With elections to the panchayats and the State Assembly fast approaching, organisations of the Nair and Ezhava communities, which account for the bulk of Kerala's Hindu population, have started making noises.
On Friday, Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, the century-old organisation of the backward Ezhava community, held a massive rally at Kochi and proclaimed a charter of demands, which seeks for the community proportional representation in the political, social, industrial and economic spheres.
Three weeks earlier, the Nair Service Society, which is still a few years short of its centenary, had adopted a resolution demanding reservation for the community in admissions to educational institutions and appointments to government service.
The present reservation policy, which was discriminatory and unscientific, had denied the Nair community equality of opportunity and relegated it to backwardness, the resolution said. To overcome the situation, it proposed that reservation in government employment and education, now restricted to the backward communities, be extended to Nairs too.
Both the Yogam and the NSS invoked the principle of social justice in support of their demands. The Constitution of India, as it now stands, allows special provisions like reservation only for "socially and educationally backward classes" of citizens. Among the beneficiaries of reservation are Ezhavas, Muslims and backward sections of Christians.
The Yogam, established in the time of Sree Narayana Guru, was the first of several social organisations whose combined efforts helped modernise Kerala's caste-ridden society. It was followed by the Sadhujana Paripalana Sangham, of Ayyankali, the earliest fighter for Dalit rights.
The Nair community had enjoyed high social status in the feudal period although it was never recognised as part of the three so-called upper castes, comprising Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas. As feudalism was crumbling, a band of young Nairs, led by Mannath Padmanabhan, realised that the community was on the decline. They founded the NSS to better its lot.
This was followed by the formation of the Yogakshema Sabha, which spearheaded the reform movement of the Namboodiri Brahmins.
As organisations working for social reform, they found areas where they could cooperate. Thus, when a satyagraha was on at Vaikom, under the auspices of the Congress, to assert the right of the so-called lower castes to use roads around a temple, Mannath Padmanabhan mobilised Nair support for the agitation.
However, there was a difference in the motivations of the different community organisations. While the victims of the old social order were fighting to secure equal rights, its beneficiaries were essentially seeking ways to retain their supremacy in the emerging new order.
CP Nair, a former chief secretary to the government, in a newspaper article upheld the NSS argument that the community had been relegated to backwardness. He said the land reform measure of the 1970s had dispossessed Nair landowners. With the decline of agriculture, the economic foundations of the community collapsed. Also, it did not benefit to any significant extent from the migration to the Gulf States and to Western countries.
While this assessment is substantially correct, it is not sufficient to warrant the conclusion that the Nairs have become socially and educationally backward. The community's problem is one of economic backwardness. The NSS resolution is part of a campaign to secure an amendment of the Constitution to extend reservation to cover economic backwardness as well.
The NSS's sabre-rattling brought immediate results. Leader of Opposition Oommen Chandy and Pradesh Congress President Ramesh Chennithala rushed to the NSS headquarters at Perunna, near Changanassery, suing for peace.
The NSS leadership was not mollified. It has been annoyed with the Congress since the induction of Shashi Tharoor, whom it has dubbed a 'Delhi Nair,' in the central ministry instead of a Nair MP acceptable to it. It became even more furious when the Congress nominated a Muslim to contest an Assembly seat which was earlier held by a Nair who was in its good books.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) extended support to the NSS resolution. The party has been backing reservation on the basis of economic criteria since the time of the late EMS Namboodiripad.
The NSS publicly expressed appreciation of the CPI-M's response.
The immediate objective of the NSS and the SNDP Yogam is limited. They are flexing muscles to pressure the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the CPI-M-led Left Democratic Front into picking candidates acceptable to them from the two communities in the forthcoming elections, especially the Assembly poll due next year.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 25, 2010.