Kerala Congress (M) chairman K M Mani, one of the senior-most politicians in the state, died at a Kochi hospital on Tuesday evening after a prolonged battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 86.
Mani, the face of central Kerala’s Christian politics, has represented Pala Assembly constituency for the last 54 years and was the sitting legislator, winning all 13 elections from the seat since 1965. Pala became a sobriquet for Mani and vice-versa, and politics in the region was divided between those who supported him and those who opposed him. He once said that Pala is his second wife.
Leaders across the political spectrum condoled the veteran leader’s death.
In a tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Mani’s rich contributions to the state would be remembered. He wrote, “Shri KM Mani was a stalwart of Kerala politics. His impeccable electoral record indicated his deep connect with the citizens of the State…”
Chief Minister and senior CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan said Kerala has lost a brilliant parliamentarian.
Senior Congress leader P C Chacko said, “Mani, a leader of the masses, had decisively influenced Kerala politics for over half a century. With a strong commitment to the issues of farmers, his was the voice of the people. He was their strength.”
Meanwhile, former PM Manmohan Singh said the country “has lost a veteran political leader” who had served India “for his entire life with dedication”.
Trained as an advocate, Mani began his political career with the Congress, and was one of the early leaders of the Kerala Congress, a regional party formed in 1964 after the Congress state unit suffered a split. The veteran politician became a minister in 1975 and held the finance ministry and revenue portfolio in several cabinets.
In 2017, the Kerala Assembly honoured Mani for completing 50 years as a legislator.
Mani had been the finance minister in the previous UDF government but had to resign in 2015 following the bar bribery scandal, in which there were allegations of his pocketing bribes from bar owners for granting liquor licenses. The Kerala Congress (M) continued with the UDF and fought the Assembly elections in 2016. Months after the polls, Mani severed ties with UDF, but returned to the UDF fold last year.
Everyone in Pala knew Mani sir, as he was popularly known. Dressed in a spotless, starched, wrinkless white cotton kurta and dhoti, Mani’s would be the most familiar face of public figures to even junior students in Pala. Mani’s love for his son and his unabashedly pushing him as his successor, sidelined a number of youth leaders, taking the sheen off the veteran leader. In the 2016 Assembly elections, a large section of voters expressed their disapproval of the “family politics” that Mani was playing.
However, neither the growing discontent, nor the multiple splits in the party — which led to his saying that “Kerala Congress is a party that splits as it grows and grows as it splits” — was enough to deny him the love and affection that voters in Pala had for him. —With inputs from ENS, New Delhi