There are two ‘ifs’ which could have changed Mullappally Ramachandran’s life. The first: if India had not won freedom, the British would have sent his father to the gallows. A freedom fighter, Mullappally Gopalan was convicted for his role in India’s fight for Independence.
The second: If Gopalan had not insisted on Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s trip to Chombala, their native village in Kerala’s Calicut district, the family may have breathed easier.
When Gopalan learnt of Nehru’s visit to Kerala, he asked the local Congress chief to request Nehru to stop over at Chombala: “Who will fund Nehru’s trip?” the Congressman shot back. Gopalan took on the responsibility. The visit happened. It brought Chombala into focus but Gopalan went bankrupt. He had mortgaged his house, a fact kept under wraps till his family was physically evicted from their home.
Mullappally Ramachandran grew up in difficult circumstances. It was not that the family was starving but festival times were tough. During Onam, his father worked doubly hard to get his kids some decent clothes.
Despite the penury, Ramachandran made it to college to study law. He dabbled in student politics till Mrs Indira Gandhi spotted him to head the state’s youth wing. Initially backed by the party’s Kerala veteran K. Karunakaran, Ramachandran saw happy times when as a third-term MP he was inducted into the Union Cabinet headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao.
It took two decades to regain the position. He took oath again in May this year, bagging the coveted portfolio of Minister of State for Home.
His parting ways with K. Karunakaran led to a bitter rivalry and the latter stunted Ramachandran’s political growth for quite some time.
High on integrity, Ramachandran’s performance as a minister has been debatable. Critics say he has failed to make a mark. Supporters say he is a victim of anti-Karunakaranism.
On his part, Ramachandran is very conscious of his image. He is keen to be rated as high as Defence Minister A.K. Antony in state and national politics. That may be a far cry but he’s trying. “He’s a workaholic. Reaches office at 8 am and leaves at 9 pm,” says Ramesh Chennithala, Kerala Congress chief. He spends weekends in his constituency, is a solo player and steers clear of favoritism and sycophancy.
His political USP: Rajiv Gandhi’s fondness for him. On an election tour a few days before he was killed, Rajiv Gandhi had promised his electorate that he would include Ramachandran in his Cabinet. “Had Rajiv Gandhi lived, Ramachandran’s political graph would be dramatically different. He would be many steps up the political ladder,” says Krishna Kumar, former Union Minister Kumar.