P.J. Francis, the giant-killer who stole the show in 1996

The former Congress leader, now 84, delivered the biggest surprise of the 1996 Assembly elections with the shock defeat of CPI(M) veteran V.S. Achuthanandan in the Mararikulam constituency

March 17, 2021 07:31 pm | Updated 07:31 pm IST - ALAPPUZHA

P.J. Francis

P.J. Francis

The biggest surprise of the 1996 Assembly elections was perhaps the shock defeat of Communist Party of India (Marxist) veteran V.S. Achuthanandan in the Mararikulam Assembly constituency.

While Mr. Achuthanandan bit the dust in one of the party's citadels at a time when he was tipped to be the CPI(M)'s Chief Minister candidate, P.J. Francis of the Congress, his opponent, received the status of a giant-killer.

Now 84 and spending much of the time in his residence at Convent Junction here, far from the hustle and bustle of politics, Mr. Francis terms his victory over the communist stalwart a “miracle.”

Before defeating Mr. Achuthanandan by a margin of 1,965 votes, Mr. Francis had tried his luck twice from the Aroor Assembly constituency in the 1987 and 1991 elections without success. He lost both the battles to K.R. Gouri of the CPI(M).

“The then Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president A.K. Antony and District Congress Committee president Vasudeva Sharma came to my house and asked me to stand from Mararikulam, where Mr. Achuthanandan was seeking re-election. They told me that my candidacy would make it a strong contest in the constituency. Although I agreed to contest, the first thing that came to my mind was that I was about to complete a hat-trick of losses, after the 1987 and 1991 setbacks, in Assembly polls. Mararikulam was CPI(M)’s fortress and a victory there was never in my wildest dreams,” Mr. Francis says.

Reasons for defeat

Mr. Achuthanandan's defeat in Mararikulam was attributed to infighting in the CPI(M). Mr. Francis says that Mr. Achuthanandan’s “arrogance” had cost the communist leader the election. “He is a leader who started climbing the ladder from the grass-roots. However, he was a hardliner too. The people, including his own party members, didn’t like his arrogance. In the 1996 elections, disenchanted CPI(M) activists voted for me, thus ensuring his defeat,” he says.

Mr. Francis says he has never met Mr. Achuthanandan face to face since his victory in Mararikulam. “There were a few occasions when I could have met him. But I deliberately avoided all such meetings. After all, I prevented him from becoming Chief Minister in 1996.”

After the defeat, Mr. Achuthanandan challenged the election of Mr. Francis in courts. However, the Supreme Court dismissed his plea in January 2001. Although Mr. Francis sought re-election from Mararikulam in the 2001 Assembly polls, no miracle happened this time and he lost to T.M. Thomas Isaac of the CPI(M).

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