The cavalcade of vehicles bearing the mortal remains of KM Mani, Kerala’s former finance minister and one of it’s most beloved politicians, was scheduled to reach his hometown of Pala on Wednesday evening from the private hospital in Kochi where he passed away on Tuesday.
However, with massive crowds of men, women and children waiting by the roadside to catch a last glimpse of Mani even at night, the cavalcade has been late by almost 11 hours. Close to midnight on Thursday, it reached Kottayam, just halfway into the journey, and is now expected to reach Pala at dawn.
“It has broken all our calculations. We had planned to reach Kottayam by noon, and then Pala by 4 pm. But we have reached Kottayam only by midnight. There are thousands of people waiting by the roadside to see Mani sir and we felt that it would be rude to deny them that opportunity,” Roshy Augustine, a leader of the Kerala Congress (M) who was a part of the final journey, told reporters.
Mani, who served as the chairman of the Kerala Congress (M), a regional party that wields influence among Catholic Christian voters in central Kerala, passed away due to respiratory illness at a private hospital in Kochi on Tuesday evening. The longest-serving legislator in the history of India, Mani continuously represented the constituency of Pala since 1965 when he won his debut election. He has an enviable record of having won all the 13 elections he’s fought even at times when circumstances were against him.
Back in his hometown of Pala, dozens of people waited in the front lawns of his residence which played witness to many historic meetings of his party. Locals and party workers, in bikes and cars, would stop before his residence and ask, ‘vanno, vanno’ (has it come?), implying to the arrival of their leader’s mortal remains.
They seemed disheartened to know that it would take many more hours for the cavalcade to finally reach Pala. The town itself, which Mani would often joke was his ‘second wife’ as he loved it dearly, was plastered with large banners and posters of the late leader.
“Illa, illa, marikkunnila. Jeevikkunnu njangalilude (No, no, he’s not dead. He’s living through us),” one of the more emotional posters with the picture of a smiling Mani read.
As a mark of respect, the LDF, UDF and NDA camps have suspended their election campaigns in Kottayam district till the time Mani’s burial rituals are completed. On Thursday, when he would be laid to rest, the entire town of Pala would shut down, party leaders indicated.
Antony, a retired bank employee and a resident of Pala, came as early as 4 pm at the Municipal Town Hall where Mani’s body was scheduled to be kept for public homage for a brief while. However, with the schedule going completely off-chart, the programme was tweaked to ensure his remains reached his home directly.
“He was our MLA for 54 years, my entire life-span. He’s the only MLA many of us have ever known,” murmured Antony. “People always trusted him because he could always get things done.”
Over the last five decades, the Kerala Congress (M) under his leadership suffered profound splits and dissensions with its influence undercut by stormy personality egos of its leaders. But at all junctures, even when he had a small battery of MLAs supporting him, Mani was able to eke out a position for himself in every state cabinet. He was close to both the UDF and the LDF camps, though he remained a staunch Congress-ally in the last two decades. He was considered a hard taskmaster too, with the ability to extract a huge reward in return for his loyalty.
At a small restaurant in the town, all eyes were on the TV screens which aired live visuals of Mani’s final journey through the streets of Kottayam district. Watching the broadcast, the waiter chimed in with a sigh, “There’s never going to be anyone like him. He was one of a kind.”