Oommen Chandy | Photo: Mathrubhumi/EV Ragesh
Oommen Chandy was quintessentially a man of masses. He was always among the people and never wanted to be alone. '' My textbook is my people,'' he used to say. '' I don't read much beyond the newspapers. I don't get time to watch movies. But I do listen to people. That is how I learn new lessons.''
He was always surrounded by people. The multitude followed him wherever he went. OC ,as he was affectionately called, had no separate existence apart from the people. Congress leader and writer Shashi Tharoor attributes the success of OC to five core elements : charisma, principles, commitment, capability and empathy. He was not a great orator. He was a man of action. ''Man has been given the capability to intervene. If we don't use this we will be doing real disservice to God,'' he told me once. He could touch the hearts of millions of people in a magical way. Patience was his most powerful weapon. It was this immense patience that enabled him to turn the famous ' janasamparkam programmes ' into huge success. He used to stand for more than 10 hours continuously to receive the complaints from the people who thronged the programmes in thousands.
He was a trouble shooter par excellence! The way he ensured the survival of his ministry which had only a majority of two MLAs in 2011 speaks volumes about his acumen as a political leader and an efficient administrator. He knew how to overcome the red tapism that destroyed the lives of the ordinary people. He would tell the officials to implement a programme without delay if it was sure to benefit the common man. He would brush aside the objections raised by the officials who were wary of some or other discrepancies saying that those minor deviations could always be corrected in course of time, but the deserving persons could longer be deprived of the necessary help.
OC recalled in an interview how the janasamparkam programmes helped him learn about the problems faced by the ordinary people. His government had initiated the distribution of rice and other essentials through the ration shops at a subsidised rate. But there were people who couldn't even afford to pay that minimum price. He came to know about this when he interacted with the marginalised people during these programmes.
He never exhibited power. It was his firm belief that a people's representative must be a public servant by all means. I specifically remember an incident when OC came over to Chennai to hold discussions with the then TN CM Jayalalithaa in 2004. The minister for Industries PK Kunhalikkutty was there with OC. A group of media persons were brutally attacked by the Muslim league workers at the Kozhikode airport a few days prior to that. The police personnel simply stood watching the assault . The Kerala working journalists Union was protesting against these aggressions . KUWJ had a unit in Chennai. So, some of us who happened to be the office bearers of the union in Chennai decided to hand over a letter of protest to OC at the Chennai airport. But the security personnel at the airport refused to allow us into the area where the CM was seated after his arrival at the airport. They pointed out that the security has been tightened in the wake of the untoward incident at the Kozhikode airport and the access to the Kerala CM was highly restricted. Then, I called one of the congress leaders who was accompanying OC. Within minutes a senior police officer came out of the airport and told us that two of us could go to the Kerala CM to hand over the letter of protest. The officer couldn't hide his surprise. He told me that this was the first time he was witnessing a CM who was ready to receive those who have come to protest against him.
There was another incident some time later in Chennai again. This time OC came to attend a programme conducted by the Malayali associations in Chennai. On the way back to the airport he dropped in on his friend Daniel Samuel and had lunch with him. The police personnel who escorted him also were provided food. OC finished his lunch fast and got up to leave. Seeing this the police personnel who had not finished the lunch stood up to go with him. But the OC came towards them and told them that they could finish the lunch and there was no need to hurry. The police persons who were used to the way Jayalalithaa handled power , were wonderstruck by OC's gesture. That was OC , a leader sans pretensions and hypocrisy.
Kerala will definitely miss OC in the coming days. The state has not seen the kind of masses that have come to bid good bye to OC. They have been waiting day and night just to have a final glance of their beloved leader. Maybe Annadurai and MGR would have received such an overwhelming farewell! There is no match for him in Kerala's political arena. There is no replacement for OC. The void created by his demise will always be felt by the millions of people whose lives were touched by the love and commitment of the one and only OC!