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From a tailor to a mass leader: Will 92-year-old Achuthanandan be Kerala's next CM?

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

With voters of Kerala having gone the Left way, speculations are rife over the next Chief Minister of the state and 92-year-old CPI (M) leader VS Achuthanandan is among the frontrunners for the top post. Achuthanandan will hold the reins of the state for the second time if things turn out his way. Extremely popular among the electorate, Achuthanandan is very active for his age. His life is a saga of struggle few can hope to emulate.

Born on 23 October 1923, in Alappuzha district, Velikkakathu Sankaran Achuthanandan spent his childhood in extreme poverty. He lost his mother at the age of four and at the age of just 11, his father also passed away.

The burden of supporting his family was now on Achutanandan's shoulders. He was forced to quit school after Class 7 and start work as a tailor. Later, he also worked at a coir factory.

However, the battle for survival did not deterAchuthanandann from political activities. Initiated into political activism by Communist leader Krishna Pillai, he started his political career early by organising the agricultural workers in Kuttanadu. Achuthanandan was also instrumental in organising coir factory workers at the age of 16. This agitation brought him close to legendary Left leaders like AK Gopalan and AV Kunjambu.

Achuthanandan spent his youth participating in the freedom movement and the Communist movement. The flamboyant leader was arrested several times under the British rule and was even tortured.

Having learnt valuable lessons in mass politics during the Punnapra-Vayalar uprising and the movement against the policies of CP Ramaswamy Iyer, Divan of Travancore, he jumped into electoral politics by joining Congress in 1938. In 1940, he switched sides and became a member of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

The agitator within Achuthanandan remained active even after Independence. He was at the forefront of the land struggle in Kerala during the decade of the 70s. Achuthanandan was a state secretariat member of the CPI in 1957. But, siding with the nationalists in the party during the Indo-China war of 1962, invited the party's wrath. He was demoted in the party ranks for participating in a blood donation camp for Indian soldiers.

Achuthanandan was among the 32 members who left the CPI in 1964 to form the CPI (M). Later, he served as Secretary of the party's Kerala State Committee between 1980 and 1992. He was also the member of the CPI (M) Polit Bureau till he was removed in July 2009 for alleged anti-party activities.

A six-time MLA, Achuthanandan has served thrice as the leader of the opposition in the state assembly. He was the party's CM candidate in 1996 elections but lost heavily while contesting the Alappuzha seat. His moment of glory came in 2006 when he was sworn in as the chief minister of the state. This was despite the party's initial refusal to field him as a candidate. At the age of 82 years and 7 months, he was the oldest chief minister of Kerala and one of the oldest in India's history.

Bitter rivalry with his party colleague Pinarayi Vijayan meant that he was denied a ticket in the 2011 elections. This led to large-scale protests across the state and the party had to reverse its decision. Achutanandan subsequently contested from Malampuzha Constituency and won with a margin of around 25K votes.

CPI (M) lost this election by a narrow margin of 68-72 seats. This was nothing short of a setback for UDF as it had a clear edge in 100 constituencies during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

The nonagenarian leader has consistently courted controversy for inner party feuds, alleged misuse of power and some of his policies. He was severely criticised for the objectionable remarks he made against the family of the NSG commando Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who was martyred during 26/11 attack.

Nevertheless, he has a huge following in Kerala because of his pro-people image and dynamic personality. He reportedly travelled 200 kilometres a day during the election campaign and addressed over 70 rallies across the state.

It remains to be seen whether the CPI (M) leadership will give this eccentric leader yet another stint of power in Kerala.

First published: 19 May 2016, 4:00 IST