THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It was 1987. The Left had come to power defeating the K Karunakaran government. During an interaction with seniormost IAS officers of the country, the new rural development minister was asked the difference between LDF and UDF. Pat came T Sivadasa Menon’s reply: “Even an autorickshaw can overtake Left ministers’ cars,” a barb at his predecessors in the previous Karunakaran regime who frightened people with their speeding cavalcades.
Veteran CPM leader Menon, who passed away on Tuesday, was known for taking unconventional stand on many issues. A chemistry teacher-turned-politician, he was the favourite ‘maash’ of both the party and its cadre. A rare independent thinker within CPM, Menon donned the party mantle of trusted lieutenant his entire life. However, he sided with the MV Raghavan faction when it came out with an alternative document at the CPM state conference in 1985 to forge an alliance with Muslim League and Kerala Congress to take on Indian National Congress.
Menon went on to become synonymous with party discipline. “When the party grows, numerous party comrades will grow with it and go on to become big leaders. But none should be under the impression that they can fly above the red flag,” is how CPM politburo member MA Baby recalled Menon’s speech delivered at Kolkata Congress.
Closely associated with E K Nayanar, Menon stuck by official party line during factional feuds. At the Palakkad state conference, when senior leaders like MM Lawrence and KN Raveendranath were defeated, Menon remained loyal to the official faction. And at the height of the VS-Pinarayi feud, he openly favoured the official faction.
Menon played crucial rule in facilitating decentralisation
A pragmatic politician, Menon was keen to ensure the Opposition’s support for the state’s welfare. During the 1996 Nayanar government, there was a proposal for external borrowing to implement state projects. As finance minister, Menon held talks with then Leader of Opposition A K Antony, ensured their support and went ahead with the decision.
As a minister, he was always accessible and was open to criticism and correction. As finance minister in the 1996 government, Menon played a crucial role in facilitating decentralisation. Former chief secretary S M Vijayanand recalls how he, a junior IAS officer then, was able to convince Menon on several decisions. Once the headmaster at the Mannarkad school, Menon worked his way up the party leadership through leftist teachers’ unions. An excellent command over English, clarity of thought and ability to communicate made him popular within and outside the party. A revolutionary at heart, Menon never shied away from leading a protest, even in old age.
He played a crucial role in giving a lease of life to the party, especially in Palakkad, where CPM’s strong base of agrarian workers had eroded after 1977 elections. “As a teachers’ union leader, he played a major role in roping in middle class, especially the youth and students to CPM at a time when the party needed it most,” said Left commentator Appukkuttan Vallikkunnu.