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Kerala Chanakya pioneered coalitions

Popularly known as 'Leader', Kannoth Karunakaran remained a colossus in the political firmament for seven long decades. A visionary, he was the first to experiment with coalition politics in the country.

india Updated: Dec 24, 2010 00:07 IST
Ramesh Babu

Popularly known as 'Leader', Kannoth Karunakaran remained a colossus in the political firmament for seven long decades. A visionary, he was the first to experiment with coalition politics in the country.

A born crusader, grassroots leader, able administrator and good organisational man — often called Kerala Chanakya — the 92-year-old Congress stalwart was known for his quick deliveries and instant results.

His brash style often invited criticism but he ignored it. During the Emergency (1975-77), he was the state home minister and was held responsible for 'disappearances' and excesses, but came out unscathed.

The four-time chief minister of Kerala and former Union minister was considered close to the Nehru family. He enjoyed a good rapport with three generations of the family.

After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, Karunakaran turned kingmaker, elevating Narasimha Rao to the PM's seat.

Born in 1918 in northern Kannur, Karunakaran gave up education at an early age to plunge into the freedom struggle. He was arrested twice during the 1942 Quit India Movement.

He was elected to Thrissur municipality in 1945. He was a member of Cochin and Travancore legislative assemblies three times.

After the formation of the state in 1956, he became a legislator seven times. The founder of coalition politics in Kerala, he was the one to constitute the Congress-led United Democratic Front in 1970.

A member of both houses of Parliament — Rajya Sabha in 1995-97, 1997-98 and 2004-05

and Lok Sabha in 1998 and 1999 — he was the union minister for industry in Rao's cabinet (1995-96).

The credit for building the Congress party in Kerala is his, solely. He built it brick by brick. He was instrumental in grooming many young leaders. When AK Antony, now India's defence minister, left the Congress after the Emergency, he took the initiative to bring him back.

But relations between the two began to suffer soon after. Karunakaran started cultivating his own faction in the party. Most young leaders deserted him after he started grooming his son K Muralidharan and daughter Padmaja Venugopal.

At the height of feud, he left the Congress in 2005 to float the Democratic Indira Congress.

Left in the political wilderness, he came back to his parent party after two years. "I am a born Congressman. I want to die as a Congressman," he said three years ago, while merging his party with the Congress.

He kept his word.