God's own politician 'Leader' Karunakaran

Written by: Radha Radhakrishnan

Kannoth Karunakaran
In India it is rather rare to see the two, bitterly fighting national parties – the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party under the same coalition. That rarity has been in existence in Kerala for nearly three decades. The credit for this goes to former Chief Minister and 'Leader' Kannoth Karunakaran who formed the rainbow coalition, the United Democratic Front (UDF) to take on the Left Front in the state.

A politician with a 'never say die' attitude, Karunakaran remains the most vibrant politician from Kerala in recent times. He was the fodder of numerous comedy shows and reality shows in Malayalam performed by mimicry artistes from the State.

Most of these performances took a pot shot at his uncanny ability to survive in politics, his blind love for his two children and his constant hunger and quest to be the permanent occupant of Cliff House, the official residence of the Chief Minister.

His political career spanned over seven decades. A staunch Congressmen who served as Chief Minister of Kerala for 4 years and also as Union Cabinet Minister.

When his bete-noire, fellow state politician A K Anthony succeeded him as the Chief Minister of Kerala in 1995 and subsequently won the 2001 elections to be the CM again, Karunakaran's downfall and the ultimate exit from Congress became imminent. But it was just not befitting Karunakaran's stature and fighting spirit to accept defeat and retire from politics.

He fought and fought hard. Launched several unsuccessful attempts of a comeback and finally walked away from Congress with few dissidents and his children in tow.

Even though at this juncture he was in his eighties, he defied his age and fought hard to give his children the big political break. However, both his son and his daughter have failed to be as good as their father in political manoeuvrings, mental agility, wit or sarcasm - qualities that is crucial for survival and success in politics.

In fact during the times of Mrs Indira Gandhi, Karunakaran was considered the father figure of Congress party. He is credited with building the party from a mere nine MLAs in 1967 to a 57 member one in 1991 through able manoeuvrings and strategy.

He wore many hats – a Chief Minister, a Union Minister, Leader of the opposition and a Union Leader. In fact, during his stint as opposition leader, to keep up with his political acumen the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala has had to work hard... just to keep Karunakaran at bay.

His political career has had a fair share of controversies and scandals too. The palmolein import scam and the now famous Rajan murder case. The latter cost him heavily as he had to tender his resignation as the Chief Minister of Kerala.

Karunakarn's biggest mistake towards the fag end of his political career was to believe "once a Leader, always a Leader". He was hailed as the King Maker and the most important politician in Kerala.

No doubt the Leader enjoyed this status and played this role with all sincerity and passion. His love for power and affection for his children blinded him into believing he is the supreme when it comes to Kerala politics. None and nothing can match him. Unfortunately his charisma did not stay with him after he walked out of the Congress. Age and senility had got better of the Leader.

Had Karunakaran attempted to create his own party atleast a decade before, certainly Kerala's political landscape would have looked different than what it is today. The Leader might not have ended up being a Leader with none to lead.

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