Former personal staff share poignant moments with their beloved leader Oommen Chandy
Chandy's ability to stand for those who were with him even at the cost of his interest made him a stalwart in Congress party after K Karunakaran.
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Oommen Chandy’s inner coterie comprised his political secretary the late K S Vasudeva Sharma, private secretary P S Sreekumar and R K Balakrishnan alias RK as additional private secretary. Five policemen, C Ashokan, N Raveendran Pillai, M S Sreekumar, K P Pradeep Kumar and K Mathew used to accompany Chandy on his official trips and used to be his contact point as he did not have a mobile phone.
Sreekumar was serving as the president of the Kerala Secretariat Association and later as its general secretary in 1991 when K Karunakaran was the chief minister. Chandy who was serving as the finance minister in the Karunakaran ministry then shared excellent rapport with Sreekumar which saw him picking him as his private secretary during his first outing as the chief minister in 2004. Sreekumar told TNIE that he had never seen a chief minister with a humane face and a leader with vision after former chief minister C Achutha Menon.
“In 2004, Chandy was worried about brain drain. He wanted youths to stay back in Kerala and set up their own initiatives. Thereby, Chandy wanted to ensure that their parents are taken care of during old age. Taking a leaf out of Achutha Menon’s vision on development, Chandy launched the Vizhinjam project, Kannur airport and Kochi Metro to name a few”, said Sreekumar.
Chacko joined Chandy’s personal staff as his press secretary after his stint with ‘Deepika’. The soft-spoken Chacko hovered around him looking for human interest stories which he would dutifully brief to the reporters. After Chandy’s tenure, Chacko came out with ‘Kunjoonju Kathakal’ which delved into interesting tidbits, ‘A gracious voice’ and ‘Corona Kaalathe Kunjoonju Kathakal’.Kollam Pathanapuram native Ashokan served the longest stint with Chandy, a record 27 years. One of the unforgettable incidents that have been etched in Ashokan’s memory is about a boy who came to thank Chandy for his cochlear implant device.
“The boy came from Malabar along with his mother to meet Chandy at Puthuppally House. He asked the boy whether he was able to hear him and asked who he was. Pat came his reply, Oommen Chandy. A multitude of emotions was etched on his face which would forever be etched in my mind,” said Ashokan.
When Chandy was the Opposition Leader during 2006 - 20011, he along with his gunman Raveendran travelled to Podiyadi in Pathanamthitta district on the eve of Vishu. Raveendran recalled that during their night journey, a couple of youths were revelling with firing firecrackers when a ‘gundu’ was hurled at his official car.
“The ‘gundu’ went off on the left side of the rear seat which saw the glass breaking into hundreds of pieces. When the police were keen to round up the youths, Chandy insisted that they should be allowed to go scot-free as they were merely enjoying the festive spirits,” recalled Raveendran.
Sreekumar who served as a gunman during 2004-22 remembered how four protesters jumped before his official vehicle at Thengana in Kottayam after he received the UN award. Sreekumar recalled that he pushed the protesters from reaching Oommen Chandy, but instead got hit by the flag post they were carrying.
“Later when we reached home at Puthupally, he asked me to come inside. He was concerned whether I was badly injured. At the same time, he asked the police to spare the youths which showed his humane face,” said Kaadamuri native Sreekumar.
A politician who put people first, Chandy had urged all his gunmen not to create a barrier in front of the hordes of people who came to meet him. Pradeep Kumar recalled events during Chandy’s tenure as finance minister. “During a train trip, a young Muslim lady insisted that she wanted to meet the chief minister. I allowed her to meet him. Her grievance was that she was not having a house. Within two days, Chandy called up his contacts in the US which led the NRK Association there to help her to have a roof over her head”, Pradeep recalled to TNIE.
A young Mathew was in awe of Chandy as a 13-year-old. Karunagappally native Mathew has been there in the personal staff of the senior leader for the last 13 years. “I am hugely indebted to Chandy as I could dedicate my life to him. I have spent a contented life, serving him throughout my police career,” said Mathew.
RK, who has not been keeping good health over the past several months, has several dozens of poignant stories to share about Chandy. Braving his illness, he spent the last moments with his leader at Puthuppally House before the body was taken to Durbar Hall. When people came to meet Chandy to raise grievances, he would summon RK and tell him, “Please do the needful’’. Chandy knew that RK would go out of the box to ensure that the help was provided. RK initially belonged to forest minister K P Noorudheen’s personal staff in 1982 which later saw him joining Chandy’s office on political appointment.