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Fishing around

Union Minister Kuruppasserry Varkey Thomas did not fail his ancestors: the fishermen. Born in Kumbalangi village in Kerala, he started his career as a teacher, Kumkum Chadha writes.

india Updated: Oct 12, 2009 00:52 IST
Kumkum Chadha

Union Minister Kuruppasserry Varkey Thomas did not fail his ancestors: the fishermen.

Born in Kumbalangi village in Kerala, he started his career as a teacher. He frequently visited the Congress party’s office, doing odd jobs for C M Stephen, former Union Minister. Thomas’ heart was in politics and eyes on Delhi: except he did not know how to get there.

His lineage came in handy and he decided to give the leaders a taste of fish. Literally. Often he took bagful of river fish for senior leaders initially in the state and later Delhi.

In the eighties, Thomas would often have river fish specially flown to Delhi: “No secret because he has admitted this publicly,” said Sebastian Paul, former CPI(M) MP. “His political career has a lot to do with fish, which he carted efficiently and diligently. Add to that the fact that he is good at managing people and situations: always there with the right people at the right time”.

Whether Thomas’s power climb has anything to do with the river fish is difficult to say, but it is well known that his political debut was due to former chief minister K Karunakaran, then a force to reckon with in Kerala. Karunakaran backed Thomas to the hilt and saw him through an election to Parliament. Of the seven elections that Thomas has fought both for the assembly and Parliament, he has lost only one: “I owe everything to Karunakaran. At 38, I was an MP; Karunakaran ensured my induction as a minister in state; he has supported me both personally and politically”.

Karunakaran helped him financially also when Thomas was recuperating in hospital after an accident; he stood by him politically when the law-enforcing agencies were hounding him in an espionage case and a disproportionate assets case: the first more serious than the second.

Thomas was in the dock for allegedly rendering assistance to French nationals to carry out an ocean survey in India’s territorial waters. This, the CBI held, could endanger the security of the country if the survey findings reached a country hostile to India.

But Thomas parted ways with his mentor due to political differences. Despite that, Thomas declares that his “heart is still with Karunakaran”.

When in trouble he dreams of Mother Mary, who Thomas believes has always helped him sail through: “She has always blessed me,” he told HT while fighting back tears.

Once cops were at the airport to arrest him in the espionage case but the inordinate delay in his flight from Delhi saved him: “They, I was told, got fed up with waiting endlessly and left,” he recalled. By the time they came back to get him, he had managed an anticipatory bail.

As state tourism minister, Thomas helped get Kerala on the tourism map: “He is a doer,” said Binoy Viswam, currently state minister, “a man of action. We have our political differences but he gets things done. As for the controversies it is better for me not to comment.”

Quick to coin names for projects, Thomas is believed to have been behind the God’s own country tag for Kerala. Left to him he would reword schemes like NREGA: “Doesn’t sound very good,” Thomas told HT. He is also averse to India being India: “Should be Bharat and not India,” he said.