Pacheni, the Congress leader who sold his house to help build party office

Congress leader Satheesan Pacheni before Kannur party office. Photo: Manorama
Congress leader Satheesan Pacheni before Kannur party office. Photo: Manorama

Kannur: Congress leader Satheesan Pacheni (54), who died on Thursday, had sold his house to help build the party's district headquarters in Kannur.

When he died, he held no position in the party and was working as an insurance adviser for Punjab National Bank (PNB), said his close college friend and long-time campaign manager, who did not wish to be identified.

That in short is the story of Pacheni. "He gave everything he had to the party and took back little," said his grieving friend.

Honesty was his hallmark. When Youth Congress leader Shuhaib was hacked to death by suspected CPM workers on February 12, 2018, Pacheni as president of the Kannur district Congress Committee raised and gave Rs 1 crore to the family. "It must be the biggest fundraiser for a martyr's family by Congress in Kerala," the friend said.

When Pacheni took up a cause or a project, he saw it through.

He sold his house in 2018 when he was the Congress district president. The construction work of the party office was dragging on for years. The party had raised funds from abroad for the project but was not able to pay the contractor. "When Pacheni became the party president in Kannur in 2016, he too was taunted by the media and workers for the delay," the friend said.

Four years before, Pacheni and his wife K V Reena had bought a house at Pulimparamba in Taliparamba. It was home to the couple and their two children Jawahar, named after the first prime minister, and Saniya.

Pacheni sold the house to clear the bills of the contractor. The party then took over the construction and completed it.

Honesty was Pacheni's hallmark. Photo: Manorama
Honesty was Pacheni's hallmark. Photo: Manorama

On August 28, 2021, Pacheni held a press conference and announced that the Kannur party office, Congress Bhavan, will be inaugurated by Rahul Gandhi on September 2.

The next day, Congress announced new district presidents for 11 districts in Kerala. Pacheni was replaced by Martin George. "It was not deliberate but it was a glimpse of how quickly Pacheni's political trails fade," said his friend.

Soon after hearing of Pacheni's death, Dr P P Prakasan, an associate professor at Sree Neelakanta Government Sanskrit College, Pattambi, boarded a train to Kannur.

Dr Prakasan is today the leader of the CPM's college teachers' association. Back in 1990, Prakasan was studying BA Malayalam and was the unit president of the SFI at Payyannur College. Pacheni, after taking a diploma in mechanical engineering from the government polytechnic, joined Payyannur College for BA in Political Science. Pacheni was already a member of the state executive committee of the Congress's Kerala Students Union (KSU). "We were both fiery orators and we were fielded by our parties for the post of college councillors," he said.

Congress leader Satheesan Pacheni is seen with his family. Photo: Manorama
Congress leader Satheesan Pacheni is seen with his family. Photo: Manorama

Both Pacheni and Prakasan won and they became thick friends. "We will discuss and debate politics late into the night and go to bed with our disagreements. But our friendship was always intact," Dr Prakasan.

Pacheni must be the only Congress leader in Kannur with so many close friends in the archrival CPM. The chief minister's private secretary K K Ragesh would enquire about his health every day after he suffered a brain haemorrhage and was admitted to MIMS on October 19.

Pacheni was the Kannur Congress president from 2016 to 2021. "I see his tenure as a period of peace and honesty," said Dr Prakasan. "But Pacheni used to tell me a 'good conduct' certificate has no value in politics," he said.

From 2001 to 2012, he served the party as its state general secretary.

Dr Prakasan goes further back to 1999 when Pacheni was made the state president of KSU at the age of 31 years. Two years later, Congress fielded him against V S Achuthanandan at Malampuzha. That contest catapulted Pacheni to the big league. "He stayed in my house before starting the campaign against VS," he said.

Pacheni's close friend quoted in the first instance was spearheading his campaign in Malampuzha. Since 1967, the constituency has sent only CPM leaders to the Assembly house. "We positioned Pacheni as the real communist, a humanist, and a person who saw poverty up close and promised voters he will be by their side when in need," he said.

The campaign struck a chord with the voters. Achuthanandan, who said he would return to Malampuzha closer to the polling day, had to come much earlier and go all out at the hustings.

After a tight contest, Achuthanandan managed to stumble past the post with a margin of 4,703 votes, in a constituency where the CPM romps home with a margin of 20,000 votes. In 2006, Achuthanandan restored the victory margins to 20,000 votes when Kerala saw an LDF wave.

Pacheni initially belonged to the Antony faction or 'A group' in the Congress and was fielded in losing seats such as Taliparamba in 1996, and Malampuzha. 

But he often made a contest out of it. In 2009, the party fielded him in Palakkad constituency for the Lok Sabha election. The CPM fielded M B Rajesh in the left bastion, which has sent leaders such as A K Gopalan and E K Nayanar to parliament. The result: Rajesh barely managed to win by 1,820 votes.

Pacheni later moved to K Sudhakaran's camp in the I group. In Kannur, 'I group' had three factions. Sudhakaran made him the district Congress president in 2016 and also fielded him in Kannur assembly constituency, a Congress seat since1991.

The LDF fielded Kadannappalli Ramachandran of the Congress (Secular). To everybody's surprise, Pacheni lost by 1,196 votes. In 2021, the Congress fielded him again in Kannur. By then, Pacheni had grown in stature. But yet again, he lost to Kadannappalli by 1,745 votes. "Even Kadannappalli might have been surprised by the result. But there has always been a formidable force against Pacheni within the Congress," said his former campaign manager.

Despite failing to get people's mandate six times, Pacheni exacted sweet revenge on CPM. Before Satheesan Pacheni, the small village near Taliparamba was known after CPM's former MLA Pacheni Kunhiraman. Rightly so, because Pacheni is a CPM bastion.

Pacheni Kunhiraman was elected to the Legislative Assembly from Taliparamba in 1991 when he defeated Congress's M K Raghavan by 10,700 votes.

Today, Pacheni means Satheesan Pacheni. He had paid a personal price for that. Satheesan was born on January 5, 1968, as the eldest son to Manicheri Narayani and Palakkeel Damodaran, a farmer and committed communist worker.

Narayani's father Pacheni Uruvaden was a communist leader who led many farmers’ agitations and underwent imprisonment.

Satheesan Pacheni
Satheesan Pacheni. File photo: Manorama

An avid reader, Satheesan drifted towards the Congress when he was in school after reading about A K Antony's defiance of Sanjay Gandhi during the Congress's Guwahati Session in 1976. He questioned the misuse of Emergency powers by the Indira Gandhi government.

Satheesan joined the students' wing of the Congress KSU, founded by A K Antony.

According to reports, his family disowned him because of his political inclination. "That's what he told me too," said his college mate.

He struggled a lot during his college days because his poor family could not afford his education. "During lunchtime, he used to go missing because he did not have food or money to buy food. And he did not want others to know about it," said his friend. "Later we found out he used to teach in parallel colleges and work as an LIC agent to fund his education and student activities," he said.

Perhaps, his experience in selling insurance policies in college stood him in good stead towards the end of his life when he became a financial adviser for PNB to keep him busy or stay afloat.

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