You may struggle to meet a man named Oommen Chandy other than the former Kerala chief minister and Congress leader who passed away in Bengaluru on July 18. It is not just the uniqueness of his name that made the 79-year-old leader rare but also his popularity among Keralites as the most compassionate and spartan leader in recent times.
Though he emerged as the tallest leader of the Congress in the state, he never wanted to go beyond its boundaries. He chose to remain close to his home turf, Puthupally in Kottayam district, which he represented in the state assembly by setting the record for the longest tenure of 53 years in 12 polls. One could see a reluctant bride when he was made AICC general secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh in 2018.
Looks may deceive as the unassuming leader was one of the most astute politicians in Kerala who ushered in a generational shift in the state Congress. This started in 1970 when he, the president of the state Youth Congress, was elected to the assembly with a host of Young Turks.
He was initiated into politics through the Kerala Students Union, the student wing of the state Congress. A graduate in law, Chandy went on to become the minister of labour at the age of 33 in his second term in the assembly in 1977 and became home minister at the age of 37 in his third term in 1980. However, he had to wait for almost a quarter of a century to get the coveted post of chief minister.
The mantle fell on Oommen Chandy in 2004 when his leader AK Antony had to resign following a pathetic show in the Lok Sabha elections.
After his term as chief minister, in 2006, he led the opposition till 2011. In the same year, he returned to power with a wafer-thin majority of two seats. Though the then opposition leader ridiculed it as “a government which may fall if two members go to the loo together”, Chandy retorted with the example of the longest-serving government in the state between 1970 and 77. He was determined to complete the term and during this second stint, he launched a mass contact programme to meet people, hear their grievances, and ensure relief to them. His programme was widely lauded as a unique democratic experiment in which the chief minister of a state met thousands of people directly. The programme received the United Nations Global Award for Public Service in 2013.
However, the solar scam which was linked to some members of his office hit the party as well as the government. He had to pay a heavy price for this in his professional and personal life. He could not lead his party to victory in 2016 and, accepting defeat, he remained an MLA without any other offices. He continued his winning streak in 2021 too.
Then his health deteriorated and he faded away from the mainstream though Chandy remained in the hearts of millions whose lives were transformed by his interventions.
Oommen Chandy is survived by his wife Mariamma and children Maria Oommen, Chandy Oommen, and Achu Oommen.