Pala’s Own Son and Stalwart of Modern Kerala Politics KM Mani Passes Away

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KM Mani, a stalwart of Kerala politics, passed away today. He was 86.

Mani, who led the biggest faction of Kerala Congress, breathed his last at Lakeshore Hospital in Kochi.

Mani was admitted to the hospital in the first week of April with a respiratory-related illness.

A medical bulletin said that he had been suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) for many years and had an acute chest infection.

Kerala Congress is third largest component of the Congress-led United Democratic Front or UDF, and used to represent the substantial Christian population of Central Kerala, just like the Muslim League represents the substantial Muslim population, within the UDF.

However, with the rise of Christian leaders within Indian National Congress in the last 10-15 years, some of the representative role played by Kerala Congress has been diluted.

VETERAN POLITICIAN

KM Mani holds the rare record of completing 50 years in the Kerala Legislative Assembly.

Mani served as the chairman of the Kerala Congress (M), a party that drew its influence mainly among Christian voters around areas of Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts.

Popularly known as ‘Mani sir’, KM Mani holds records of having presented the maximum number of budgets in the Kerala Assembly (13) as Finance Minister and also for being the longest-serving member of the Kerala Assembly.

He has continuously represented Pala constituency since its inception in 1964.

Born into a lower middle-class family in Marangattupilly in 1933, Mani first entered the state cabinet in 1975, a few months prior to the imposition of the Emergency, in a government headed by CPI leader C Achutha Menon.

Throughout the late 70s, Mani remained in the state cabinet, handling the portfolios of the home and finance ministries even as chief ministers kept changing. He is said to have narrowly missed the coveted post of the chief minister when he was overlooked in 1979 in favour of CH Mohammed Koya, the leader of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and an ally of the Congress.

Mani shared close rapport with senior Congress leaders with Oommen Chandy, AK Antony and K Karunakaran, all of whom went on to become chief ministers and to induct Mani into their cabinets.

Mani remained an important cabinet figure in the years 1975-77, 77-79, 80-81, 81-86, 87, 91-96, 2001-06 and 2011-2015 and handled key portfolios such as finance, law, revenue and irrigation. He also served as chairman of the empowered committee of state finance ministers on Goods & Services Tax (GST) from March-November 2015.

KM Mani’s political career faced a major setback in 2015, when he was forced to resign as the finance minister after being accused of taking bribes in exchange for giving licenses to bars and pubs serving alcohol. The scandal, known as the bar-bribery scam tarnished his reputed political career.

The scandal also severed his party’s relationship with the Congress and resulted in his walking out of the UDF after three-and-a-half decades. In 2018, however, just before a crucial bypoll in central Kerala, Mani and his party returned to the UDF after failed attempts to join the Opposition Left-led coalition.

Mani is survived by wife Kuttiyamma and five daughters — Sali Mani, Smitha Mani, Annie Mani, Tessy Mani and Elsa Mani. His son, Jose K. Mani is an MP with the Rajya Sabha.

‘KERALA LOST A TRUE STALWART’

Many political leaders expressed grief over the demise of KM Mani.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that KM Mani’s rich contribution to Kerala politics will always be remembered. Taking to Twitter, PM Modi wrote, “KM Mani was a true stalwart in Kerala politics. His impeccable record indicated his deep connections with the citizens of the state”.

Congress in its Twitter page, paid tribute to KM Mani, and termed him as ‘one of the strongest and dedicated leaders of Kerala’.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that he had established himself as a stalwart in Kerala politics in his nearly six-decade-long political career. He also remarked that Mani was an ‘outstanding parliamentarian’.

A close friend of Mani, former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said he lost a ‘dear friend and colleague’.

Former Defence Minister and Chief Minister AK Antony remembered Mani as the most influential leader of the Kerala Congress for the past six decades.

KPCC President Mullappally Ramachandran expressed his grief and said that ‘Mani sir’s death has left a major void in Kerala politics’.

Former Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who has sparred with Mani many a times over corruption allegations, called him a leader who worked for the people and a fine parliamentarian.

ROAD AHEAD

KM Mani’s death has inflicted a major setback to Congress Party in the central Kerala region. As the most prominent Christian face in the region, Mani has always helped the Congress to prevent the CPI(M)’s efforts to make inroads into the region.

Congress will now have to depend even more on in-house faces like Oommen Chandy,  PJ Kurien, PC Chacko and AK Antony to retain its appeal among Christian voters of the region.

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