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Kodiyeri Balakrishnan: CPM’s former Kerala secretary & Kannur heavyweight was second only to Pinarayi

Balakrishnan died of cancer in Chennai on Saturday. His body will be flown to Kannur on Sunday and cremated in Payyambalam the following evening.

Balakrishnan leaves behind an eventful political career that spanned five decades. (PTI File Photo)

He rose through the ranks of the CPI(M) to become a member of its Politburo and was known as a suave crisis manager and an able organiser. Former CPI(M) Kerala state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan died in Chennai on Saturday. He was 68.

For the past decade, Balakrishnan, an influential leader from Kannur, was second only to incumbent Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the CPI(M) state unit. He was suffering from pancreatic cancer and had been undergoing treatment for the last three years. Last month, as his health deteriorated, he stepped down as the party’s state secretary and got admitted to Apollo Hospital in Chennai. State minister MV Govindan Master succeeded him in the post.

Balakrishnan’s body will be flown to Kannur on Sunday, according to Govindan Master. He will be cremated in Payyambalam the following evening. Pinarayi Vijayan and senior political leaders in Kerala mourned Balakrishnan. The CM, in his message, said Balakrishnan’s death was an irreparable loss for the party as well as the state. The former CPI(M) state secretary left his mark on the state’s political life as an able minister, a legislator, and a party leader, the CM said, adding that Balakrishnan was instrumental in building the CPI(M) to its present stature.

Rise through the ranks

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Balakrishnan leaves behind an eventful political career that spanned five decades. He joined the Communist movement in the late 1960s. When the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the students’ wing of the CPI(M) was formed in 1970, Balakrishnan became one of its state leaders and built the outfit across the state. He served the state and national leadership of the SFI from 1973 to 1979. During the communal riots in Thalassery in 1971, he stood behind minorities, which later helped him win all elections he contested from his hometown. Balakrishnan represented Thalassery in the Assembly for five terms.

He was one of the few student leaders in the country to be jailed during the Emergency under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act. Balakrishnan’s camaraderie with Pinarayi Vijayan, which remained unwavering through their political careers, began in jail during Emergency.

In the CPI(M), Balakrishnan first served as a CPI(M) branch secretary in Eengalpeedika near Thalassery and became the Kannur district secretary of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the party’s youth wing, in 1980. When veteran Communist leader M V Raghavan rebelled against the CPI(M) and floated his own party in 1986, Balakrishnan played a critical role in keeping the cadre in Kannur in the Left party’s fold. From 1990 to 1995, he served as the CPI(M)’s Kannur district secretary. According to party insiders, Balakrishnan steered the party during the times when Kannur made the news for the violent clashes between the CPI(M) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

He was elevated to the central committee in 2002 and entered the Politburo, the highest decision-making body of the party, in 2008. In the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government that was in power from 2006 to 2011, Balakrishnan served as the home and tourism minister. Balakrishnan became CPI(M) state secretary in 2015 after Vijayan stepped down. He was re-elected in the party’s state conferences in 2018 and 2022.

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In the CPI(M)’s fight against the Sangh Parivar in Kannur, Balakrishnan led the party from the front and courted controversy over a public call to retaliate against the RSS-BJP. During the tenure of the first Vijayan-led government, Balakrishnan’s political acumen helped the party work in tandem with the government, which helped the LDF retain power for a second term.

Despite being a staunch Pinarayi Vijayan loyalist, Balakrishnan, as a minister in the LDF regime from 2006 to 2011, had maintained good relations with Vijayan’s rival and then chief minister Achuthanandan to ensure that the party feud did not affect government functioning.

One of the biggest challenges in Balakrishnan’s career perhaps came from a case against his younger son Bineesh. In 2020, the veteran leader stepped down as state secretary for almost a year after Bineesh got embroiled in a drug case. He returned to the position in November 2021 after his son was released on bail.

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His elder son Binoy also faced legal troubles. In 2019, the Mumbai Police booked him based on a 33-year-old woman’s complaint of rape. The case was settled earlier this week.

First published on: 02-10-2022 at 06:00:34 am
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