SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT WHILE INAUGURATING THE KERALA LEGISLATURE COMPLEX AT THIRUVANANTHAPURAM (SPEECH 22-May-1998)
Friday May 22, 1988
It is with the greatest pleasure that I inaugurate the new Legislature Complex at Thiruvananthapuram. I would like to thank the Chief Minister and the Hon`ble Speaker of the Kerala Legislative Assembly for their invitation to me to participate in this heart-warming event.
It is a great satisfaction and a joy to see many old and new friends here -- the Chief Minister Shri Nayanar and his Cabinet colleagues and an impressive array of distinguished former Chief Ministers, Speakers and Ministers, as well as so many younger legislators belonging to student movements, trade unions, kisan sabhas, women`s organizations as well as underprivileged sections of society. This is symbolic of the march of democracy in Kerala preserving the continuity of the vigorous parliamentary traditions in the State and embracing in its sweep younger and wider sections of the people of the State.
But to-day I miss one personality -- Shri E.M.S. Namboodiripad -- who passed away recently, and whose contributions to democracy in Kerala and in India as a whole, have been of many-sided significance. E.M.S. was an eminent member of this august Assembly, a Chief Minister, a great legislator, administrator, educator and a social theorist, who added a new dimension to parliamentary democracy, at once revolutionary and constructive, charging it with the spirit of political militancy and the content of social and economic transformation. On this occasion I should like to pay my tribute to his memory.
May I at the outset extend my heartiest felicitations to the people of Kerala, and to their elected representatives on this splendid acquisition of theirs -- this fine complex, with its gracious and spacious Assembly Hall and its ample auxiliary facilities. It is a unique architectural creation fit for the ever-alert, ever-wakeful, restless and responsible parliamentary democracy that the people of Kerala have developed for themselves.
In the great tree of Indian democracy Kerala has been a flowering branch bearing some of the rarest fruits. I say this not out of bias for my own home State - a bias that I readily acknowledge. I say so because democracy was inherent in the thought and culture of Kerala despite many anti-democratic features that had crept into and deformed its society. The idea of freedom and unity, which is the soul of democracy, was instinct in the philosophy of Sankara as it was in the Upanishads. Historically, Kerala was, perhaps, the earliest expression and an advanced manifestation of the pluralist society of India held together by a common culture and an overarching attitude of tolerance. Here different streams of thought, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Islamic, and different racial elements came together and commingled from time immemorial, and co-existed in greater harmony than anywhere else. While this is the basic foundation of democracy in Kerala, it has also been the outcome of the initiatives taken by some of the enlightened princely rulers of the State, and of periodical, and often prolonged, political and social struggles and movements of the people of the State.
In Kerala social and the political processes had combined together to contribute to the emergence of a progressive society and a democratic system. Of these the most far-reaching was the movement launched by Sri Narayana Guru which brought about a spiritual, social and political revolution in Kerala. Sri Narayana Guru was the major force responsible for transforming what Swami Vivekananda called `the lunatic asylum of India` into a more egalitarian, tolerant and sane society that it is to-day. Other movements and associations like the S.N.D.P., the Nair Service Society, the Christian, Islamic and various caste organizations, even though based on religious or communal lines, had the effect of raising the consciousness of different sections of the people, educating them and contributing indirectly to the general upliftment of society. The awakening and organisation of the depressed classes under the leadership of Ayyankali is particularly noteworthy in this respect. Above all, there was the impact of the Indian nationalist movement on Kerala. The part played by Kerala in the nationalist struggle has not yet been fully acknowledged in the history of India`s freedom movement. The rebellions against British domination by the Raja of Pazhassi, Velu Thampi Dalava, Paliath Achan and by the Moplahs in North Malabar were soul-stirring events. So also were the sacrifices made by the young heroes of Malabar during the Quit India movement. Concurrent with the freedom struggle, the Malayalees under illustrious leaders like K.P. Kesava Menon, Kelappan, C. Kesavan, Sahodaran Ayyappan, Pattom Thanu Pillai, T.M. Verghese, G. Ramachandran, Panampally Govinda Menon, Mohamed Koya and a host of others organized and led campaigns for the political and social rights and for responsible government for the people of Kerala. It was this political and social preparation that made it possible for parliamentary democracy to emerge successfully in Kerala after 1947, especially after the formation of the State ofKerala in 1956.
It is well known that education, particularly mass literacy, is at the root of Kerala`s political and developmental achievements. It is the spread of education in Travancore, Cochin and Malabar that has catapulted Kerala into the ranks of one of the most advanced sections of world community in human development. Alongside there was a powerful protest movement in poetry and literature that aroused democratic and nationalist sentiments among the people -- Mahakavi Kumaran Asan and Mahakavi Vallathol are specially noteworthy in this. To-day Parliamentary democracy in Kerala rests on the solid foundation of an educated, well-informed and discriminating electorate.
From the establishment of the Legislative Council in Travancore in 1888 to the inauguration of elected Assemblies in Travancore and Cochin, the ushering in of full responsible government in 1947, the formation of the new State of Kerala in 1956, to the present day Kerala has had the experience of working Legislative Councils and Assemblies for over a century. The intensity of this democratic experience is, to my mind, unparalleled in any other part of India. A stable party system, though a multi-party one, has evolved enabling stable governments to be formed, through the coalition mode.
The Legislative Assembly of Kerala has to its credit a corpus of progressive legislation remarkable not only for India but for any developing country in the world. Since 1957 it has enacted laws affecting intimately the economic structure, the social conditions and the welfare of the people. Laws regarding land reforms, agrarian relations, agricultural debt relief, the organization of unorganized labour, co-operative credit, housing programmes, educational and health programmes are some of the major legislative achievements of Kerala Assembly. Through these legislations Kerala has implemented several of the injunctions in the Directive Principles of the Constitution. It has been said that India is one of the most legislated nations of the world, and if all Central and State enactments are indeed implemented what an ideal society we would have made! It is therefore refreshing that in Kerala most of the legislative enactments have been, in fact, implemented. If Kerala to-day is one of t he most advanced States of India in education and health and is on a par with developed countries of the world in human development, this Assembly as the sovereign body can take credit for it.
It is noteworthy that Kerala has made its contributions to the working of the parliamentary system through innovations like the Subjects Committee system. When the Parliament of India introduced the system of Standing Committees, the Kerala innovation was one of the precedents that we took into consideration.
But the most important contribution made by Kerala to Parliamentary government in India is the example of workable coalition governments. Since 1967 Kerala has been ruled by coalition governments. The Kerala experience has shown that coalition governments can provide political and administrative stability and indeed produce remarkable results for the benefit of the people. One coalition Ministry in Kerala -- headed by Chief Minister C. Achutha Menon -- remained in power continuously for over six years. Since then coalition governments have been smoothly functioning in the State. The Kerala pattern of two Fronts organized around one major party, with smaller but stable allies, in a multi-party situation with each Front having an even chance, more or less, of being elected to power is, perhaps, the emerging model for the governance of India from now on. It may not be a model that can be transplanted to Delhi in every respect. Considering the multi-party phenomenon in India and the l uxuriantly pluralist nature of our society one has to look upon this kind of coalition as a provider of stable governments. I am not suggesting that coalitions are inevitable in India in all circumstances. It is possible that, if parties with appropriate leadership emerge, capable of gaining support among the people on basic social and economic issues as distinct from parties based on fragmented interests, narrowly organized on the basis of castes and sects, or on personalities and personal ambitions of leaders, then it cannot be ruled out that a two-party or a three-party system will come up in our country. However, in the present circumstances, I think, Kerala has provided a possible model for India.
In this context it is interesting to point out what the late C. Achutha Menon, who presided over the longest coalition government in Kerala, has to say about the conditions for the success of a coalition government. He has held that the sine qua non for the success of a coalition government are (1) a carefully worked out common programme and a code of conduct for the Ministers of the Government. At the same time he has upheld from his experience that it was not a common programme or a question of economic or social policy that sustained a coalition, but it was the successful overcoming of intra-party differences that carried his coalition Ministry of 1970 through its entire term and more. He, however, acknowledged that the common programme helped in keeping the parties together. He also pointed that the Chief Minister has full power in a coalition government, except in regard to dismissal of a particular Minister or to nominate a fresh Minister or reallocate portfolios, which are all d ecided by agreement among the various parties forming the coalition. However the Chief Minister has the duty of ensuring the harmonious functioning of the ministry, while at the same time ensuring discipline. In recent times, he observed, individual ministers have shown an increasing tendency to function independently, to make policy statements without prior discussion and approval of the Council of Ministers. Such conduct, he warned, can ultimately lead to the break-up of the coalition and therefore has to be avoided. Kerala`s experience of coalition government is certainly of relevance to the rest of India.
Under the parliamentary system of politics and government Kerala has achieved stability and progress in a significant measure But a stage comes in the development of a state or a nation when the people will ask whether the political system has kept pace with their exploding needs and expectations, and succeeded in delivering the goods. India`s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, writing to the Chief Ministers in 1952 said: ` If poverty and low standards continue then democracy, for all its fine institutions and ideals, ceases to be a liberating force. In other words, political democracy is not enough. It must develop into an economic democracy also.` It is to the credit of Kerala that the people and the governments of the State have kept this in mind and tried to develop economic and social democracy in the State. In the realms of education, health, family welfare, etc. Kerala has achieved human development levels greater than other States in India and on a par with the d eveloped countries of the world. But hard economic development in terms of industrial and agricultural growth has lagged behind. In the long run it is doubtful, if the human development levels attained by the State could be sustained without real economic growth. This is a major issue before the State.
By encouraging local self-government and peoples` participation in development Kerala has given a new dimension to parliamentary democracy in the State. This has released new forces at the grass roots level, particularly that of women and the youth. It is acknowledged the world over how the education and liberation of women has helped social development in Kerala and how that is an example for the rest of India. The new programme launched for the participation of people at the grass-roots level in the planning and the developmental process is a novel venture on the part of the State. But campaigns to whip up the enthusiasm and the involvement of the people is only part of the task -- it is not a substitute for hard work.
What we lack in India is a work culture. Parliamentary politics has often a tendency to rely more on rhetoric than on action and performance. My hope is that under the pressure of circumstances and of the insistent demands and the intimate involvement of the people in development, the system will create an urgent sense of priority in favour of performance as against rhetoric.
The present is an era of prosperity for what is a considerable section but, nonetheless, a minority of our people. And a new cult of materialism is spreading in the country and together with it a distinct lowering of ethical standards in economics and politics. This is partly due to the diversion of public attention from the central issues affecting the vast majority of the people -- the issues of poverty, deprivation, inequalities and injustices of the society in which we live.
As early as 1917, thirty years before independence, Mahatma Gandhi wrote : ` What then would our Parliament do, if we had one? When we have it, we would have a right to commit blunders. But, we being the children of the soil, we would not lose time in setting ourselves right. We shall therefore soon find out remedies against poverty.` Fifty years after Independence we have to correct our focus of attention directing it compellingly on the eradication of poverty, and all the social and economic injustices and inequalities that it implies. That will make the world sit up and say that India is not just the largest democracy but the most purposeful and transformational democratic system in the world.
In helping to achieve that goal for India the elected Assembly of Kerala would have a model role to play.
Copyright © 1999 - Press Information
Bureau, Government of India.