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A man of integrity for defence

AK Antony's personal hardships no doubt shaped his integrity in public life.

india Updated: Oct 25, 2006 01:53 IST

Arackaparambil Kurian Antony lost his father when he was 11. Apart from the emotional trauma, the family plunged into a financial crisis.

Thangachil, to his mother, became an LIC agent to pay for his education in law.

The personal hardships no doubt shaped his integrity in public life. During Emergency, when sycophants were praising Indira Gandhi, Antony was the lone voice at the Congress session in Guwahati to criticise it. He hogged the headlines for speaking up for the freedom for the press.

In his three-year tenure as Kerala chief of Youth Congress, Antony launched a popular campaign for food for the poor. And by 1967 he was a rallying point for all segments.

When the Congress split in 1969, Antony supported Indira Gandhi's faction. In the Assembly elections that followed, Gandhi's faction returned with a majority.

Antony was offered a berth in the state Cabinet but he declined on the ground that the Youth Congress had decided to support the ruling coalition without a stake in the government.

At 36, Antony became the youngest chief minister in May 1977. He was part of Narasimha Rao's Cabinet for two years beginning 1993 and did two other stints as Kerala's chief minister in 1995 and 2001.

Even though friends like former Chief Minister Oomen Chandy, find Antony "too good to be a politician" critics castigate him for the farmers' suicide and communal riots in Marad.

But politics apart, Chandy was instrumental in getting Antony married. Given that politics was priority, Antony had decided against marriage on grounds that he did not want to ruin anyone else's life.

And had it not been for lonely evenings in Delhi, Antony, by his own admission, would not have married Elizabeth: "It was Delhi's callousness" he told Hindustan Times, "which pushed me into marriage".

Elizabeth agreed to his pre condition of not expecting any assets. And in later years, experienced a nomadic life, moving each time the owner served eviction notice. When it became too much, she took a bank loan for a house.

Carrying his "simplicity" a bit too far, Antony has even stopped reading books. It is because of their prohibitive prices, he says. Instead he has switched to listening Carnatic music.

kumkumchadha@hindustantimes.com