Kerala Congress (M) leader K.M. Mani belonged to that unique breed of leaders who combined political astuteness with administrative capability. He was a mass leader and an administrator with a vision and a person who cherished his friends.
A lot has been written about the various records he set as a politician and an administrator. But to assess Mr. Mani and his contributions, one should go beyond the record. His rare ability to read the political undercurrents with clarity was perhaps one of the qualities that stood him in good stead in the murky world of coalition politics. He clearly understood the core sentiments of his constituents comprising mostly the thrifty and hard working farming community of Central Travancore.
It was but natural that he should have pitched his Kerala Congress to the anti-Marxist platform that emerged in the mid-1970s, sinking his differences with the Congress party, which was actually his main competitor. Except for a brief two-year period, when he teamed up with a section of the Congress leaders to join the Leftist Ministry of E.K. Nayanar in 1980, Mr. Mani had always been an opponent of the CPIM).
Staying with Cong.
He preferred to stay with the Congress alliance even when he had to suffer the ignominy of seeing his Kerala Congress splitting several times over the decades. Mr. Mani’s brand of accommodative politics was such that he had no difficulty in working with colleagues who had left him at various points of time to cut their own path, be it P J Joseph, T.M. Jacob or R. Balakrishna Pillai.
Unlike them, he never thought of joining the Left platform. If at all he did, it was only after he left the UDF in 2017 and insulated his party for a brief period. There were speculations that Mr. Mani would take his Kerala Congress into the LDF, but once again, Mr. Mani’s political reading prompted him for a course correction and return to the UDF fold without sustaining political damage.
He promoted the Kerala Congress as a farmers’ party, appealing to the thrifty Christian community that drew their sustenance from the rubber economy of the area. He also sought to give an ideological basis for his positions by coming out with the “Theory of Toiling Masses” to justify his slant towards the farming community.
As an administrator, Mr. Mani had the privilege of handling a plethora of portfolios, but Finance and Law were perhaps two major subjects he loved to handle. As Finance Minister, he was the first to conceive a welfare scheme for agriculture workers. He also conceived a pension scheme for farmers, not to mention the price stabilisation fund and incentive scheme for rubber farmers to help them handle a fluctuating price regime.
Mr. Mani will however be remembered for setting up the Karunya Benevolent Fund that aimed at providing financial assistance to the weaker sections of society for their medical treatment. The fund was mobilised through the Karunya lottery during his term as Finance Minister from 2011-15, managed by the Kerala Lotteries under the Finance Department. There were several development schemes he formulated while holding other portfolios, including revenue and housing.
Another facet of Mr. Mani’s leadership was his ability to nurture relationships across the political firmament. Despite bitter experiences he had to face, including allegations of corruption, Mr. Mani did not harbour any grudge against any of his opponents. It was perhaps this rare accommodative quality that must have contributed to long innings in politics.