K M Mani

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A brief biography

1933-2019

April 10, 2019: The Times of India


An MLA for a record 54 years and undefeated from a single constituency — Pala — 13 times, Mani was finance minister 11 times and won every conceivable political laurel, except the most prized one: the CM’s post. Immensely popular at the grassroots level, Mani’s ready wit and spontaneous exuberance were a foil to the ready ruthlessness with which he often undercut rivals, most of them friends-turned-foes.

The only blot on his long career was the so-called bar scandal, when he was accused in 2014 of taking a Rs 1 cr bribe for renewing licenses of 400 bars.

Ambition

KM Mani was an ambitious man, quite a few fell out with him, April 10, 2019: The Times of India


To remain as the undisputable leader of Kerala Congress, K M Mani used to allegedly abandon several promising second-rung leaders of his party in the midway forcing a few of them to vent their anger against him in their biographies. At least six political biographies portray Mani as a villain, in varying degrees.

George J Mathew, ex-MP and ex-MLA from Kanjirappally, has written in detail how he was backstabbed on different occasions by Mani in his biography, ‘Anubhavangal Adiyozhukkukal’ (Experiences, Undercurrents).

“There had been a lot of bitter experience from Mani. He never cooperated in any deed that might bring me good,” Mathew, who had served as the general secretary and chairman of the party, wrote.

He fell out with Mani in 1984. “You know what was the crime I committed? I had sent a letter to the state committee seeking permission to publish my memoirs. An unpardonable breach of discipline!” he wrote.

Recalling an incident of 1981 when he was ousted from party’s chairmanship by a tactful move by Mani, Mathew said: “Mani can take pride in deceiving a long-term friend. For him, friends are just stairways to achieve his targets. If I had benefited 10% from our joint initiative, Mani gained 90%.”

Former Rajya Sabha MP Thomas Kuthiravattom wrote a book ‘Pollunna Paramarthangalude Cheppedu’ (Documents of Burning Facts) that dwelt on how he was forced to part ways with the party in 1991. “What wouldn’t happen if the greed for power becomes uncontrollable? He (Mani) is being governed by the thought that he is the God of Kerala Congress (M). Party has become a tool or means for him to achieve his selfish ambitions,” Thomas wrote. The book also contains an account of how Mani had plotted to grab the central minister’s post in Chandrasekhar government in 1990, after promising him (who was an MP) the post. “The party has stooped to a level from where even God can’t save it,” he concluded in his book.

Lonappan Nambadan’s autobiography ‘Sancharikkunna Viswasi’ has a chapter detailing how Mani tricked E K Nayanar in 1981. It was Mani who advised Nayanar not to quit even when Antony Congress withdrew support to the government. But that was a game plan. “Mani went to Congress high command for secret bargaining. After obtaining some assurances, he withdrew support to the government,” Nambadan wrote.

‘Kapatyame ninte pero K M Mani’ (Fake, thy name is K M Mani?) by former Kerala Congress leader Eapen Jacob, Sathyathinu oru adikkurippu (A caption to Truth) by P C Thomas ex-MLA are two other books that vehemently criticise Mani. R Balakrishna Pillai’s autobiography, ‘Prisoner 5,990’ also has critical remarks against Mani.

Controversies

An exemplar politician bar one, April 10, 2019: The Times of India


The bar bribery case, which is still an open case, remains the major blot on K M Mani’s otherwise illustrious political career.

The case that led to even his resignation from the Oommen Chandy-led cabinet in 2015, even culminated in his party’s exit from the UDF in 2016, after 36 years of association. The case, which was picked up by the LDF as one of its main campaign theme in the 2016 assembly elections, erupted on November 1, 2014 when the then bar hotel association working president Biju Ramesh raised the allegation that Mani, who was the then finance minister, was paid Rs 1 crore for reopening 418 bar hotels that had to be shut down following a Supreme Court order.

Though it would have been dealt politically, the allegations took a serious turn when the vigilance and anti-corruption bureau registered an FIR against him. The agency even interrogated Mani and recorded his statements and the opposition vied for not just his blood but the whole of the UDF government.

The budget presentation of 2015 witnessed incidents that was never seen before in the history of the state legislative assembly. The opposition MLAs, while trying to stop Mani from presenting the budget, created unruly incidents inside the assembly to the extent of destroying the assembly hall that came to the notice of the whole world and brought perpetual shame to the assembly, considered as one of the role models for all other states.

After the forensic examination of voice samples, polygraph test and recording of statement before a magistrate, even the vigilance was divided over the findings in the case. While the investigating team was seemingly influenced by the public outcry against Mani and gave a report that he should be prosecuted, agency’s top brass said there were no evidences enough to prosecute him.

The agency later gave a closure report before the vigilance court. But the court refused to accept the report and asked the agency to submit the case diary. Later in August 2016, the court directed the vigilance to continue probe against Mani.

Even though the agency has filed a closure report thrice before the court as no clear evidence could be gathered against Mani, the court refused to accept the report and the case remains pending before the agency.

His politics

B Sreejan, Left, right and no centre, April 10, 2019: The Times of India


When he took over the reins of the Kerala Congress in 1977 as chairman, K M Mani was only 43 years old. The party was turning 13 and still in its formative years.

His colleagues in the party had then thought Mani would nurture the party even as the party's founding leader R Balakrishna Pillai had parted ways and formed the KC (B). In fact, that was only the beginning of a series of splits and mutations awaiting the party.

Two years ago, while speaking to TOI on the eve of his 84th birthday, Mani had said had the Kerala Congress stood united, the party would have been a stronger force. The confession was a negation of his own ‘growth by mutation’ argument which said the Kerala Congress could grow with each split.

The birth of the Kerala Congress was a culmination of personal vengeance and feeling of hurt nurtured by a group of Congress leaders who had been loyal to P T Chacko. There was no binding ideology rather than the will to bring an end to the Congress in the state. Along with the powerful Syro Malabar Christians, the new party had the blessing and support of NSS founder Mannathu Padmanabhan. Leaders from different castes, religion and class background were part of the party in the beginning, providing it a platform for growth as a regional party with secular credentials.

Mannam had christened the new party as ‘Kerala Congress’ with a vision of transforming it as an alternative for the Congress party. The party, based in central Travancore, had taken up issues of farmers and settlers to broaden its base. The young and energetic leaders of the party like Mani and P J Joseph were also successful in attracting youths in large numbers.

Mani, who is known as an avid reader, quick learner and a pragmatic politician could have easily prepared a roadmap for the new party, foreseeing the next 30 or 50 years. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. He was keen to stitch alliances suiting the present times. In fact, he was not much interested to look beyond the next five years. In 1970, while contesting almost alone, the Kerala Congress won 13 seats in the assembly.

A surprised Congress came up with the suggestion of an electoral alliance for the upcoming parliament polls and the leaders, including Mani, readily agreed. In less than one year, Kerala Congress leaders realised that the alliance was only for Congress’s gains when the Congress tried playing tricks to destroy the Kerala Congress.

In the future too, Mani stitched up political alliances with a limited aim of winning a few seats spread over Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta. He had no qualms in shifting loyalty from the Left to Right. Recently, he had even thought of joining the saffron camp. When ideology took a backseat, Mani began to play with diplomacy. He made friends in all political parties. As a minister, Mani had served opposition members more keenly than his own party colleagues. He was accessible to all. Popularity of Mani grew steadily in Pala and his fame slowly crossed borders of the constituency, district and state. People in and around Pala approached ‘Mani sir’ who could solve any issue faced by them. Deep knowledge about rule books that govern government business helped him find loopholes, which could be used to solve any crisis.

Critics accuse the leader for being a megalomaniac. They said growth of anyone in his group or below his rank in the party would disturb him. Several able leaders like George J Mathew, Thomas Kuthiravattom and P C Thomas had to break away from party as he nudged them out without any valid reason.

While he checkmated his peers keeping an eye on the growth of his career, later, the junior-level leaders faced the same heat so that the successor’s throne could be kept ready for his son Jose K Mani.

In the early days of his career, Mani had been a staunch campaigner against corruption. He was one opposition MLA who had repeatedly troubled EMS Namboodiripad while EMS was heading the government in 1967. Even the slightest violations of rules committed by ministers then couldn’t escape Mani’s scrutiny. Now, he remains an accused in a major corruption case which remains unsolved even as he bids adieu.

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