He had perfected the winning formula — a heady cocktail of political acumen, acceptance among the top party leadership and blessings of the religious and caste-based organisations. It helped P. J. Kurien climb the ladder of Congress politics and assert his supremacy in a political career spanning over four decades.
A look at Mr. Pallath Joseph Kurien’s past revealed that entering politics was a natural progression for him, who was born in a family with longstanding ties with the Congress party. Mr. Kurien was born to P.G. Joseph, a traditional farmer, and Rachel Joseph on March 31, 1941. A resident of Pallath House in Paduthode near Vennikulam, Thiruvalla, Mr. Kurien was keen on earning an academic profile and completed his post-graduation in Physics before taking the plunge into full-time politics.
The youngster was not part of the student politics during his college days as he took up teaching as a profession immediately after completing his higher studies. He first joined as faculty member in B.A.M. College in Thuruthicaud near Mallappally and later served at St. Thomas College in Kozhencherry as professor of Physics.
But the politician in him never shied away from cashing in on the opportunities, as he rose from block president of Congress party in Mallappally (1970) to later become the executive member of the Pradesh Congress Committee (Indira) in 1977.
Mr. Kurien’s electoral career began on a damp squib when he tasted defeat in the Assembly elections held in Kallooppara in 1970 and that too by emerging third behind the Kerala Congress and CPI (M) candidates. But Congress workers in Thiruvalla pointed out that Mr. Kurien slowly started building his political path by trying to win the hearts of the local population and the religious and caste-based organisations.
They also referred to his close links with the leadership of the churches, Nair Service Society, Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, Muslim Jamaats, Dalit and other organisations. Mr. Kurien also remains a regular attendee at the centuries-old Hindu and Christian religious conventions on the Pampa riverbed at Maramon and Cherukolpuzha.
Mr. Kurien’s journey to the higher echelons of power began in 1980 when he defeated Thevally Madhavan Pillai of National Democratic Party (affiliated to the NSS) by a margin of 63,122 votes in the Lok Sabha elections held in Mavelikkara.
He contested the elections as a member of the Congress (U) led by A. K. Antony, who had then parted ways with Indira Gandhi and joined hands with the Left Democratic Front.
Political observers recalled that Mr. Kurien was a close confidant of Mr. Antony right from the initial days of his political career and continued to enjoy his confidence even after being caught in the Suryanelli scandal in 1996.
As political observers recall, Mr. Kurien’s candidature was a deft move by Mr. Antony sensing the decisive role played by Christian votes in which members of the Orthodox and Mar Thoma churches formed a major chunk of the community in the constituency. Senior leaders, including Valayar Ravi, also supported Mr. Kurien’s candidature by echoing the view that there was no representation of Mar Thoma community in Parliament.
In 1984, Mr. Kurien shifted to Idukki after the Congress-I faction decided to support T.N. Upendranatha Kurup of the NDP in Mavelikkara. The hilly backward constituency, which had stood firmly behind the Congress since 1977, elected him with a record margin of 1,30,624 votes after he defeated C.A. Kurian of the CPI. In Mr. Kurien’s own words, he left Idukki in 1989 after the party leadership asked him to move to Mavelikkara.
In the Lok Sabha elections held in 1989, 1991, 1996 and 1998, Mr. Kurien got the mandate of the voters in Mavelikkara.
But his popularity slipped considerably after his margin got reduced to a meagre 1,261 votes against Prof. Ninan Koshy of the CPI (M) in the elections held in 1998. He returned to Idukki in the elections held in 1999 but was trounced by Francis George of the Kerala Congress (Joseph) .
Mr. Kurien’s efforts to win a party ticket from Mavelikkara for the Lok Sabha elections held in 2004 failed when the Congress decided to field Mr. Chennithala in view of the changes that emerged in the political equations within the constituency.
A member of the Rajya Sabha since July 2005, Mr. Kurien had also served as Union Minister of State for Industry (1991-93), Commerce (1992-93) and Non-Conventional Energy Sources (1995-96).
Political analysts said his proximity to the party high command was crucial in his elevation as the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha in August last year.