Back in 1976, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was far from the ‘diplomatic’ leader with an affable disposition that earned him admirers across political affiliations in the last decade of his life when he was the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Polit Bureau member and State secretary.
As the State secretary of the Students Federation of India (SFI) while studying at University College in Thiruvananthapuram, he was one of the political detenus of the Emergency. Once freed, he was given a rousing reception at Nirmalagiri College in Koothuparamba, where he gave a fiery speech slamming the repressive government at the Centre.
“It contained everything that was regressive about that dark period -- the Turkman Gate demolition and firing, the five-point programme of Sanjay Gandhi, the custodial torture and killing of engineering student Rajan and the like. It was a revelation of sorts for us, pre-degree students, who until then had thought of the Emergency as having brought in a certain order and discipline in society. The speech took me to the SFI,” recalled a senior leader of the CPI(M) from Kannur.
But as he took on more responsibilities within the party and the government, he presented a more mellowed countenance, wearing a smile even in the midst of calamitous situations like the allegations levelled against his family members in the last few years.
As district secretary of the CPI(M) in Kannur in 1990, he began to build a close-knit team but always earmarked time to listen to people. A veteran local committee member of Kodiyeri South recalls with affection how Mr. Balakrishnan maintained a rare warmth in his relationships. “It was at his initiative that land was identified and later acquired for the Mother and Child Hospital at Thalassery, says the veteran.
“It was this organisational skill and flexibility that drove him all the way,” says M.A. Baby, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M) who was State president of the SFI in 1975 when Mr. Balakrishnan was re-elected its secretary. They travelled together to Cuba in 1978 to take part in a global meet of youths and students held by the World Federation of Democratic Youth and Mr. Balakrishnan, in an article last month, regretted never getting a chance then or later to meet Fidel Castro in person!
While he earned kudos as Home Minister in the 2006 V.S. Achuthanandan government for bringing the police closer to people, his association with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, from the time of their detention during the Emergency, helped the party survive the bitter turf war between Achuthanandan and Pinarayi Vijayan.
“Their wavelength matched even when they differed on issues and therefore, the final call was almost always unanimous,” a leader said of the Balakrishnan-Pinarayi equation, which won both admiration from comrades and condemnation from critics like N.M. Pearson, who thinks Mr. Balakrishnan’s ‘pragmatic politics’ as responsible for the CPI(M) shrinking into the shadow of a tall personality like Mr. Vijayan.