Former Kerala Chief Minister Karunakaran passes away

The 92-year-old Congressman had an amazing capacity for political survival.

Updated - November 17, 2021 10:51 am IST

Published - December 23, 2010 06:19 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Former Kerala Chief Minister K. Karunakaran. File Photo

Former Kerala Chief Minister K. Karunakaran. File Photo

Former Union Minister and former Chief Minister of Kerala K. Karunakaran passed away at 5.30 pm. on Thursday. He was 92.

Mr. Karunakaran was under treatment at a private hospital here for the past two weeks. He has been on ventillator since Wednesday morning, because of difficulty in breathing. He suffered a stroke on Wednesday following which his condition worsened.

End of an era in Kerala politics

A political era has come to an end with the death of veteran Congress leader K Karunakaran, but he leaves behind an indelible political legacy. The legacy: a bipolar coalition grouped into communist and anti-communist formation, predominant role for minority communities in Kerala politics, a few unforgettable, yet novel development initiatives and many more.

The history of Kerala politics from 1970 cannot be written without Karunakaran as the central character. In the late 1960s, he stitched up a coalition mobilising parties of divergent ideologies on an anti-Marxist platform, with the Communist Party of India in the front. With just 9 MLAs, he brought the Congress back into political power in 1971 riding on the new coalition experiment.

An intuitive politician, Karunakaran revalidated Kerala’s bipolar coalition politics in 1982 by regrouping politics around the left and anti-left axis, which has stood the test of time. There is no other Kerala leader who wielded as much clout in national politics as Karunakaran. In a twist to the political script, the hardcore anti-communist nearly dismantled the edifice he had built when he formed the Democratic Indira Congress (Karunakaran) in an attempt to get into the Left camp.

This is perhaps the only failed experiment in his rather long political career that made him the undisputed Congress leader, four-time Chief Minister, Opposition Leader and a king maker. The senior-most Congress leader was quick to realise his folly and returned to the Congress, but the Beeshamaacharya of Kerala politics had to lie on a bed of political arrows till his death.

Born as Kannoth Karunakaran Marar to Kannoth Ramunni Marar and Kannoth Kalyani Marasiyar in Kannur, he studied in Raja's High School and did his diploma in Design, Geometry and Painting from College of Arts, Thrissur.

But the shrewd Karunakaran discovered quite early in his life that his future was in politics. Beginning his career as a political worker in the Cochin Rajya Praja Mandalam, he entered electoral politics as member of the then Trichur Municipal Council (1945-47). He was the founding member of the Indian National Trade Union Congress in Kerala. Karunakaran was elected eight times to the Kerala Legislative Assembly between 1965 and 1995. Mala was his favourite constituency. Though he contested from Nemom and Mala assembly seats in 1977, he chose to retain his Mala seat.

Karunakaran was Home Minister in the Achutha Menon ministry (1971-77). When the entire nation voted against the Congress party in the post-emergency elections in 1977, Kerala was the only state that returned a Congress-led government, with Karunakaran assuming the mantle of Chief Minister.

However, the euphoria of winning 111 seats in the assembly ended quite quickly when he had to resign as Chief Minister within a month following court references in the famous Rajan case that rocked the state. He sprang back into reckoning after the courts cleared him, but the Rajan case is one incident that Karunakaran always wanted to forget.

He was known as “king-maker” and had an important role in installing P V Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister in 1991 soon after the death of Rajiv Gandhi. He was made a Rajya Sabha MP when his Chief Ministership came to an abrupt end in 1995. He was also Union Minister for Industries in the Narasimha Rao Cabinet.

Karunakaran has always found himself on the winning side in both the 1969 and 1978 splits in the Congress. He drew his political strength from his long-lasting loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family. A new phase in this relationship began from 1969 when Karunakaran stood steadfastly with Indira Gandhi and lasted till 2006 when he chose to form his own party following differences with Sonia Gandhi. The torn ties were patched up only late in 2007 with his return to the Congress in a no-win situation.

Karunakaran seemed to be doing everything right till his burning ambition to anoint his son, K Muraleedharan as his successor blurred his amazing political vision. In the process, he misread the undercurrents of events while navigating the contours of volatile factional politics. He used his clout to create political passage for his son, K Muraleedharan, making him a member of parliament first and later the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president. Till the end of his life, Karunakaran sought to cut a path for his son’s return to the Congress, acknowledging in a way that there was no political scope outside bipolar coalitions.

Karunakaran always believed that factional politics provided strength to the Congress and was its unabashed practitioner. Despite all this, Karunakaran was loved by his supporters, who endearingly called him “Leader”, hated by his foes, feared by his peers and respected by all.

All said and done, Karunakaran remained a Congressman till the end. It goes to his credit that he did not ever think of jettisoning his Left of Centre and secular positions. At a time when Congress leaders in other states chose to team up with the BJP once they quit the party, Karunakaran did not dilute his stand even when he was politically cornered. This fact alone makes his political legacy more valuable for the current Congress leadership in the State to uphold.

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