Thiruvananthapuram: Founding leader of the Kerala Congress and former minister R Balakrishna Pillai passed away here on Monday. He was 87.
Pillai, who had been admitted to a private hospital in Kottarakkara with breathing difficulties, was shifted to a hospital here after his condition worsened on Friday.
The funeral will be held at his home by 5.30 pm on Monday.
The octogenarian had been holding the office of Chairman, Kerala State Welfare Corporation for Forward Communities. He was also the Chairman of Kerala Congress (B) and a Director Board Member of the Nair Service Society (NSS).
Pillai took ill while leading the recent election campaign on behalf of his son and sitting MLA K B Ganesh Kumar in Pathanapuram Assembly constituency.
He had inaugurated the election campaign committee office of Ganesh Kumar in Pathanapuram, after the candidate had tested positive for COVID-19.
Born to Keezhoote Raman Pillai, former member of the Sree Moolam Praja Sabha, and Karthyayini Amma on April 7, 1934, at Valakom, Kottarakkara, Pillai was active in campus politics before taking up mainstream politics.
He was associated with the Thiruvithamcore (Travancore) Students’ Union, which later became the Thiru-Kochi Students’ Federation.
Pillai, who later joined the Congress, functioned as a member of both the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee and All-India Congress Committee. He was among the 15 Congress legislators who quit the party and joined hands with K M George to form the Kerala Congress in 1964.
The deceased was also the last of the living office-bearers of the founding State Committee of the Kerala Congress, chaired by George. After the death of George, differences cropped up within the party, which led to its split and the formation of the Kerala Congress (B) in 1977.
Electoral ups and downs
Pillai was elected to the State legislative assembly for the first time from Pathanapuram in 1960 when he was 25. Though he had won from Kottarakkara in 1965, he tasted defeat in 1967 and 1970.
He successfully contested the Lok Sabha polls from Mavelikkara in 1971. Pillai posted seven consecutive wins in the Assembly polls from 1977 in Kottarakkara, before losing to P Aisha Potty of the CPM in 2006.
Pillai became a minister for the first time in 1975, handling the Transport and Excise portfolios in the C Achutha Menon-led cabinet. He became a minister five more times in the cabinets of E K Nayanar, K Karunakaran and A K Antony.
He helmed the transport, excise, and power departments as minister.
Controversies all the way
In the mid-1980s his “Punjab Model” speech had triggered a controversy, which led to his resignation. As per media reports he had called for an agitation on the lines of what was happening in the militancy-hit Punjab then in order to claim Kerala's legitimate dues from the Centre.
Decades later he had created a stir with a hate speech against the minorities.
Pillai was also the first minister in Kerala who had to undergo a jail term. The Supreme Court had sentenced him to a year in jail in a corruption case linked to the Idamalayar-Kallada irrigation projects, rolled out when he was the power minister between 1982 and 1987.
Pillai was also the lone MLA in the State to be disqualified under the Anti-Defection Law.
Political rise from the grassroots
He was the president of the Edamulackal Grama Panchayat continuously from 1964 to 1987, and the president of Kottarakkara Grama Panchayat from 1987 to 1995. He held the post of the grama panchayat president even after taking charge as minister.
In 1980, Pillai won the polls from Kottarakkara as a Left Democratic Front (LDF) candidate by 37,000 votes, the highest winning margin at that time.
An odd giant in state politics
Pillai was part of the first E K Nayanar ministry (January 1980–October 1981). He joined the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1982.
Pillai stood apart in State politics, and was known for airing his views, even if it differed from the Front’s outlook. In 2018, the Kerala Congress (B) returned to the LDF fold.
Brief stint in filmdom
Besides politics, Pillai had tried his hand in writing and acting as well. He had published an autobiography, ‘Prisoner 5990’, and acted in a few movies. He debuted as an actor with ‘Ivaloru Naadodi,’ and later did a minor role in ‘Neela Saree’, produced by Kalanilalayam Krishnan Nair.
In 1980, he acted in ‘Vedikkettu’, directed by K A Sivadas with Sukumaran in the lead. Midway through the shooting, the 45-year-old was drafted into the State cabinet as the Minister for Power. He returned to the shooting set after taking the oath. Though he was offered roles in movies and TV serials later, he decided to focus on politics.
The late Valsala was his wife. He is survived by children Usha Mohandas, K B Ganesh Kumar, MLA, and Bindu Balakrishnan. K Mohandas (former secretary, Central Ministry of Shipping), Bindu Ganesh (Dubai) and T Balakrishnan (former additional chief secretary, Government of Kerala) are his children-in-law.
Life of Kerala Congress stalwart Balakrishna Pillai | Timeline
Born: April 7, 1934
Father: Keezhoote Raman Pillai
Mother: Karthyayini Amma
Spouse: Late Valsala (Married in 1957)
Children: Three (Usha Mohandas, Bindu Balakrishnan and K B Ganesh Kumar, MLA)
1959-64: AICC member
1960: Elected to the Assembly from Pathanapuram (Baby in the Legislative Assembly)
1964: Founding secretary, Kerala Congress
1964-87: President, Edamulakkal panchayat
1965: Elected to Assembly from Kottarakkara
1967: Defeated in Assembly polls (Kottarakkara)
1970: Defeated in Assembly polls (Kottarakkara)
1971-77: Lok Sabha member from Mavelikkara
1975-76: Minister for Transport in C Achutha Menon cabinet
1977: Elected to Assembly from Kottarakkara
1980: Elected to Assembly from Kottarakkara
1980-81: Minister for Power in E K Nayanar cabinet
1982: Elected to Assembly from Kottarakkara
1982-85, 1986-87: Minister for Power in K Karunakaran cabinet
1987: Elected to Assembly from Kottarakkara
1987-95: President, Kottarakkara panchayat
1990: Speaker disqualifies him under Anti-Defection Rule
1991: Elected to Assembly from Kottarakkara
1991-95: Minister for Transport in K Karunakaran cabinet
1995: Ministry for Transport in A K Antony cabinet
2006: Defeated in Assembly polls (Kottarakkara)
2013-15: Chairman, Kerala State Welfare Corporation for Forward Communities, with cabinet rank
2017 onwards: Chairman, Kerala State Welfare Corporation for Forward Communities, with cabinet rank