Professor M.N. Vijayan—a Leftist scholar of great repute, an incisive writer and orator, a social critic and an unyielding political activist which Kerala has ever seen—is now history.

Vijayan died at a crucial time when critiquing of the mainstream Left has been seen as ‘game-plans’ of the much-reviled ‘media syndicate’ in Kerala. But long before the CPI-M unleashed its orchestrated campaign against him, M.N. Vijayan had proved himself to be a ‘dissenter-extraordinary’ which not many people of his generation or his successors could accept because of the powerful nature of his penetrating analysis.

Born in 1930, M.N.Vijayan had his early education in Trichur and Ernakulam. His acquaintance with the freedom movement began in his early life. At the beginning he was a Leftwing sympathiser within Indian National Congress like other Communists. He became an inevitable part of the progressive movement in Kerala after its formation. Vijayan took his MA from the University of Madras and became a teacher in Madras New College. After his return to Kerala to take up the teaching profession in the Brennen College, Thalassery—where he spent a considerable part of his life—he has been a fellow traveller of communism. Over the last fifty years, M.N.Vijayan wrote and spoke extensively on art, literature, politics, philosophy and psychology. His powerful voice against fascism and communalism earned quite a lot of enemies for him. Vijayan’s oratory was so amazing that he could sustain his audience across broad sections of Kerala society till his last breath. His early passion for Freudian psychology brought forth a number of articles and books. Vijayan’s modesty did not permit to receive the Sahitya Academy award. The ‘neocultural-materialism’ of Vijayan had a unique style and expression with simple anecdotes and metaphors constituting an important part of his public-speeches.

Vijayan became a bete noire for the mainstream Left parties when he started questioning the very rationale and purpose of foreign funding in the background of the ‘People’s Planning’ the LDF Government had launched in 1996. Since then Vijayan was under pressure to bid farewell to the CPI-M-led progressive camp. When it happened a few years back, he was not so much worried. Rather, he became more political and ideological in his articulation and exposition of the Left deviation in Kerala. However, sadly, Vijayan soon became the target of insensitive public criticism—mostly from his erstwhile colleagues and fellow comrades. The vilification campaign, initiated in the party mouthpieces such as Deshabhimani and Chintha, continued all these years with comments bordering on character assassination. Unfortunately, M.N. Vijayan who devoted a considerable part of his life to the Left cause in Kerala was under siege for sometime and he had to encounter a whole lot of intellectual attacks paraded by the CPI-M.

WHILE acting as the editor of Deshabhimani weekly, Vijayan was also officiating as the editor of Padam, a tri-monthly magazine which set off a major controversy with the publication of a series of articles by S. Sudheesh who had also been a CPI-M fellow traveller for long. Some of the leading Malayalam dailies flashed the allegations depicted in Padam on their front pages. Sudheesh alleged that the ‘People’s Planning’ launched by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government in 1996 was a foreign-inspired, Dutch-funded programme. According to him, the main intellectual source was Richard Franke, a US anthropologist, who frequently visited Kerala and made use of the facilities at the Centre for Development Studies (CDS). Kerala Shastra Sahithya Parishath (KSSP) was also seen as instrumental in initiating and advancing the agenda of decentralised planning. Among those who were targeted in the article included many leading Left intellectuals.

This created a furore within the party. V.S. Achuthanandan and his faction took up the issue of foreign-funding and the involvement of external agencies in the plan campaign. In fact, those who stood behind V.S.Achuthananthan in the CPI-M, unleashed a major campaign which was seen by the party leadership as ‘Left deviation’. This was later poised for a near-split within the party bordering on an ‘open war’ between the ‘Pinarai faction’ and ‘VS faction’.

Prominent left leaders discussed and debated the issues from different angles, which created a serious ideological rift in the CPI (M) too. A major section of the party blamed M.N. Vijayan for triggering off the controversy. The Malappuram State Conference of the CPI-M, held in February 2005, set the stage for an ideological rift. However, the Achuthanandan faction eventually yielded to the pressure of the central leadership, resulting in the victory of the ‘Pinarayi faction’. Though M.N.Vijayan was supposed to be a speaker in the State Conference, he was instructed by the top leadership not to attend the meeting. What provoked the party was an article written by M.N. Vijayan, just before the Malappuram Conference, in Mathrubhoomi under the title, ‘Aravum kathiyum’, pointing to the unhealthy tendencies within the party. Pinarayi Vijayan, the party Secretary, came down heavily on his own guru. Being discontented with these developments, M.N. Vijayan stepped down from Deshabhimani. After his exit, CPI-M intellectuals set in motion a spate of criticism and vituperative attacks against Vijayan. A few even portrayed him as a ‘crony’ of the anti-Communist camp, a ‘brain-child of the media syndicate’ without any regard to his intellectual honesty and untainted life.

M.N. Vijayan and his friends were, however, determined to carry on the struggle. A new organisation, Adhinivesa Prathirodha Samithi (Council for Resisting Imperialist Globalisation), was formed in 2005 at a convention of like-minded pro-Left activists who had converged in Thrissur from different parts of the State. The Council has been a broad platform transcending the narrow limits of party politics, caste, religion and gender. Its members have the firm resolve not to accept any financial or ideological ‘assistance’ that forms part of the imperialist-colonisation agenda. At the Conference Vijayan pointed out that restoring ‘human will’ would be the fundamental goal in the resistance against the colonisation efforts of the imperialist forces.

M.N. Vijayan was exhorting the people to be conscious about the booming ‘consumerist self-selling culture’ that capitalism has been diffusing across the world in the name of globalisation. He was pained to admit that his own partymen had fallen victim to this culture pointing to the rush of people after materialist pleasures. Vijayan wrote that any organisation could degenerate itself into an instrument of a few. But this ‘iron-law of oligarchy’ should not happen in a Left organisa-tion. Marx used thoughts as a way to transform society. But transformation should mean dynamic changes in the structure of society. Today, even those who do not have any commitment to transforming society are claiming to be part of that ‘change’. Change here means nothing other than adjustments, compromise and even surrender. “This is degradation, and under neoliberalism it has assumed the character of greater individua-lism and vulgar depoliticisation.” Vijayan warned that neoliberalism was determined to end the political influence in society.

In his last press conference on October 3, 2007, in Thrissur, where he collapsed (and died) after speaking a few words, he called upon the people to be vigilant, as the ‘bus’ is already running on the wrong track. Quoting a court order which acquitted him in a case filed by the KSSP for writing ‘defamatory’ things against the organisation, Vijayan said: “Let us not sell our credibility.” He fumbled as he proceeded to speak further about what the people should do. The media room was literally shaken when a towering personality of his stature chose the last moments of his life with fellow journalists. The public sphere of Kerala has been experiencing a drain of intellectual resources for sometime and the demise of Professor Vijayan has added further to this crisis of credibility and intellectual honesty.


Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 45 : Wednesday 31 October 2007, By K M Seethi