An Editor recalls meeting Oommen Chandy after breaking a damning story on him

Despite the scurrilous nature of the allegations, former Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who passed away recently, responded to the news report on him with consummate self-restraint.
Oommen Chandy
Oommen Chandy
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All hell had broken loose after Asianet News aired the letter that Sarita Nair, the accused in the solar scam, claimed she wrote from jail which contained the most severe personal allegations against Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. A letter purportedly written by her on March 19, 2013, during judicial incarceration, claimed that she was sexually abused by Chandy at his residence in Cliff House. It was first aired by Asianet News in April 2016.

Nair was on screen for the first time and endorsed the letter and its dramatic contents. We were told by various people how upset and enraged Chandy was. One of those days, the channel’s Managing Director, K Madhavan, came to Thiruvananthapuram and asked me to go with him to meet Chandy. I had known Chandy long enough to know that he may not carry any grudge for too long. Yet, I was pretty apprehensive this time because of the unprecedented nature of the allegations against him. I asked Madhavan if we should wait for some days to pass so that frayed emotions would settle. But one who never believed in procrastination, Madhavan held that things would only turn worse if not confronted on time. He told me to listen patiently to whatever Chandy had to say. Venting emotions would be the first step to mending fences.

So by about 7 pm, we reached the Chief Minister’s Office in the Secretariat building and were soon led to a special ante-room by the staff. In the adjoining office room, Chandy was as usual surrounded by more than a hundred people, and he was standing up and listening to each of them while more and more kept trooping in. As Madhavan and I waited, discussing ways to assuage the Chief Minister, we saw on the large TV screen in our room newer breaking stories that would hardly serve our purpose. Obviously, we became really edgy. Even during those tense moments, Madhavan, the inveterate movie buff, recalled the character of lineman KT Kurup that Innocent played in Midhunam, who at the last minute upsets every plan his brother Sethu laid to get things right.

Then suddenly, Chandy walked into our room with his trademark briskness and disarming smile. We spent the next 15 minutes talking about most things under the sun except what we were most anxious about. Chandy never touched upon the story that consisted of the worst personal allegations he faced in his long political career. Perhaps the astute politician might have done it deliberately to deprive us of the feeling of redemption from letting him vent his emotions on us.

We later received a defamation notice from him for the story. Though it was a perfectly legitimate course of action, we learned later that he did it quite reluctantly and under pressure from some who wanted to teach the channel a lesson. But on the night we met, Chandy reconfirmed my conviction that though a Machiavellian politician, he was the leader most tolerant to criticism and the most accessible for one and all. He never disrespected his rivals, even during the bitterest duels, and treated everyone equally with exceptional humility. And most importantly, Chandy had the rarest human faculty not to be personally seduced by that greatest temptress—power. Heavy wasn’t his head even when it wore the crown.

(MG Radhakrishnan is former Editor, Asianet News. The views expressed are author’s own)

In December 2022, the CBI submitted a report in the Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, Thiruvananthapuram, giving a clean chit to Oommen Chandy in the sexual harassment allegation levelled by Saritha Nair.

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