Bengaluru: Kerala on Wednesday lost one of its senior most and beloved politicians, and a crucial ally of Congress, K.M. Mani, better known as Mani Sir.
The 86-year old was admitted to a Kochi hospital a day ago due to chest infection. He was suffering from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) for several years and was frequently been hospitalised for chest infection, a hospital bulletin had said earlier.
"Shri KM Mani was a stalwart of Kerala politics. His impeccable electoral record indicated his deep connect with the citizens of the state. His rich contribution to the state will be remembered. Pained by his demise. Condolences to his family and supporters. RIP." said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on twitter.
In a career spanning 51 years, Mani was Kerala's finance minister for 13 times, the longest in history, and was also the country's longest-serving legislator. He represented his native place Pala in Kottayam since 1965.
His popularity and influence in central Kerala districts, especially among entrepreneurial Catholic classes, were unparalled, making his Kerala Congress party almost synonymous with his name. He became the most sought after ally for both Congress-led United Democratic Front and communists-led Left Democratic Front.
Mani captured power in Kerala Congress after its founder K.M. George’s death in 1976, resulting in several splits in the party over the next few decades. He cultivated an image of a politician taking care of both the working-class rubber farmer and the upper middle-class entrepreneur who wanted high quality roads and business friendly climate in the minority Christian dominated belts in central Kerala. The image of the politician was synonymous with the tapestry of welfare politics and the richness of boroughs in central Kerala.
"In addition to his political gravitas, I was greatly impressed by Mani’s theory of the toiling class, a group he situated between wage labourers &the petit bourgeoisie. comprising tea sellers, fruit/vegetable vendors,&self-employed: he highlighted their cause&fought for them,"tweeted Kerala MP and writer Shashi Tharoor.
He was probably the only politician to have headed several of the key departments in Kerala, and was known as someone who knew the "Practice and Procedure of Parliament", the bible for lawmakers in India, by heart. The firm grip on governance also extended to his understanding of real politick.
Known as a politician who could sense the change in public mood much before others, Mani switched sides from the Congress to the Left, and vice-versa. The recent years, but, had been difficult for him. He was the central figure in a ₹1-crore bribery allegation hurled against him, the then finance minister, by bar owners in 2014.
The scandal rocked the previous Congress-led government and eventually led to his exit in disgrace as the finance minister in 2015. The move was a double whammy for Mani since it came at a time when he was speculated to be negotiating with Left parties to switch camps and become the chief minister. The developments caused Mani to withdraw support to the Congress in 2016, but he came within its fold recently. The bribery stain, but, remained with him till the end. Kerala's Vigilance department later cleared him of the bribe charges in a report, but it was rejected by the state high court in 2018.
Controversies notwithstanding, his popularity remained intact, as seen from his record 13th win from Pala in the 2016 assembly election.
As Kerala braces for another election — the state is scheduled to go to polls on 23 April — Mani's death is bound to leave a huge vacuum in Kerala politics. The death also comes at a time when his recent efforts to push his son, Jose K. Mani, a Rajya Sabha MP supported by the Congress, into the party's top position was met with stiff internal resistance from a faction led by another Kerala Congress leader P.J. Joseph. During seat-sharing talks for parliamentary poll, it almost resulted in an implosion of the Kerala Congress.
Party leaders told Mint that the top leadership is busy with planning his funeral, likely to be in Pala. It is expected to be attended by several high-profile politicians as well as lakhs of people.