K. Karunakaran

5 Jul 1918
23 Dec 2010
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Kannoth Karunakaran(The King Of Kerala)(5 July 1918 – 23 December 2010) was a politician from Kerala, India belonging to the Indian National Congress party. He was close to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.K.Karunakaran is the founder of United Democratic Front(UDF) and a coalition Government system in Kerala state.

Karunakaran died on 23 December 2010, aged 92, at Ananthapuri Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram. He was suffering from respiratory problems, fever and other age related diseases and had been hospitalized on 21 October 2010. His condition worsened following a stroke and death occurred following a cardiac arrest. His death was confirmed by doctors at 5:30 PM. It was coincidental that his death and Narasimha Rao’s death was on same date. Karunakaran had played key role in backing the Rao Government and later Rao had dismissed Karunakaran from the chair of Chief Minister of Kerala.His funeral was attended by the then prime minister Manmohan Singh and the AICC chief Sonia Gandhi.

Affectionately called ‘Leader’ by his admirers, Congress stalwart Kannoth Karunakaran was a master tactician who remained a ‘King’ in Kerala politics for decades and at times a much sought after political troubleshooter at the national level.

Considered a close lieutenant of former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, the four-time former Kerala chief minister has been credited with creating in the 1970s a rainbow coalition—the United Democratic Front(UDF)—that has sustained itself on the support from different social, caste and religious groups as a powerful bloc to take on CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front(LDF).

A former Union Industries Minister, the diminutive politician with a trade-mark hump and rasping staccato sentences had an amazing capacity for political survival except for brief breaks and showed no signs of let-up in ambitions even in his sunset years.

Initiated in politics in 1937 at the age of 19 when he became a member of the state Congress led by M Narayana Menon, Karunakaran, often criticized for apparent nepotism, first became chief minister on 25 March 1977.

Karunakaran, who has proved for decades that Kerala politics can still be his playing field, has often been accused of turning senile in his later years but he was not ready to say goodbye to his political career spanning over seven decades.

Even when he was in his late eighties, his political maneuvering was just as dexterous, mental agility just as remarkable and wit and sarcasm just as biting as ever.

An inscrutable political leader known for his steadfast devotion to Krishna, the presiding deity at the Guruvayoor temple in Kerala, Karunakaran has always been a wily political player and, through sheer hard work and lots of luck, has donned a variety of roles—as trade union leader, the opposition leader, a union minister or the chief minister.

He has been a Congress(I) father figure who built the party “from a group of nine MLAs in 1967” through two divisions in 1969 and 1978 to a strength of 57 in the 1991 Congress(I)-led UDF Ministry. The big break in his career came in 1967 with the party choosing him to lead the nine-member Congress bloc after the party was humbled by the LDF.

When his colleagues pushed him out of power while he was serving as chief minister for the fourth time, it rankled him no end.

The feeling of being dispossessed has led him to seek revenge at every opportunity ever inviting criticism from his opponents accusing him of trying to wreck the Congress in Kerala.

Karunakaran and A K Antony—the former Defence Minister of India and chief minister of Kerala—were dubbed the political Tom-and-Jerry equivalents who ran each other in circles for over two decades, to the consternation of the state.

Karunakaran has been the Chief Minister of Kerala four times but completed his full five-year term only once from 1982 to 1987. All the four state ministries under him were however tainted with allegations of nepotism and corruption.

A key accused in palmolein import scam which has also sucked in the current Central Vigilance Commissioner P J Thomas, Karunakaran as chief minister had decided to import 15,000 tonnes of palm oil at 405 USD per tonne from a Singapore-based firm whereas the prevailing market price was 392 USD per tonne.

He took charge as Chief Minister for the first time on 25 March 1977. However he tendered his resignation within a month immediately following certain references by the Kerala High Court in what came to be known as Rajan case.

Rajan, an engineering student in Calicut who led anti-Emergency protests, was allegedly killed by the police at Kakkayam police camp. Karunakaran was the Home Minister from 1971 to 1977 in the ministry headed by C Achutha Menon.

Karunakaran took charge as chief minister again on 28 December 1981. However, this ministry did not last long. He resigned on 17 March 1982, following the withdrawal of support by Lonappan Nambadan, a member of the Kerala Congress (M). Mid-term elections to the 7th Kerala Legislative Assembly were held on 19 May 1982.

The ministry with Karunakaran as chief minister assumed office on 24 May 1982, and continued till 1987. On 24 June 1991, Karunakaran took charge again as Chief Minister of Kerala for the fourth term, and resigned on 16 March 1994, making way for his bete noire Antony to become chief minister.

After Antony was elected as chief minister in 2001, Karunakaran was on the warpath with the Government led by his own party and the party high command. After a series of unsuccessful attempts to regain supremacy in the Kerala wing of the Congress, the dissidents led by him landed up in the bad books of the Congress high command.

The first biography on him titled ‘K.Karunakaran’ was written by Vrindavanam Venugopalan. Published by Islamiya Books, Aluva in 1992.

K. Karunakaran was the home minister of Kerala during the emergency period. After the Emergency, the Rajan case rocked Kerala politics like no other issue before and Karunakaran was forced to step down as the case attracted national attention. It was a habeas corpus petition filed by T.V. Eachara Warrier asking the state machinery to produce his son Rajan (a student of Regional Engineering College, Calicut who actively participated in protests against the emergency declared by the Indira government), in court. Rajan was allegedly killed by the police at Kakkayam police torture camp and the body disposed off Mad. The legal battle led by Rajan’s father became one of the most remembered human rights fight in the state and the legal struggle by his father T.V. Eachara Warrier had diminished Karunakaran’s popularity. The book Memories of a father is a lamentation of a father over his son’s brutal death. He was an accused in the Palmolein Oil Import Scam, which was pending before the Supreme Court at the time of his death.

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