Pillai became an MLA in 1960 from Pathanapuram when he was just 25.

Kerala Congress leader R Balakrishna Pillai laughing while addressing media, with media mikes put in front of himFacebook
news Obituary Monday, May 03, 2021 - 19:08

Keezhoottu Raman Pillai Balakrishna Pillai (1935 – 2021) became an MLA when he was just 25. Later, he played an important part in forming the United Democratic Front (UDF) alliance in Kerala and served as Minister of Transport, Excise and Power in various cabinets headed by K Karunakaran of the Congress and EK Nayanar of the CPM.

As a politician, Balakrishna Pillai was always surrounded by controversies. The famous ‘Punjab Model Speech’ that he had made at a public meeting in Kochi cost him his ministership in 1985. The speech became controversial because it was about Kerala not getting enough support from the Union government though it was the Congress that was in power in the state and at the centre. He was the Kerala Minister for Power in the then government headed by Karunakaran.

Pillai spoke about the big advantages that went in favour of the state. The state has abundant resources like water, forest and rivers as well as educated youth. It has a very rich culture and its foreign exchange earnings is one of the highest among states, he explained. And it has a long sea coast and a large port in Kochi – all these qualify the state to be an independent country, he went on to argue.

Pillai pointed out that the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had promised a railway coach factory in Kerala for which he, as the minister in charge of railways in the state, had taken over land in Palakkad. But Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984 and her son Rajiv Gandhi took over as Prime Minister. A few months later, Rajiv Gandhi shifted the same project to Kapoorthala in Punjab to pacify the Sikh separatists and terrorists who killed his mother, Pillai went on to add. Did it mean that Kerala had to act the same way to get big projects, he asked to big applause from the public.

Sunnykutty Abraham, a young reporter from Mathrubhumi, reported the speech in full, which sparked a row in the state. G Karthikeyan, the then state president of the Youth Congress, came out against Pillai, alleging that he was instigating separatism. Karthikeyan, a typical young Turk who was very close to the Chief Minister, demanded Pillai’s immediate resignation. Another person filed a case against Pillai in the High Court and the judge made some comments in open court, soon after which Pillai resigned. That was on June 5, 1985. It was not the opposition but the Youth Congress that went against Pillai, who was a constituent of the UDF headed by Congress. After about a year, on May 25, 1986, he was reinstated into the cabinet by Karunakaran, but only after a series of court proceedings and a judicial enquiry.

Pillai was one of the accused in the famous Edamalayar scam, another controversy that resulted in his imprisonment. The allegation was that he colluded with the contractors who built the tunnel for the Edamalayar hydroelectric project, which developed a leak when commissioned. The tunnel was constructed when Pillai was the Power Minister in the 1982-85 Karunakaran government. The protracted case resulted in a one-year rigorous imprisonment for Pillai awarded by the Supreme Court. He was sent to the Central Jail in Poojappura on February 10, 2011, when his son K Ganesh Kumar was a Minister in the 2011 – 2016 Congress government led by Oommen Chandy.

Associating with tall leaders of the Congress like PT Chacko, KA Damodara Menon and R Sankar in the early 1960s, Balakrishna Pillai was elected into the 21-member KCC executive along with stalwarts like PT Chacko, R Sankar, KA Damodara Menon, CM Stephen and Panampilly Govinda Menon. Soon he joined Mannathu Padmanabhan who was building the Nair Service Society (NSS). He became a member of the board of directors of the NSS and remained on the board till his death.

He became an MLA in 1960 from Pathanapuram when Pattom Thanu Pillai, leader of the Praja Socialist Party (PSP), formed the government with the support of the Congress and the Muslim League. PT Chacko, a powerful Congress leader and then Home Minister, ran into controversies and group fights within the party. The internal fights got worse after Chacko’s death, following which 15 MLAs left the Congress to form the Kerala Congress with the blessings of Mannathu Padmanabhan. KM George became the President and Balakrishna Pillai the General Secretary of the new party, which went on to win 25 seats in the 1965 Assembly election.

Since then, Pillai has been a leader of the Kerala Congress playing a key role in state politics and getting into one controversy after the other. Elected from the Kottarakkara Assembly constituency in 1965 and 1967, he played an important role in the formation of the UDF carved out by Karunakaran, who was a powerful leader of the Congress in a lean Opposition of just nine MLAs when EMS was the Chief Minister in 1967. Pillai was defeated by Kottara Gopalakrishnan of the Youth Congress in 1970 in Kottarakkara when a group of young Congressmen like AK Antony and Oommen Chandy barged into the state assembly. In 1971, Pillai was elected to the Lok Sabha from Mavelikkara. During the Emergency, he was again elected from Kottarakkara from 1977 to 2001 and was defeated by Aisha Potty of the CPM in 2006. This has marked the end of his active political career.

Jacob George is a senior journalist and political commentator based in Kerala. Views expressed are the author's own.

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