief minister Namboodiripad as early as possible and inform him of this decision of the President and that it will take effect tomorrow evening”.

Dictating a two-paragraph message to E M S Namboodiripad,Nehru goes on to record his “gratitude at the courtesy you have always shown to me” and his “regret” that circumstances “should have developed as they have done”.

It has been widely believed it was the emergence of and pressure from Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi — she had recently been elected Congress president — that made Nehru finally agree to the dismissal of the government. Nehru appears to address this perception in a note on June 11,where he makes it a point to mention that Indira had not been present at meeting he had held with Namboodiripad.

Kerala presented a challenge to the Nehru government at that time. Formed in the states reorganisation of 1956,it had its first election in 1957,leading to the formation of a communist government with a slim majority. It was the first non-Congress government in India,and the world’s first elected communist government.

The Centre dismissed it in just two years,using Article 356. A series of protests coordinated by the Kerala Congress under the ‘Vimochana Samaram’,mainly against the state government’s land and education reforms,eventually led to a prolonged stand-off,administrative trouble and finally dismissal of the government.

In the July 11 note on a three-hour session with Namboodiripad at Nehru’s retreat in Mashobra in the Himalayas,the latter records how the two leaders discussed,apart from Kerala,“the general situation in the world,the prospects of war and peace,the formation of the Swatantra Party in India,Marxism and the effect of the great growth of technology on the original ideas of Marx etc”.

He mentions that while Indira (and her sons,Rajiv and Sanjay) were present at lunch,“no one else was present at our talks” (with Namboodiripad). This,he says,he has to mention,“because the radio announced that Indira Gandhi was present.”

Namboodiripad asks Nehru directly what he “would do if similar acts of violence and destruction were committed in other states by the opposition parties there,and further whether the state government in Kerala is not entitled to the same protection at your hands as other state governments”. In a letter dated July 26,Nehru writes,“Surely,you should know that we have tried our utmost to check these activities. The Government of India and the Congress organisation as such are not identical,and there are limits beyond which the government cannot control strong public reactions.” He adds,“Certainly,we have some influence with the Congress organisation,even though that was limited in the circumstances,but as far as other organisations are concerned,even that influence is lacking.”

After Namboodiripad’s government was dismissed,the bitterness this must have caused did not stop him from writing to Nehru: “I need not tell you how concerned we ourselves have been at the situation here. That was why we requested you to use your good offices to bring the situation here back to normalcy. You however thought that restoration of normalcy requires you to take a course,which I need not repeat,we do not consider the proper course.”

Just as Nehru ended his message following the dismissal with a desire to discuss “important aspects of the Kerala problem with him”,Namboodiripad too concludes his note,written on a difficult day,with “hope to see you some time later and discuss with you whatever aspects of the Kerala problem or other problems which you want to discuss with me”.

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