April 9, 2019 8:58:28 pm
With the demise of Kerala Congress leader KM Mani, an era has come to an end in the politics of the state. To be a leader who fought his first election when a constituency was formed, and to represent it until his death, winning 13 elections on the trot, is not a record many have in Indian politics.
KM Mani represented the Pala constituency in the Kerala Assembly continuously since 1965, and his name was synonymous to Pala’s. The last time he won was in 2016, and the toughest fight he faced for the seat was in 1970 when he won the election by a mere 364 votes.
Everyone in Pala knew ‘Mani Sir’ — a name his people gave him and which he adopted, referring to himself in the third person as Mani Sir. In his spotless, starched white cotton kurta and dhoti, Mani Sir’s was the most familiar face in Pala, known also to small children.
He would be with his constituents during their hours of grief and happiness — standing solemnly with bereaved families and smilingly introducing a bride or bridegroom to wedding guests.
In his speeches, he would mention Pala perhaps a dozen times or more — and his people were proud he took oath as minister 12 times and presented the state Budget 13 times. As he said once, Pala was his “second wife”.
Mani’s Kerala Congress depends largely on Christian votes, and its support base extended to the Malabar region, where Christians from central Travancore migrated, seeking livelihoods in the rubber plantations.
Mani lost some of his enormous goodwill in his later years, a fallout of his unabashed pushing of his son to be his successor, in the process sidelining promising youth who had given their time, energy and resources to the party. In the elections of 2016, a large section of voters in Pala expressed their disapproval of his “family politics”. But in spite of the growing discontent and the multiple splits his party suffered, he continued to retain a special place in the hearts of Pala’s voters.
Mani, who started his career in the Congress but formed the Kerala Congress in 1964, was the perfect example of the ‘coalition politician’. His Kerala Congress(M) moved from the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) to the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) when Mani felt the Congress was not giving him enough importance. In the end, though, he has always returned to the UDF.
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