Gouri Amma – A firebrand Communist leader who scripted Kerala’s land reforms

From the first woman law graduate from the backward Ezhava community, Gouri had risen to a firebrand Communist leader and able administrator, fighting all the way in the days when politics had been male-dominated.

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Gouri Amma (KR Gouri), Kerala’s living Communist legend and one of the longest-serving politicians in the state, breathed her last on Tuesday.

Gouri Amma (KR Gouri), a living Communist legend and one of the longest-serving politicians in Kerala, breathed her last on Tuesday. She was 102 and had been hospitalised a few weeks back.

A prominent CPI (M) leader of several decades, Gouri Amma, as she is popularly known, is currently the president of Janathipathya Samrakshana Samithi, a rebel outfit she had formed in 1994 after her ouster from CPI (M).

The eight-decade-long political life of Kalathilparambil Raman Gouri is inseparable from the annals of modern Kerala. She had been a minister in the first democratically elected Communist Government of 1957 in Kerala led by EMS Namboodiripad.

As the revenue minister in the EMS cabinet, Gouri had drafted and piloted the historic Kerala Agrarian Relations Bill, which paved the way for land reforms, leaving a far-reaching impact on the state’s socioeconomic and political spheres.

Land reforms, pioneered in Kerala by Communist Party, had fixed a ceiling for ownership of land and ensured that excess land be taken away from landlords and given to the landless.

The Congress government of 1960 had watered down the norms in favour of landlords. But, Gouri who again became agriculture minister in the second EMS Government of 1967, had amended the act in favour of the landless.

Gouri Amma with CM Vijayan

From the first woman law graduate from the backward Ezhava community, Gouri had risen to a firebrand Communist leader and able administrator, fighting all the way in the days when politics had been male-dominated. She had plunged into agitations during her student days and faced severe torture, later emerging as an icon of women emancipation and fight against the feudal system.

She was elected to Kerala Assembly 11 times, nine of the terms from the Aroor assembly seat in Alappuzha. Four times she served as minister in the governments led by the Left. Her last innings in a Left cabinet was from 1987 to 1991 in the government led by EK Nayanar.

During the elections of 1987, CPI (M) had campaigned projecting Gouri as the party’s chief minister candidate. Although the party formed the government under Nayanar, Gouri was not considered for the post of CM, which went into the political history of how Kerala missed the first woman chief minister. However, she was inducted into the cabinet as minister of industries and social welfare.

The rift between Gouri Amma and the party, then controlled by party state secretary VS Achuthanandan, who also belonged to Gowri’s Ezhava community in Alappuzha, grew leading to her ouster from CPI (M) in 1994.

Gouri Amma sacked from CPI (M)

When sacked from CPI (M), Gouri Amma was aged 76. But age was not a barrier for the redoubtable Gouri to chart a new political course. She formed a new party JSS, daring the challenges posed by CPI (M) stalwarts of those days such as EMS, Nayanar and Achuthanandan. Like a young vibrant leader, she toured across Kerala and built up a new party from scratch.

Her party JSS later became a constituent of Congress-led UDF. In 2001, she became a minister in the Congress government led by AK Antony and served as agriculture minister.

From 1957 to 2001, she had won all assembly elections, except a defeat of 1977. She had lost in 2006, and 2011 as a UDF ally. In 2015, Gouri Amma decided to take her fledgeling JSS to the LDF, which led to her reunite with CPI (M) leaders.

She was born in an aristocratic Ezhava family at Pattanakkad village in the Alappuzha district. Gouri had recalled that her father Kalathilparambil Raman and elder brother KR Sukumaran, then a trade union leader of the 1940s, had been her inspiration in life.

Her affluent family had bequeathed 132 acres of land to the Kerala government. She got inspired to political life during her student days. Gouri Amma was active in agitations as part of the Quit India movement.

Severe torture in police custody

Gouri had faced severe torture in police custody during her early days of politics. Recalling Gouri had once said about torture in police custody, “if lathis had the power to impregnate, I would have conceived several times.’’

In 1948, she joined the Communist Party and contested the Travancore-Kochi Assembly at the age of 22 as the party candidate. She lost in 1948 but won elections to that assembly in 1952 and 54.

Gouri Amma had served as the president of Kerala Karshaka Sangham from 1960 to 1984 and the Kerala Mahila Sangham from 1967 to 1976.

Recalling her initiation into communism, Gouri had stated that a reference to the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin in her degree class in a women’s college in Kochi had triggered curiosity in the topic.

Her personal life had been inseparable from politics. After becoming a minister in the first Kerala cabinet of 1957, Gouri married her lover and cabinet colleague TV Thomas, who had been a prominent Communist leader from Alappuzha. The party had taken the initiative for their marriage.

After the Communist Party of India split in 1964, Gouri moved to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), while her husband Thomas stayed with the CPI. As the political rift had its impact on family life, they got separated in 1965. However, both served as ministers, of CPI (M) and CPI, in the Left government of 1967 and lived in separate official residences in the same compound. Their love affair, marriage and separation had been unique in Kerala politics. Thomas died in 1977 after serving as a minister in the Left government from 1971-77.

Gouri Amma-T V Thomas politics and love had inspired the making of Malayalam blockbuster and Mohanlal-starrer Lal Salam in 1990.

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