Ask Defence Minister A.K. Antony about his native place and he will say it is two kilometres away from Vyalar Ravi’s village. Apart from being political colleagues, the Overseas Indian Affairs Minister and Antony are also good friends. When Vyalar Ravi eloped with Mercy, it was Antony who helped him get married. Ask Ravi and he will tell you that it would not have been possible without good old Antony.
But Antony’s marriage to Elizabeth was quite staid in comparison. First, she wanted her husband to “match up” to film stars like Shashi Kapoor and Dev Anand. And our man Antony was non-charismatic. Second, he was a politician and Elizabeth wanted a “normal marriage with a normal person”.
Worse still, Antony told her at the outset not to expect any property from him. If Antony had his way, he would give away all of her jewellery, but Elizabeth managed to keep the pieces she liked.
Antony grew up selling life insurance policies. His father’s death made things even tougher. “The commissions I earned helped me survive and pay for my education”, he said. “Even now I get goose-pimples when I meet an LIC agent.”
He entered politics by joining Congress’ student wing and led a strike demanding a cut in ferry charges for students. Later, he served as president of the student wing. He created history of sorts when he became youngest-ever chief of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC). Thrice chief minister of Kerala, Antony was also the youngest chief minister in 1977.
Despite being at loggerheads with senior leader K. Karunakaran, Antony acknowledges Karunakaran’s contribution to the party. It is also ironic that his official residence in New Delhi was once the house where Karunakaran lived. Not significant for Antony. He sees Delhi as a “stop gap” to his ultimate destination: Kerala.