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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Narayana Panicker and NSS an impartial analysis

The new of death of NSS president P.K. Narayana Panicker who was better known as the general secretary of NSS till last year, is the headline of channel news on February 29. This will be a page one news, perhaps headline of all dailies in Kerala on March 1, 2012.

Death is a time when everybody is supposed to praise the deceased. Even those who troubled the deceased when he was alive will shower praises after death. They will say the death has created a gap in social life which cannot be filled.

However this write-up will try to impartially assess Narayana Panicker, called respectfully as Panicker Sir by his admirers. Panicker became treasurer of NSS in 1977. He became the general secretary of NSS in 1983, December following the then secretary Kidangoor Gopalakrishna Pillai vacating the position continued for around 27 years.

Kindangoor, who had been called Kidangoorji by followers resigned to become high commissioner of India in Singapore. Kidangoor when he returned to Kerala after eight years tried to remove Panicker from general secretary post but had to eat a humble pie. Panicker had grown all powerful in those years aided by the Bhishmacharya of Kerala politics K. Karunakaran. But he moved away from Karunakaran later and is said to have turned down requests for help from Karunakaran.

Panciker's hallmark was his simplicity. His life and work remained simple. This won him many admirers. He always stayed away from controversies unlike leaders of some other communities in Kerala who love controversies. But the negative side was fear of controversies often lead to inaction.

During his long innings as head of NSS, the organisation started few new institutions. But Panicker believed that he had helped to preserve the organisation's assets. His opponents point out that while NSS and Christian Church owned the largest number of educational institutions till around 1990, Currently NSS is way back compared to others. This is because, SNDP, Muslim organisations and Christian institutions started many new But NSS started only a few.

Though many social organisations in Kerala started Medical Colleges after 1990s NSS under Panicker could not. Panicker was of the opinion that it is not viable to start Medical Colleges.

Panciker filed a lot of cases in courts demanding economic reservation (reservation based on income rather than caste. Panicker claimed that the order of Supreme Court of India implementing creamy layer concept (which excludes those backward community people with very high income from reservation) as a victory of NSS.

However those who opposed him point that though creamy layer is implemented it does not mean that economically backward from so called upper castes would not be able to gain benefits from creamy layer. The creamy layer concept insists that those vacancies arising out of excluding upper strata of backward communities should be kept aside and be filled when eligible candidates from backward communities themselves apply. Narayana panicker never replied to this.

NSS had floated a political party NDP in 1980s. It had MLAs in Kerala assembly once and ministers. Narayana Panicker in around 1994 decided to disband NDP. According to Panicker there was no benefit to the community from NDP. However, his opponents said Panicker's inability to control party MLAs was the reason of disbanding the party. Anyway some Congress leaders used this opportunity to build their career.

Narayana Panicker once teamed up with SNDP leader Vellappally Natesan to form a Hindu pressure group but swiftly backed out. While Panicker's followers accuse Vellappally of subverting the alliance, his critics note that here also Panicker's inability to work in a broad set up lead to collapse. There had also been accusations that the some Congress leaders played a key role in subverting the alliance as they feared the formation of a Hindu pressure group in Kerala.

Narayana Panicker who is said have the tacit support of Hindutva organisations in the beginning distanced himself away from RSS and BJP when he became powerful. He was mainly responsible for maintaining NSS as a secular organisation and has been admired by people from other communities for this. But sections among Hindus point out that NSS did not stand for Hindu cause under Panicker and unknowingly served the cause of other communities.

Panicker was the man who drafted the idea of equidistance from ruling, opposition fronts in Kerala. This way he avoided criticisms from both fronts by maintaining his own type of neutrality. Though on a personal level it won him admirers, it is doubtful whether Nair community benefited from the policy. Often in policy making governments in Kerala neglected nairs. However NSS under Panicker always claimed victory.

Panicker's interaction with media was never friendly. He was always hostile to negative questions and would get angry and could not handle media tactfully. Though he was a person of integrity he was not a man of action. He lacked the broad vision to make NSS grow beyond the border of Kerala. During his time the Nair community did not gain much. Institutions of NSS did not progress much under him.

The most fatal blow to Nair community, ie approval of the idea of reservation in appointments to Devaswom board occurred when Panicker was NSS general secretary. Devaswom board was one place where Nair community members could compete and win as many posts as possible based on merit.