Thiruvananthapuram: A popular leader, Oommen Chandy’s image failed to redeem the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) after its tenure was tainted by allegations of corruption and sleaze as Kerala continued with the tradition of rotation of parties, giving mandate to the Left Democratic Front (LDF).
The Chandy government had faced the elections under a cloud of charges from bar bribery case to solar scam with even the 72-year-old chief minister facing severe personal allegations.
Chandy had claimed that his mass contact programme, which had received international focus with UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) honouring him with an award in 2013 and the several development initiatives of his government, would be enough to see him through, but it proved wrong in the hustings with the electorate dealing a severe drubbing to the United Democratic Front.
Considered a master political craftsman, Chandy had his way in the selection of Congress candidates over-ruling some of the objections of party high command with regard to fielding ‘tainted’ ministers in his cabinet.
He is the only Congress chief minister to complete his full term, an achievement other party CMs—R Shankar, K Karunakaran and A K Antony—could not boast off, despite the fact that he came to power with a wafer thin majority of 72 members in a 140-member assembly in 2011.
Known as ‘Kunjoonju’ among those close to him, Chandy showcased the Kochi Metro, proposed Vizhinjam container terminal, and the Kannur airport projects as his achievements during his second tenure as chief minister.
Significantly, Chandy permitted webcasting his office all 24 hours, insisting that general public has a right to observe their CM anytime, any day.
He took charge as chief minister twice—from 31 August, 2004 to 17 May, 2006 and 18 May, 2011 to 2016 and also served as the Opposition leader when the LDF was in power.
Chandy never contested the Lok Sabha polls nor sought a Rajya Sabha berth, always preferring to be in his home state.
He also had to do a tight rope walk to consolidate his position in the faction-ridden Congress in Kerala.
Chandy contested the assembly election for the first time in 1970 when he was only 26 and defeated Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, war horse E M George after which there has been no looking back for him.
He also served as UDF convener from 1982-85.
Despite being a major player and serving as minister in the K Karunakaran and A K Antony governments, Chandy had to wait till 2004 to emerge as chief minister following the resignation of Antony, who owned moral responsibility for the combine’s near-washout in 2004 Lok Sabha polls.
Born on 31 October, 1943 to Karottu Vallakkalil-K O Chandy and Baby, Chandy displayed leadership skills since his school days as a participant of the children’s forum Balajana Sakhyam floated by leading newspaper house Malayala Manorama.
Chandy’s wife Mariamma Oommen is a retired bank officer and the couple have two daughters and a son.