Akkitham, poet who warned Communists against Maoist-like movements and suffered humiliation for that

Akkitham Achuthan Namboodiri
Akkitham Achuthan Namboodiri

Mao Zedong's romantic idea of 'power flowing from the barrel of a gun' is something the Left has come to detest deeply.

Seven suspected Maoists were shot dead by the police after the LDF government came to power in Kerala. The government has now put behind bars even two young CPM activists, one of them only a teenager, thinking they were part of an incipient Maoist insurrection in the state. If it can smother an armed rebellion, the CPM does not even mind using Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a legal tool it had found utterly objectionable.

But there was a time when the Communists had goose bumps when they thought of murderous rebellions. Then, there was only the wiry and soft-spoken Malayalam poet Akkitham Achuthan Namboodiri, who won the Jnanpith award on Friday, to warn them.

Seven decades before, right after Independence, the Communist Party of India had found the gun seductive. Frustrated with Jawaharlal Nehru's Indian National Congress, the party exhorted its cadres to take up arms and violently throw out Congress governments in the country the way armed peasants in Telangana were snatching farm lands and villages from oppressive feudal lords.

This call for armed revolution, which the CPI adopted as its policy at the Second Party Congress in Calcutta in February 1948, was called the Calcutta Thesis, and was proposed by B T Ranadive. Ironically, the Communists bayed for blood just a month after the greatest apostle of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi, was shot dead.

The first and perhaps the most potent warning against the deviation was served by Akkitham, a CPI fellow traveller and a close friend of E M S Namboodirippad, in his seminal work 'Irupathamnoottandinte Ithihasam'. The poet paid the price for his "outspokenness". He was threatened, heckled and showered abuses by the Communists.

"Melt the iron you expended on your guns and swords and fashion a strong farmer's plough out of it", Akkitham wrote in 'Irupathamnoottandinte Ithihasam'. The late poet Attoor Ravi Varma, in one of his articles, remembers how Akkitham was rounded up by a group of angry Communist workers in front of a roadside house at Cheruthuruthi in Thrissur. "He sat in the middle impossibly calm," Attoor wrote.

Akkitham could never accept the brutal side of Communism. "I just could not stand the thought of such huge violence being unleashed in the name of an ideology I had believed in. 'Irupathamnoottandinte Ithihasam' was born out of this pain. It was against the Calcutta Thesis," Akkitham had famously said. For the great poet, Mahatma Gandhi was the greatest Marxist.

His friend EMS had never uttered a word against him after the poem came out. "Perhaps, he too had the same opinion about the Calcutta Thesis," Akkitham had said later.

Initially, Akkitham did not allow himself to believe rumours of Communist excesses committed after the Ranadive line became dominant in the party. It was only when a close friend told him of the Edappally police station attack that killed two policemen in 1950 that he started to take whispers of such actions seriously. He was also told by close friends who also happened to be CPI members that more such bloody attacks will be unleashed across Kerala. "This was a big blow for me," Akitham had said.

The poet never wanted love and sympathy to leak out of the ideology he had held as close to him as poetry. Here are the famous opening lines of Irupathamnootandinte Ithihassam': Oru Kanneerkkanam Mattullavarkkayi Njan Pozhikkave Udikkayanennathmavilaayiram Souramandalam/Oru Punchiri Njan Mattullaavrkkayi Chilavakkave Hridayathilulavunnu Nithya Nirmala Pournami. (When I shed a drop of tear for others a thousand suns brighten my soul/When I spent a smile for others an eternally beautiful full moon floats in my heart.)

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