Oommen Chandy may not be a great crowd-puller in the classical sense, but his dynamics with the crowd is famous. In fact, the crowd keeps following him everywhere: gatecrashing into his residence, packing themselves into his car, and thronging his office.
The crowd was at its comical best last Friday when the counting of votes was in progress. More than a 100 people were at the Karot-Vallakkalil house at Puthuppally, half of them inside the drawing room watching TV. On the other side of the hall sat Mr. Chandy, crammed into a settee, along with a few journalists and surrounded by camera persons and the usual crowd, speaking into his mobile phone.
One of his fans squeezes himself through the crowd and extends a few lozenges at Mr. Chandy. Mr. Chandy smiles and politely declines the offer, but the man almost thrusts one into the leader's mouth, who is ‘saved' by the intervention of a big, burly figure who pushes himself on to Mr. Chandy shouting “Oommen Chandy Zindabad. Mr. Chandy tries to free himself from his “saviour's” hold and asks him to keep quiet so that he could continue his phone call. “‘Aaha! Ente zindabad kazhinjumathi phone cheyyal' (Is it so! You can call after I am done with my slogan-shouting),” his fan shouts back and continues the sloganeering. All burst into a laugh and Kerala's Chief-Minister-in-waiting looks helplessly at his fan, still smiling.
In Puthuppally, they are not just fond of him — they ‘own' him. The weekly ‘Sunday durbar' is an occasion to show it off and Mr. Chandy endures it patiently.
A few weeks ago, it was the turn of a young man: “This is the third time I am here,” he says, almost shouts, to Mr. Chandy, who is on the telephone. “Okay, okay, I shall arrange one soon,” Mr. Chandy pacifies the youngster. “I will arrange for a mobile soon,” Mr. Chandy repeats.
“I want one with camera,” demands the young man. “See, I won't be able to promise one with such specifications, but I shall arrange a mobile for you soon,” Mr. Chandy is at his pacifying best, again. “‘Shari. Enne othiri nadathickaruthu.' (Okay, don't give me the runaround, long),” the angry young man grumbles, before another takes his place and Mr. Chandy lends his patient ear.
If there is one thing Mr. Chandy fears, it is loneliness, says P.T. Chacko, his Press Secretary who could compile a 100-page collection of anecdotes,Kunjoonju Kathakal, based on true incidents. When he became the Chief Minister for the first time in 2004, the crowd followed him to the high-security Chief Minister's office, making a mockery of the security arrangements. In fact, the former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who saw the office on television, mistook it for a mass contact programme of the Chief Minister. Many may not agree with Mr. Chandy's style of man management. But there are others who think that it is his experience in crowd management that will stand him in good stead in managing the coalition in a difficult situation.
Oommen Chandy has a way with the crowds, which seem to own him.