Karingozhakkal Mani Mani who straddled Kerala's political spectrum for over half a century, has passed away. Mani was one of the rare political genuises who survived the thorn-strewn paths of pragmatic-parliamentary politics, always winning a position in the front row of the state's politics.
Mani easily figures among the front-ranking leaders, EMS Namboothirippad, C Achuthamenon, K Karunakaran and EK Nayanar who steered and defined the political direction of Kerala. What marked them in common are their interventions towards moulding modern Kerala from within and outside the legislative halls. In that sense, Mani's demise also has to be seen as the end of the memories of an era. We pay our tributes on this occasion.
Ever since Pala became a state assembly constituency, it has seen a lone MLA, i.e. KM Mani. That was how he became the cynosure of Pala. Kerala Congress party was formed in a peculiar situation following the death of PT Chacko, in which KM George and R Balakrishna Pilla played the key role. But the march of that party can be said to have taken a different direction with the birth of Pala constituency. The party was subjected to dramatic splits and mergers, and was seen to have shrunk to KM Mani later on. In the hurly-burly of politics, even men of bigger stature, akin to that or mentors, were spotted in Mani's rival camp. That Mani was able to maintain his infallibility in his party, in the alliance and in his community all through those phases, made him stand out from the rest. Which is the secret why in pragmatic politics, Mani became a friend of even adversaries.
Right from his day one in the legislative house, Mani made notable interventions as a legislator. That was also the way in which he evolved a political image that overcame the shame of continuous splits in the party. When the seven-party coalition under EMS was in office, the most eloquent voice against that front was of Mani. When a judicial commission was appointed to enquire into the corruption allegations against ministers of that cabinet, Imbichi Bava, MK Krishna, and B Wellington, the fight put forward by Mani is memorable. Perhaps he was the only one who deposed before the commission, examined the witnesses, produced evidence and then argued the cases.
When he became a minister, Mani focused on plans for farmers' welfare. Noteworthy among his contributions are the welfare pension for agriculture labourers, forming a price stabilization fund for rubber cultivators and forming and implementing several other similar schemes. The basis for all this was a firm conviction that his party was fundamentally a farmers' party. He even formulated a 'working class theory' as the conceptual foundation for his political movement. That theory, blending the march of Kerala and modern liberalized free market into one, constituted a manifesto of his own practical politics. Although that did not figure much in debates, it is a fact that he was able to prove through this thesis that his party was not a mere mob.
As a past master of pragmatic politics, it was but natural and inevitable for him to get smeared in the quagmire of corruption; which happened towards the end of his political career. When his last budget speech ended in pandemonium, it looked as though all the records he had created by then, would become irrelevant for a moment. Even at that point, no one can lose sight of the way he maintained political friendships in a true democratic spirit. It was such amicable stances that facilitated bringing the dissenting PJ Joseph to the path of reconciliation and averted another split in the party. Nothing else is the secret of Mani Sir, as he is popularly called, becoming acceptable for both the fronts in Kerala.
Perhaps the greatest legacy left behind by KM Mani would be his proving by deed that local parties generally, seen as 'fledgling parties', are not to be sidelined beside the tussle between national parties, and that even such groups have a crucial space in state and national politics. The goal of Kerala Congress he put forward through a resolution at the Kerala Congress session in 1973 was a constituitional amendment granting greater autonomy to state governments. He argued that only through development schemes that strengthened the federal character of the country, could national progress be achieved. It may be a coincidence that Mani's demise comes at the same time when the country is going through a crucial election where the clout of regional parties is much in display.
We join his family and followers in the sorrow over the death of that giant of Kerala politics.