Kottayam: This bonding between the elected representative and the electors is a metaphor of his perpetual ties with the Kerala Congress, which he navigated through choppy waters ever since he quit as the District Congress Committee secretary of Kottayam and followed in the footsteps of the astute K.M. George, who chiefly founded the party to lead the Congress faction that broke away in protest against the ill-treatment to the stalwart P.T. Chacko, and the neglect of the agrarian sector.
Though George was the architect who gave shape to Kerala Congress after the demise of Chacko, it was Mani who gave the ideological underpinning to it by uniting farmers on the plains and high ranges, farmhands, rubber growers and the large swathe of the Syrian Catholic community. He even formulated a ‘labouring class thesis’, saying the Marxian concept failed to factor in realities in the rubber country.
Incidentally, Mani was ousted from St Joseph’s College, Trichy, for possessing a copy of Communist Manifesto.
But the realpolitik that he excelled in, Kerala’s experiment with coalition politics, was a real life challenge to a leader whose party kept on splitting and mutating and yet remained a force to reckon with.
“Kerala Congress is a party that splits as it grows, grows as it splits”, Mani would postulate. This was the height of practical politics that he taught to his peers, bigger and lesser than him.
That he presented 13 budgets and was the politician to have the most durable time in office also melds into the political history of the state. He was a workaholic and strategist, devising survival for himself, his party and friends.
The Catholic Church used to be his backbone but he had his say on matters rather remain a mere acolyte. He could take on a former bishop of Pala, who could never countenance Mani’s brand of politics.
When Mani takes the bow, there is a sense of loss that many politicians shares with him. His farmer pension and the Karunya Benevolent Fund are perennial reminders of his social welfare credo. But twice he narrowly missed the chance to be the chief minister of the state.
Arguably, every top ace in politics aspires to don the mantle of the Kerala skipper. Few would grudge Mani being the CM. But Congress tactician K. Karunakaran, who could never let a regional party boss rule national parties, checkmated him. And that remains perhaps the only position that Mani did not get to adorn in Kerala....