Was Nelson Mandela, the legendary South African freedom fighter and the first President of the post-apartheid rainbow nation, who passed away on Friday, a communist?

While the history books say that nothing could be further from the truth, it was the argument raised by some vested interests to erase the iconic name given to a panchayat road near here in the late 1980s.

As the news about the demise of ‘Madiba’ reached him, memories of the function held to name the road after him at Koonanmaavu near Edappally flashed through the mind of V.M. Babu.

It was his idea as a member of the last panchayat committee of Kalamassery, which was elevated to a municipality towards the fag end of that committee, to name the road within his ward after Nelson Mandela.

The year was 1989 and the iconic figure was still behind the bars at the Victor Verster Prison and almost a year away before he eventually walked free after 27 years of incarceration. “It was a period when people even in this part of the world were inspired by the sacrifices made by the great leader for the cause of freedom. We were looking for naming this unnamed road and it occurred to me that there was no better way to salute him than to give his name to the road. The proposal placed before the committee was unanimously approved,” recollected Mr. Babu who is employed with the district cooperative bank.

A function followed by a public meeting was held to mark the naming of the road following which a board was placed at the road. But the road could hold on to that name for just about three years.

A few communal elements in the locality began to protest against the naming of the road after a person who in their view was a communist, Mr. Babu said.

They created a melee and uprooted the name board, which was then taken away by the police. The panchayat recovered the board but the problems lingered on.

“They wanted the road to be named as Temple Road after a temple situated on the road. The panchayat eventually had to give in to their pressure to restore order.

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