Karunakaran built Congress from scratch

 He shepherded the party when it split in 1969 and 1978 and helped it reach a tally of 57 MLAs in the UDF ministry in 1991.

Karunakaran was born in 1918 at Chirakkal in Kannur district in an upper caste Hindu Marar community of traditional temple drum beaters. An eye infection forced him out of school and Karunakaran channelised his energy to painting and geometry.

However, as fate would have willed, Karunakaran neither became a painter nor a drum beater. Instead he devoted a lifetime to politics and became one of the tallest leaders of the Congress from the South.

Karunakaran’s political stint began in 1935 as a member of the State Congress and later as secretary of the Thrissur town Congress committee. He plunged into the freedom struggle early in life and in trade union activities.

He was elected to the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee in 1940 though to this day he has surprisingly not held a party post. He represented the Mala constituency in Thrissur in the legislature seven times consecutively from 1967 to 1991 and was also the legislature party leader during this period.

He became chief minister four times and is credited with the formation of the United Democratic Front, a rainbow coalition of various caste, religious and social outfits, in 1970.

Karunakaran’s rise to national stature was hastened by his proximity to the Nehru family which touched the pinnacle during the tenure of Indira Gandhi.

He did not enjoy the same vibes with her son Rajiv or daughter-in-law Sonia. However, he was described as a kingmaker and a trouble shooter during the tenure of P V Narasimha Rao when he was industry minister in 1995.

‘Hump and wink’

Diminutive with a trademark hump and wink, K Karunakaran was a wily political player whose sharp wit and staccato sentences endeared him to his listeners. His devotion for Lord Krishna of Guruvayoor is legendary — he religiously paid obeisance to the lord on the first day of every Malayalam month.

Karunakaran was considered a highly “effective” chief minister, though not the ideal one. His arrogance and autocratic style of functioning made him more feared and respected. His decades-long tiff with A K Antony almost resembled the Tom and Jerry show and the resultant factionalism is linked to his brazen efforts to promote son Muralidharan and later daughter Padmaja.

Rajan case

The “Rajan” case which led to his resignation after the Emergency following High Court strictures, and the palmolein import scam provided enough ammunition for his adversaries.

However, Karunakaran was known to be an able administrator and was quick on decisions which contributed significantly to the development of a state torn by labour union militancy.

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