Pinarayi's dignified response keeps Congress' Chandy remembrance a solemn affair

Oommen Chandy
The remembrance meet for late Congress leader and former Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was held by the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee at the state capital on July 24, 2023. Photo: Manorama

Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's death is also seen as a moment of resurrection.

The massive and unprecedented outpouring of grief in the wake of Chandy's death is now widely seen as proof that the people have not believed a word of the smear campaign unleashed against him by the CPM. It is also a sign, it is said, that the man has come out of a merciless test by fire not just unscathed but purer.

In death, therefore, Chandy triumphed. However, good sense mandates that a beloved leader's death should not be the time to settle political scores.

But during the remembrance meeting organised by the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday, it looked like sensible thinking would get lost in the massive crowd at the venue. 

The atmosphere was especially charged because Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was the chief guest at the condolence meeting; the first time Pinarayi was given such a pride of place in a Congress event. 

The mood felt sufficiently solemn till Pinarayi was invited to talk. As the Chief Minister moved to the podium, there was a sudden eruption of 'Oommen Chandy ki jai' screams from the balcony of the Ayyankali hall, the venue of the condolence meet. 

Top Congress leaders who were seated at the ground level were clearly taken aback. Many stood up and tried unsuccessfully to restrain the workers on the balcony. Finally, KPCC president Sudhakaran, who was on the dais, stood up and with a single wave of his hand silenced his foot soldiers.

Sudhakaran might have silenced the Congress workers but he was in no small measure responsible for inciting them in the first place. His presidential address, the first speech of the meeting, was too passionately loaded with indirect CPM references to leave the Congress activists at the venue unmoved.

"Oommen Chandy stood unfazed and without rancour, like a selfless public servant, when battered by unprecedented and irrational agitations and in the face of a barrage of the wildest charges," Sudhakaran said, a clear reference to the allegations against Chief Minister Chandy during the Solar scandal and the agitations mounted by the CPM demanding his resignation.

"No leader has ever been hounded by political rivals the way Oommen Chandy was," Sudhakaran said. "Not for once has Oommen Chandy responded angrily to those who had sought to humiliate him by hurling substandard allegations. That was the man's greatness. Here was a political leader who took on the vendors of hate with love," the KPCC chief said.

He then landed on the narrative that the Congress would use repeatedly against the Left in the coming days. "No one was ever in doubt about his impeccable and incorruptible nature. Yet, it is a matter of great joy that the truth has finally come to light," Sudhakaran said, virtually daring the CPM to revive its anti-Chandy rants.

These words sufficiently pumped up the Congress cadres and they greeted Pinarayi with shrill 'Oommen Chandy ki jai' shouts. However, to his credit, Pinarayi Vijayan brought the necessary dignity to the occasion.

He did not respond to these shouts or the palpable anger at the venue. He had only nice and warm things to say about his predecessor.

Pinarayi described Chandy's leadership as "brilliant" and "dynamic". "His biggest quality was the great importance he attached to strengthening his party," Pinarayi said. " We soon saw him emerge as the most dynamic leader in the Congress party," he added.

Pinarayi said that even when he was in the grip of the disease Chandy was determined to carry out his responsibilities. "I had met him at a function after he returned from treatment, He looked very radiant," the Chief Minister said.

At another function, Pinarayi secretly conveyed his impression to Chandy, that he has recovered his radiance and energy. "When I told him this, he took me aside and told me the name of the doctor who was treating him," Pinarayi said. The Chief Minister later called up the doctor and thanked him.

Former finance minister T M Thomas Isaac, who had furious parliamentary debates with Chandy, was the other CPM presence at the meeting. Isaac bracketed him along with the giants of Kerala politics like E M S Namboodirippad, E K Nayanar, Karunakaran and A K Antony. "He was also one of those stalwarts who kept a warm bond with political rivals," Isaac said.

He said it was Oommen Chandy who had made him the most jittery during Assembly debates. "He never reveals his cards early. I had never come across a better debater than Oommen Chandy," Isaac said.

The former finance minister was even more generous. According to Isaac, "care" is Chandy's contribution to progressive politics in Kerala. "This is not to say that there were no agitations to secure rights for people before. There were. But what if there are people who are unable to ask for their rights or who have been left out? Chandy's approach was to interact with such people on a personal level and do all that can be done for them. That is why large crowds gather around him," Isaac said.

He also called him a secular symbol. "Chandy is a strong believer but his faith has never encroached into his politics. That is secularism," Isaac said.

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