Vol. XLII No. 24 June 17, 2018

An Autobiography of a Remarkable Life

Prakash Karat

THE autobiography of Moyarath Sankaran, published by Chintha Publishers, brings to attention the life of a remarkable person – an intrepid freedom fighter, social activist and emerging Communist leader.

The autobiography was an unfinished project as it stops in 1932. The note written by his son, Janardanan, about his memories of Moyarath and drawing from his mother’s reminiscences and the competent afterword by Dr C Balan sketching out the political life of Moyarath till his death in 1948 have made the book a more wholesome account of an important segment of the political history of Northern Malabar.

Reading Moyarath Sankaran’s autobiography leaves one with a sense of everlasting regret. A sadness that such a life which had so much to contribute to society and the Communist movement was so brutally cut short by the murderous attack of Congress goondas and the police.

Because there is no doubt given Moyarath’s political trajectory – of becoming a Congress activist, resolute fighter for freedom, a Congress Socialist Party worker and finally joining the Communist Party – that he would have been in the front ranks of the leadership of the Communist Party, along with P Krishna Pillai, EMS Namboodiripad, AK Gopalan, MK Kelu, AV Kunhambu and others.

The autobiography gives a flavour of the 1920s and 1930s when from the non-cooperation movement onwards, the Congress party in Malabar took important strides to become a mass movement. Sankaran’s development from a Home Rule supporter, his sojourn in Kolkata where he imbibed new radical currents and his becoming a full-fledged Congress worker and fighter for independence is a valuable narrative.  This shows how Sankaran overcame the feudal values of his family and social background, got influenced by the social reform movement to fight against caste oppression and developed a political consciousness which took him to the Left movement.

His meetings with Sree Narayana Guru and Kumaran Asan as a school boy; the Malabar revolt of 1921 and the changing nature of the Congress party are all significant parts of the book.

The whole chapter on the Malabar peasant revolt is full of acute observations. He  characterises the rebellion as follows:

“The Malabar peasant struggle was, from beginning to end, a huge movement against the British administration. At no point of time was it a Hindu-Muslim clash. What upset Congress workers like us was the fact that even Gandhiji did not see through the machinations of the British imperial authorities which sought to undermine the allegiance of the nationalist movement towards the peasant struggle by willfully giving it a communal colouring, labeling it as a Hindu-Muslim clash, and causing it to be ridiculed in newspaper reports.”

He points out how a small section of the Muslims acted as agents of the British and the police and attacked Hindu houses and families to give the struggle a communal colour and to discredit the Khilafatists.

Moyarath’s life as a Congress worker in the 1920’s and early thirties was one of arduous work and travel from village to village; often without food and facing the hostility of the landlords and caste vested interests. But it is the toil of such activists in the Kurumbranad, Kottayam and Chirakkal taluks which laid the foundations for the peasant movement and later the Communist Party. He spent stints in Kannur, Bellary and Vellore jails where he became acquainted with socialist and revolutionary ideas.

Even before joining the CSP, in the memoirs upto 1932, the turn towards taking up the issues of the peasants/tenants against the landlords appears as an important aspect of Moyarath’s activities.

It is this anti-imperialist and anti-feudal strands of his political activity, so archetypical of the new generation of Congress activists in Malabar that saw Moyarath finding himself in the ranks of the CSP. He was part of the group which formed the Communist party at the founding conference in 1930 at Pinarayi.

The period after 1932 , is not available in this autobiography, though there is some evidence that he had written about it. That is something which would have been exceedingly valuable.

Moyarath had also established himself as a historian and scholar. He could in this hectic and eventful life – write books – a history of the INC, biographies of national leaders and compose poetry.

It is one of the counterfactuals of history – if Moyarath had not been killed - he would have been a Communist leader of great potential.  After all, he sprung up from the same political soil and ferment which produced, EMS, AK Gopalan, CH Kanaran and other leaders.

The way Moyarath was killed – gives his life a grandeur and pathos which has been the fate of other Communist greats. Antonio Gramsci, the founder of the Italian Communism, died in a fascist jail; P Krishna Pillai, the organiser of the Communist Party and a colleague of Moyarath, died the same year (in 1948) of a snake bite while underground.

Moyarath was badly beaten by Congress goondas who were taught to hate Communists. After being handed over to the police, he suffered further torture before dying of the injuries sustained after being transferred to Kannur jail. This happened in May,1948 just months after India got independence for which he had so arduously struggled.

Moyarath had stated at one time that he was old and did not look forward to much of an active life. But he was 58 years when he was murdered. If he had lived, the times and circumstances were such that it would have propelled him to fulfill what his entire life had prepared him for – a revolutionary who would have taken the struggle forward to new heights.

The account of the life and times of Moyarath has been brought out vividly by the superb translation by Radhika P Menon. Often, political memoirs written in Malayalam have suffered due to flawed translation into English. Not so Moyarath’s book. The translation and the annotated notes have effectively brought the saga of this martyr to all those outside Kerala.