When the Kerala Congress was formed on October 9,1954, KM Mani was the secretary of the District Committee of the Indian National Congress. Fifteen legislators of the Congress left the party after voting out its Chief Minister R Sankar, and held a meeting in the Lakshmivilas Auditoriam at Kottayam in central Kerala to give shape to the new party. They were revolting against R Sankar who was always against PT Chacko, the powerful Home minister in the Sankar ministry. As a DCC secretary of the Congress, Mani took the firm decision that he would not join the Kerala Congress.
The first fifteen legislators who founded the Kerala Congress formulated a new ideology for the party. KM George was elected the Chairman and R Balakrishna Pillai became the General Secretary along with Mathachen Kuruvinakkunnel. The first fifteen included leaders like KR Saraswathi Amma and K Narayana Kurup. Of the fifteen, only seven were Christians while all the others were Hindus. But later the Kerala Congress evolved as a predominantly Christian party, especially a party of the strong Catholic community in the state. And it was Mannathu Padmanabhan, the illustrious founder of Nair Service Society (NSS), that declared the formation of Kerala Congress in the historic convention of the party at Kottayam.
KM Mani joined the party only in 1965 just before the Assembly poll, but played an important role in making Kerala Congress a strong regional party bargaining for the interests of the Christian community, especially the Catholic community. Mani was lured into the new party by Mohan Kulathingal, the treasurer of Kerala Congress and was offered the Pala seat. Ever since Mani is a member of Pala in the assembly. A record for a politician to have got elected from the same constituency continuously for more than fifty years.
Mani was always very studious and in politics too he did his homework properly. Naturally none of peers could question him. He was also a very good par lawmaker. He was always on the forefront to shield his party and his front in the assembly putting forward sharp arguments that nobody could challenge. As the Finance Minister, Mani presented 13 budgets, the last ended up in a controversy as the opposition boycotted his presentation on account of the ill famous bar controversy. He was a very good orator too. And he took pains to learn the topic in depth before a speech whether it be in the assembly or out.
And as a politician he had extremely good organising skills. After the death of the revered party chairman KM George on December 11, 1976, Mani took control of the party. The party has undergone several splits over the years, but Mani has been there on top. His party is always called Kerala Congress Mani group. Once he said in a meeting in Thiruvananthapuram that Kerala Congress is a party that grows despite splits and splits as it grows.
Mani had the exceptional efficiency to handle any portfolio, because of his ability to learn new things. He always made his own mark in several portfolios like Home, Law, Electricity, Housing and of course Finance, his favourite. As a leader of a regional party, he always made himself relevant in national politics. As an ally of the Congress, he was close to leaders like Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
And what is the legacy he is leaving behind? The Congress in Kerala now has several factions. The frequent splits has demoralised the new generations. The student and youth wing of the party are no more relevant in the state. Even Mani's own party is facing trouble within. Mani was a great unifier of different groups and personalities within the party. In his absence, it could be days of further factionalism and fights within the Congress.
Jacob George is a journalist with more than 30 years of experience. He is also a television commentator. He started his career with the Mathrubhumi daily and later moved on to India Today.