Illustration: Manorama

Chandy, Kodiyeri, Kanam, Panakkad; Maestros Kerala missed badly this election

Thiruvananthapuram: At election conventions, the crowd jostled to hear them speak. In crisis, they had the last word.In the midst of a high-pitched campaign for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, Kerala is missing its leaders whose political acumen, statesmanship and sharp decision making skills would have left any new age political advocacy groups green with envy.

The master tactician named OC
For the Congress, Oommen Chandy had been the party's biggest crowd puller on the ground and crisis manager behind the curtains.

When Chandy was alive he was the face of the ‘A’ group and Ramesh Chennithala represented the rival ‘I’ group. The party affairs were then decided between the two and election management mostly meant managing the followers of the two factions. Now, with Chandy gone and the traditional group dynamics weakening, Chennithala says Chandy's absence is a challenge.

''Oommen Chandy was always with us to formulate the policies, programmes and strategies for elections. Definitely the lessons he taught us will remain the torchlight for us to march ahead,''said Chennithala.

Oommen Chandy was always good at pulling masterstrokes when it was least expected. While political observers credit factors like Sabarimala and decision of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to contest from Wayanad as decisive for the sweeping victory of the UDF in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, it is worth noting that Chandy played a crucial role behind that. “It was Oommen Chandy who initiated the discussion of Sabarimala verdict by raising it at the start of UDF’s campaign rally at Kasaragod. He directly attacked LDF for withdrawing the affidavit filed by them opposing the women entry at Sabarimala,” said a source close to the former CM.

Oommen Chandy and his family after casting votes. File photo: Manorama

Young Congress MLA P C Vishnunadh, for whom Chandy was a mentor and guide, remembered an incident from 2021 which proves Chandy’ commitment to his party as well as his untiring excitement about election campaigning. “The 2021 campaign took place when he was under medical treatment but still he took part in election rallies. He was with me for a roadshow in my constituency, Kundara. We had to cover 20 km in an open vehicle. After some distance, I told him he could come by car and it would be enough to get onboard the open jeep only for the final two km. He did not agree and attended the whole road show. The rally in Kundara ended by 8 pm and from there he went to attend election meetings in Kollam, Eravipuram, Chavara and Karunagappally constituencies. By the time he reached Karunagappally it was past 10 pm and there was no permission to use microphones after that. He addressed the gathering without mike. He believed that winning an election was more important than his health,” recalled Vishnunadh.

M M Hassan, KPCC acting president, said Chandy's mass appeal helped him ward off rebel trouble across the state. It took only 15 minutes for Chandy to placate former District Congress Committee (DCC) president A V Gopinath who had threatened to quit the party ahead of the 2021 polls.

Chandy’s son Chandy Oommen said his father used to make notes of issues in each area and alerted respective candidates.

In the 2015 Aruvikkara byelection,ensuring victory of newbie KS Sabarinadhan in the seat vacated by his father G Karthikeyan was a top priority for the Congress. The plan devised by the then CM Oommen Chandy was to tap the factionalism that was raging within the CPI(M) at that time. Sources close to Chandy remembers him collecting phone numbers of disgruntled CPI (M) leaders and initiating discussions with them in the midst of campaigns. Party insiders said many fell for his plea for a 'one-time help' in the bypoll. In the end, Sabarinadhan emerged victorious, UDF successfully completed its term without any further troubles and factionalism intensified within the Left party.

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan with Pinarayi Vijayan. File photo: Manorama

Politics was the sole interest for Kodiyeri
The Congress was flayed for its delayed response regarding the support offered by Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) in the elections. However, it was not the case for CPI(M) in 2022’s Thrikkakara bypoll.

“When reporters posed questions regarding the controversial outfit, Kodiyeri immediately said that the party did not need support of RSS or SDPI. Not only he equated RSS with SDPI, he also reminded the mediapersons that the party had made its stand clear on communal organisation back in 1979. Though he was never considered as an ideologue, Kodiyeri had a clear memory of every event associated with the party. Politics has remained his only subject of interest since his school days and he had never been part of any other profession. Maybe that is the reason why he had developed such a deep knowledge about the party,” said Aburaj B, director of State Institute of Educational Technology, Kerala, and former assistant private secretary of Kodiyeri. Aburaj also credited him with quick decision making skills, which helped him effectively manage the party as well as his portfolio as minister.

Kodiyeri had strong personal connections '' He was not someone who would visit community or religious leaders at their places. However, he had always maintained a strong connection with them which was helpful during the time of election,'' Aburaj said.

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and Kanam Rajendran. File photo: Manorama

For Kanam, LDF mattered more than anything
The entry of Kerala Congress (Mani) to the LDF camp was the result of a joint decision taken by Kodiyeri and Kanam Rajendran , the then CPI state secretary and it proved crucial in ensuring an LDF victory in the 2021 Assembly election.

“Media predicted an intense rift in LDF with the entry of KC(M) in 2020. From the start, it was clear that KC(M) would demand more seats for the Assembly polls. Despite strong protest from within the party, Kanam decided to handover two seats – Kanjirappally and Irikkur, where the CPI had faced defeats in the previous elections. There was huge discontent over seat sharing as CPI had to limit it to 25. Kanam was able to convince everyone that the victory of LDF was more important than maintaining a few seats,” CPI assistant secretary P P Suneer said.

From 2009 till his death at the age of 74 in March 2022, Panakkad Sayed Hyderali Shihab Thangal had been the centre of such discussions as the state president of IUML as well as a revered religious leader. File photo: Manorama

Panakkad valued relations over differences
The Kodappanakkal House in Malappuram's Panakkad has been witness to intense debates, negotiations and deliberations that shaped Kerala politics over the years. From 2009 till his death at the age of 74 in March 2022, Panakkad Sayed Hyderali Shihab Thangal had been the centre of such discussions as the state president of IUML as well as a revered religious leader.

His nephew and president of state Muslim Youth League Sayyid Munavvar Ali Shihab Thangal remembered Hyderali Thangal as a leader who maintained relationships with everyone irrespective of their political differences. According to him, people would wait for Thangal’s participation in ‘kudumba sangamam’ (family meets) at remote villages and coastal areas during elections to listen to his graceful speeches.

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