Considering Mani’s track record, his recent comments are not surprising at all.

Tracing MM Manis journey Once VSs lieutenant now Pinarayis man
news Politics Monday, April 24, 2017 - 20:30

Kerala Electricity Minister MM Mani is in the news for all wrong reasons. His crass comments against the women’s collective ‘Pembilai Orumai’ is earning him flak from across the state. Add to that his statement that Devikulam Sub-Collector should be sent to a mental asylum for an anti-encroachment drive in Munnar, and his party, the CPI(M), is completely on the backfoot.

But considering Mani’s track record, none of this is surprising. Known as Maniyasan among the party workers in the district, Mundakkal Madhavan Mani began his political career in 1966 at the age of 22. Since the 1980s, he has been the face of CPI(M) in Idukki. His constituency, Udumbanchola in Idukki in the hilly district of Kerala, was once the stronghold of the CPI.

In 1964, after the historic split of the Communist party into CPI and CPI(M), the CPI strengthened its ground more in the region, especially Udumbanchola, Devikulam and Peerumedu. In the election held in 1965, the CPI and CPI(M) contested separately, and the CPI won. Today, Idukki is among the places where both CPI and CPI(M) claim equal strength, despite the parties being united under the coalition of the Left Democratic Front since 1979. While the CPI(M) contests from the Udumbanchola and Devikulam constituencies, Peerumedu seat is reserved for the CPI.  

Because of this situation in Idukki, the cadre of both parties don’t have a cordial relationship.

Mani’s rise in Idukki

“We should understand the growth of Mani as a power centre in the district unit of the CPI(M), and later as the blue-eyed boy of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in this context,” a CPI insider  tells TNM.

The hilly district is known for tea plantations and both the Communist parties were able to build up ground in the district by working among the plantation workers. But the CPI’s trade union AITUC, and plantation outfit High Range Estate Workers’ Union, had been more powerful once. That’s when Mani was picked up by the CPI(M) as the one to penetrate to the CPI‘s stronghold. And Mani, sources say, would use any means necessary to complete the task entrusted to him.

Soon, Mani became the right hand man of senior CPI(M) leader and former Chief Minister VS Achutanandan - who is today one of the strongest critics of Mani.

Achutanandan - once a protector, now a critic

“Whenever the LDF is in power, there is a tussle between the government and the party in CPI(M). Historically, there were always two leaders on opposite ends within the party. When CPI(M) stalwart EMS Namboothiripad was with the CITU- the party’s trade union- faction, Achuthanandan was on the opposite end. At that point, Mani was his trusted lieutenant, and Achuthanandan had special influence in the Idukki unit of the party,” the CPI source recounts.

So when Achuthanandan became the Chief Minister of Kerala in 2006, Mani continued to be his eyes and ears in Idukki. However, Achuthanandan’s eviction drive in 2007 - Operation Munnar - changed all that. The anti-encroachment team reached the doorstep of Mani’s brother Lambodharan, who had allegedly encroached land. And immediately, the relationship between Achuthanandan and Mani began to sour.

Mani cut his ties with Achuthanandan and swiftly joined the faction of the CPI(M), headed by the then-party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. This was around the time that the party’s power centre was shifting towards Vijayan, following the Malappuram State Conference of the CPI(M) in 2007.

The Pinarayi-Mani relationship

While Achuthanandan got sidelined in the years that followed and Vijayan got steadily more powerful, Mani was by his side, and enjoying unlimited access to the leader. Steadily, too, Mani got more and more uncouth, but Pinarayi Vijayan always stood by the arrogant, rude and sometimes primitive leader.

In May 2012, T P Chandrasekharan, who was once a hardcore CPI(M) man but later parted ways, was murdered in cold blood. There was speculation that the murder was planned by the CPI(M), and Mani made a statement that only made it worse. At a public function, MM Mani said that killing of rivals was in the blood of the party, and that it was done with as much ease as counting ‘one, two, three.’

The speech was not without consequences: Mani was removed as the Idukki district secretary of the CPI(M) - a post he had held since 1985. But the ‘consequences’ were soon proved to be a joke: Three years later, in 2015, Mani was selected to the party’s State Secretariat - CPI(M)’s highest body in Kerala. CPI(M)’s state conference is held once every three years, and Mani’s elation as member of the State Secretariat was done in the very first conference after the infamous ‘one, two, three’ speech.

Crass attitude towards women

The flak he received for that speech did not stop him from being crass on other occasions. While he has never been what you would call ‘polished’, Mani took his crassness to a new level in February 2016. Mani was addressing party workers in Cheruthony in Idukki, when he made unfounded accusations of immorality against the woman principal of a polytechnic. The leader claimed that the principal “indulged in some other activities by closing the doors of her office room.” “The principal has some 'other' disease, otherwise why does she close the door?” Mani said.

Mani also spoke against the sub-inspector of the town and some other police personnel at the venue - he called the sub-inspector a “bastard who does many dirty things,” and also abused the other policemen.

Read: Foul-mouthed CPI(M) leader MM Mani abuses woman principal and police, case registered

Mani as Minister

The series of abusive comments though did not stop Pinarayi Vijayan from giving Mani an Assembly ticket in 2016. Mani won from Udumbanchola, while Vijayan became the Chief Minister. Pinarayi Vijayan then inducted him into the state Cabinet, when EP Jayaraja was forced to quit in November 2016, owing to nepotism charges.

But becoming a Minister did nothing to improve Mani’s attitude or his public behaviour. When Jishnu Pranoy’s mother, Mahija, was protesting demanding justice for her dead son, MM Mani ridiculed her, saying, "Mahija had said the chief minister may visit her house only after nabbing the accused. So in this context, the CM would have suffered insult had he visited the bereaved family and they, in turn, closed the door on him.”

Claiming that the grieving mother was ‘in the hands of the BJP and UDF’, Mani went on to say that Mahija would be arrested if she came out to protest again. Mani’s statement against Pembilai Orumai is the final straw - and while Pinarayi Vijayan has been trying to protect Mani once again, by claiming that his words were misquoted, it would be embarrassing for both the Chief Minister and the party to shield Mani any more. 

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