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The Liberation Struggle (1958–59) (Vimochana Samaram in Malayalam) is an anti-Communist socio-political agitation, started in 1958, against the first elected state-government in Kerala, India, which was led by E. M. S. Namboodiripad of the Communist Party of India as the chief minister. The opposition of the Catholic church in Kerala, the Nair Service Society and the Indian Union Muslim League, along with the manoeuvres of the political front led by the Indian National Congress Party, against the land reform and the education policies of the government finally broke out to an open struggle and state wide violence against the government machinery and institutions. These events finally culminated in the dismissal of the state government on 31 July 1959, by the Central Government of India, which was led by the Indian National Congress during that period.
On 1 November 1956, the state of Kerala was formed by the States Reorganisation Act merging the Malabar district, Travancore-Cochin and the taluk of Kasargod, South Kanara. In 1957, elections for the new Kerala Legislative Assembly were held, and a reformist, Communist-led government came to power, under E. M. S. Namboodiripad. It was the first time a Communist government was democratically elected to power in India. It initiated the pioneering land reforms and educational reforms by introducing new bills in the state assembly. However, some clauses in the new bills became controversial and the government had to face severe opposition from influential interest groups, such as the Catholic Church of Kerala, Muslim League and NSS.
The controversial legislation
The immediate cause of the outbreak of the Liberation Struggle was the introduction of the Education Bill by the minister of education Joseph Mundassery. The bill had revolutionary content that could have had an impact on the administration of educational institutions, which were financially aided by the government. Many of these institutions, at that time, were under the control of various Christian congregations and a few under the Nair Service Society (NSS). The Education Bill claimed to regulate appointments and working conditions of the teachers in the government-aided schools. The remuneration of the teachers were to be paid directly from the government treasury. It also mandated to takeover any government-aided educational institution, if they fail to meet the conditions set by the newly promulgated bill.
Agrarian relations bill
With the introduction of agrarian relations bill, the government sought to confer ownership rights on tenant cultivators, to grant permanent ownership of land for the agricultural labourers, who reside in their premises at the mercy of landlords, and to attain an equal distribution of land by putting a ceiling on the individual land holdings so as to distribute the surplus land among the landless. With the introduction of the bill, government tried to address the social imbalance that prevailed in the state. In those days, the agricultural labourers, called as kudikidappukar, were considered as slaves. Though they were allowed to stay in a piece of land allotted by the landlord, they were denied any payments for their labour and permanent rights in the land. However, many radical proposals of this bill raised panic among the landowning communities of Kerala, especially Nairs and Syrian Christians.
- Political parties: Besides the socio-religious organizations, all the major opposition parties including Indian National Congress, Praja Socialist Party (PSP), Muslim League, Revolutionary Socialist Party, and Kerala Socialist Party rallied together demanding the dismissal of the EMS ministry. They formed a joint steering committee with R. Sankar as the president and P. T. Chacko, Pullolil, Kumbalathu Sanku Pillai, Mathai Manjooran, Fr. Joseph Vadakkan, B. Wellington, N. Sreekantan Nair, C. H. Muhammed Koya, and Bafaqi Thangal among its members.
- Syrian Christians: A significant proportion of the schools in Kerala were owned by Syrian Christian Churches . They found many reformist policies of government as infringements over their rights and hence used newspapers and other publications, such as Deepika and Malayala Manorama to propagate panicking messages against the controversial policies. Christians used their political influence in the central government in order to derail the educational reforms; the Education Bill was referred to the Supreme court by the President of India and on 17 May 1958 the Supreme Court reported that some clauses of the bill infringed the constitutional rights of minorities. However, government got the presidential assent on 19 February 1959 after revising the bill. The disagreement got widened and the Church representatives sought the help of NSS to fight against the government. Following the Angamaly police firing (13 June 1959), in which seven of its members were killed, the Catholic Church and other Syrian Christian Churches actively participated in the struggle, mobilizing massive support.
- Nair Service Society: NSS, a community welfare organization of Nairs, was a major opponent of land reform policies of the government, which they considered as radical and ill-disposed towards the Nair community of Kerala. In December 1958, NSS joined up with the Catholic Church to form an anti-communist front. The government retracted partially on sensing trouble, that could be created by the alliance of NSS and the Syrian Christians, and indicated its readiness to make concessions. However, the founder leader of NSS, Mannathu Padmanabhan, declared that "the aim is not limited to the redressal of specific issues but extended to the removal of the Communist Party". He called on all the field units of NSS to organize the people, and also the educational institutes to close them.
- Central Intelligence Agency (CIA): The role of CIA in the struggle is depicted in the work of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, United States' ambassador to India (1973–75) in his 1978 book: "A Dangerous Place". His statements are corroborated by Howard Schaffer, the biographer of Ellsworth Bunker, who was the US ambassador during 1956–61. Bunker is quoted confirming American and his involvement in funding the agitation against the EMS's communist government to prevent "additional Keralas".
Agitations and reprisals
Rallies and demonstrations against the government took place throughout the state. The protests were spearheaded by the Indian National Congress, the then ruling party of India and were later supported by various religious and communal groups. The communists strongly believed that the Central Intelligence Agency discreetly supported these protests, financially and otherwise. The death of a pregnant fisher woman, named Flory, a Christian woman in the police firing aggravated the situation.
One notable feature of the movement was the participation of school and college students supporting the movement; the Kerala Students Union, the student wing of the Indian National Congress also played a role.
The immediate effect of the Vimochana Samaram was the dismissal of the Communist government under E. M. S. on 31 July 1959 and imposition of the President's rule in the state under Article 356 of the constitution.
Soon after the dismissal, a state election was declared and the United Front, led by Indian National Congress, won with majority, a ministry under Pattom A. Thanu Pillai took office. However, the biggest gainer in terms of votes was the Communist Party. It was polled 20.61 lakhs out of 58.4 lakhs (35.3%) in 1957, while their tally increased to 31.7 lakhs votes out of 81 lakhs (39.14%) in 1960, so it attracted 11 lakhs of new followers with their 2 year stint.
The Communist Party of India projects the Liberation Struggle as a conspiracy. Some of the key points of criticism were that it was an anti-democratic, CIA funded, communal movement aimed to shatter the first democratically elected communist ministry. It has further accused that the Indian National Congress had joined hands in public with anti-democratic splinters and communal forces for the downfall of a democratically elected government.
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- E. M. S. Namboodiripad#Election to state Government
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