Encounter with a Leader, Baptised in Blood, Sweat…

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How on earth can socialism strike roots in a country where people go about in western style trousers, long sleeves, socks and boots, ride an imported scooter and sleep in luxury rooms charging Rs. 105 in monthly rent?

For a while I sat stunned, as the diatribe was aimed at me, and the source of the vitriol was a youth leader of the Indian National Congress. The year-1969; as a professional representative of the US-based Pfizer Corporation in Kochi, I was putting up in a ‘luxury’ room, was always clad in ‘western’ attire, and owned an original Italian Lambretta scooter.

In MAS Lodge of Ernakulam North (Kochi), there were luxury and ordinary rooms, but a common canteen for both the ‘classes’. Those verbal missiles, as said above, from the youth leader hit me as I sat down for breakfast in the canteen one fine morning, and the nearby table was occupied by A K Antony, author of those comments. Around the table were his disciples, including Oommen Chandy and K C Joseph, both students of the local law college, as Antony too was. They formed the firebrand team of youth and student leaders, who had taken upon themselves the task of rebuilding the party across the State.

My response to Antony was: Please go, look at socialism as it is being practiced in Russia and China.

Before it developed into a passionate argument, Chandy intervened to make peace, a task he has always assumed as his sacred duty while serving as President, Kerala Students Union, President, Youth Congress, MLA, Minister, Leader of Opposition and Chief Minister.

All such trivialities aside, I had a ring side view of the way in which Antony and Chandy, supported by a huge mass of followers and admirers, toiled day in and day out to restore their mother ship party to its original glory and capture power within a span of just five years.

Their routine, while operating from the ‘ordinary’ rooms of MAS Lodge, were soaked in blood, sweat and tears. Riding the local city buses, boarding third class coaches in long-distance trains, sleeping in bus stands and railway stations, eating at wayside teashops, borrowing and beseeching to raise money to fund the struggle, and finally reaching the destination they had charted: the destination called political power.

One of those days, when I was relaxing in my room, there was a commotion at the entrance to the lodge campus. An autorickshaw screamed in, and Chandy emerged from it, his snow white khadi shirt and mundu soaked in blood. I rushed down to meet him and held his hand, leading him to my room where the criss-cross wounds on his back were cleaned and treated with Nebasulf Powder, a Pfizer product which I was promoting those days. A pack of Johnson strips in my stock came in handy to cover all the lacerations.

What happened, I inquired after the procedure. Chandy, smiling and wincing alternately, explained that he was brutally beaten up by the State police while picketing the district Collectorate, protesting the custodial death of a student.

That day marked the baptism in blood of a visionary leader who, in later years, endeared himself to the masses, and over the past 45 years, has scaled heights unimaginable those days to become chief minister of Kerala not once but twice, while Antony preceded him to rule twice as chief minister, and then moved on to Delhi to serve as Defence Minister of India. Two gentlemen who attained greatness through intelligent hard work, they are.

Never did I have occasion to meet Chandy in person after that blood-soaked day in MAS Lodge. In some public functions as part of the crowd, may be. He is a man of the masses and I too am part of it. Never felt the need to think differently.