Pillai scripted political history with explosive speeches, daring moves

R Balakrishna Pillai with wife Valsala Kumari
R Balakrishna Pillai with wife Valsala Kumari. Photo: Manorama Archives

Kerala Congress (B) supremo R Balakrishna Pillai was known for his explosive speeches, which often returned to haunt him.

His passing away at Kottarakkara early on Monday has pulled the curtains over an eventful political life, including a resignation over a speech on ‘Punjab Model’ and imprisonment of eight months and 17 days. His life also included five decades of Kerala political history.

Pillai made the controversial speech, which was later marked in Kerala’s political history as ‘Punjab Model’, at an all Kerala Congress meeting at Kochi in May 1985. The speech was then construed to be secessionist and one that encouraged terrorism.

“If Kerala will get industries only if it toes the Punjab line, we will consider it. A separate nation should be formed here also,” Pillai thundered at the meeting, even as Punjab was reeling under terrorism and the Khalistan movement.

He was referring to the Centre shifting to Kapurthala, Punjab, a railway coach factory that had been allotted to Kerala.

After the media interpreted the speech as ‘Punjab Model,” and sparked controversy, the son of Congress leader K M Chandy moved the High Court, saying Pillai had violated the oath of office. Pillai resigned after the court made adverse remarks.

Later, Pillai said in his autobiography that his resignation was the culmination of a move the then Youth Congress President G Karthikeyan had made with the blessings of Chief Minister K Karunakaran.

The book also mentioned that Karthikeyan later apologized to Pillai for the move. Pillai, however, was disappointed that such a move against him came from his own camp.

Pillai was the first to resign from a cabinet of ministers in Kerala. While representing Mavelikkara in the Lok Sabha from 1971, Pillai was made a minister in the State in 1975. According to norms, he was to win an Assembly poll in six months.

But with the promulgation of the internal Emergency, the election was postponed and the tenure of the government extended, which resulted in Pillai’s resignation. He had to resign again when KM Mani withdrew support to the E K Nayanar-led government in 1981.

Pillai had been drafted into the cabinet of ministers five times. But he had not even once completed the five-year term since he was forced to resign for one reason or the other. He was also the first minister in Kerala to be imprisoned. He was awarded the sentence in the Edamalayar hydroelectric case.

He had then argued that the only allegation was that power generation was delayed since the water had drained down through the rocky slopes. The project was delayed since the machinery from Bharat Heavy Electricals had not arrived on time.

Pillai later said the project, commissioned in 1985, had since been earning revenues to the tune of crores for the State. He also accused former minister T Sivadasa Menon and V S Achuthanandan targeted him with a vengeance.

There is yet another first for Pillai. He was the first MLA to be disqualified under the anti-defection law in Kerala. The then Speaker, Varkala Radhakrishnan, received the application for disqualifying Pillai on November 5, 1989, when Kerala Congress (Joseph) was with the United Democratic Front.

P J Joseph, irked over the UDF’s denial of a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha polls, had fielded himself as a candidate in Muvattuppuzha. Pillai campaigned for the UDF and also announced at a news conference that he would be re-floating Kerala Congress (B).

Following the news conference, KC (J) chief whip Dr K C Joseph demanded the Speaker to disqualify Pillai. MLAs P J Joseph, Dr K C Joseph, Eapen Varghese, and M V Mani deposed against the Pillai. Though the Speaker had asked Pillai to appear before him several times, the Kerala Congress leader stayed away.

Against this backdrop, the Speaker disqualified Pillai on January 15, 1990, without hearing him.

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