True Marxists have proclaimed that this is the age of capitalism all over India, including West Bengal and Kerala. E. M. S. Namboodiripad, who analyzed the feudal system, which was in vogue in Kerala earlier, had found that it consisted of princely rule, landlordism and caste supremacy. Neither he nor any other theoretician is known to have made a similar analysis of Kerala capitalism.
Under the Congress, princely rule ended. The Communists abolished landlordism. Thus two elements of feudalism disappeared. All that remained of the feudal system was caste supremacy. We still have with us caste and religious supremacy. It can make even non-believers to trek to the mountain shrine and queue up for temple prasad. It can even lead them to a karayogam office for a courtesy call or to the bishop’s palace to kiss his hand. Religion has prospered under both feudalism and capitalism in all parts of the world. Capitalism does not appear to be a problem even for the caste system, which is an exclusive product of Indian feudalism. Note how Indian capitalism, which considers the United States as the model in all other matters, opposes the extension of reservation to the private sector. Leading US companies, while inviting applications for jobs, generally state that they are equal opportunity employers.
When we try to identify the other elements of Kerala capitalism, we find that things are not working out here the way Marx anticipated. He saw ownership and control of the means of production as the source of strength of capitalism. There is little point in asking who controls the means of production in a society where there is hardly any production. In Kerala, often, it is not the capitalist but the political party that controls the means of production. When a party said “no” to computers and tractors, they could not come. When the party gave the nod, they could come. Who then has the decisive role?
Marx and Engels envisaged Communism as the post-capitalist phase. But the Communist movement has not succeeded so far in any country with developed capitalism. It was only in countries which were in the initial phase of industrialization, or had not yet begun the process, that Communist parties could seize power. After the party gained power, the industrialization process was carried forward by the government. That was why critics said that there was state capitalism in the Communist countries.
Kerala came under Communist influence as it was moving from feudalism to capitalism. The leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which took to electoral politics and became a part of the power structure, did not recognize its historical mission. It may be said that they were like students who did not know anything more than what they had committed to heart from the textbook. Their actions obstructed the movement towards capitalism. Kerala society got frozen between dying feudalism and unborn capitalism.
The state of the society is reflected in reports that appear in the newspapers daily. Here are some examples from the last few days’ newspapers:
There was tension as traders of Ambalamukku (in Thiruvananthapuram) obstructed authorities’ efforts to demolish shops on land that the government had acquired for widening of the road.
Popular resentment over the proposed Nagampadam-Kodimatha flyover (in Kottayam).
It has not been possible to remove garbage from the beach or hotels at Kovalam (near Thiruvananthapuram) for four days because there is no place to dump the waste.
A special scheme to find a solution to the complex problem of traffic jams in Kochi has been approved in principle at the Central level.
No ideological issue is involved in these news reports. But they contain a message. Kerala cannot go forward carrying the corpse of feudalism.
Steps to widen the State’s roads must have been taken two or three decades ago. Not that no efforts were made. The CPI (M) was with those who attempted to defeat those steps. The party had opposed the schemes, raising issues like the interests of hawkers and small traders. Now it has changed its approach. In the process, it has invited the charge that it is upholding the interests of big traders and ignoring those of small traders.
One has only to study recent road widening activity in Thiruvananthapuram to understand how not to undertake developmental schemes. When the road between Pattom and Kesavadasapuram was widened, the small shops disappeared. In their place, big stores and showrooms appeared. The customers of the old shops were people who lived near by. They came on foot or on bicycles. The customers of the new shops come in automobiles. The absence of parking facilities creates chaos. The authorities do not seem to have learnt a lesson from this experience. The same kind of road widening is now going on elsewhere in the city.
The state and the people often approach problems in a feudal way. This results in delays in acquisition of land. As project gets delayed, cost escalates. Many of the obstacles will disappear if the government takes the people who are likely to be affected adversely and try to find solutions to their legitimate grievances.
Based on “Nerkkazhcha” column appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated January 17, 2008