Kanam Rajendran, Left’s conscience keeper, passes away at 73

Far from being confined to the party cadre, Kanam was one leader whom all of political Kerala looked up to during the first Pinarayi government.
Kanam Rajendran
Kanam Rajendran

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: For a party that has always been desirous of maintaining its Leftist essence, there could have been no better leader than Kanam Rajendran at its helm. Being a corrective force within the Left, he ensured that the CPI remained a Communist party with a difference. The veteran leader and CPI state secretary, who passed away at the age of 73 in Kochi on Friday, has for long been synonymous with one of those rare ‘real’ Left voices in the state.

Far from being confined to the party cadre, Kanam was one leader whom all of political Kerala looked up to during the first Pinarayi government. To a great extent, he was the ‘critical’ voice within the Left, a role successfully executed by iconic Communist veteran V S Achuthanandan for long. Openly rebellious, Kanam was able to keep the Left moral fabric intact, thereby ensuring the much-needed checks and balances within the Left.

A three-time CPI state secretary since 2015, Kanam ruled the party with an iron fist for nearly a decade. Beginning his political career in the AIYF as a 19-year-old, Kanam went on to become the youngest secretary of the organisation. He was elected to the CPI state council at the age of 21 and remained in it for 52 years. At the time of his demise, he was serving as the party’s central secretariat member.

The fourth leader — after N E Balram, P K Vasudevan Nair and Veliyam Bhargavan — to be elected as secretary three times in a row, Kanam first assumed the role in 2015 when CPI was passed through one of its darkest phases.

The payment seat row had not only rocked the party but also led to a total loss of face. The disgraceful episode not only deepened the differences between the powerful factions led by Kanam and K E Ismail, it made the party an inferior partner within the Left front. By his third term, Kanam had grown to such a stature within the party that he could counter even its national leadership and get away with it.

At the helm of a faction-ridden CPI, Kanam was able to effectively establish total dominance over the party structure at all levels, silencing his critics, including Ismail and veteran C Divakaran.

At the subsequent CPI state conferences in Malappuram and Thiruvananthapuram, Kanam emerged victorious, dealing with open challenges from a slew of veterans and ‘guerilla’ insurrections that kept erupting from different corners. At the last CPI state conference in 2022, Kanam enforced the mandatory age cap of 75 years for leadership positions, thereby showing the way out for rivals Ismail and Divakaran.

A trade unionist to the core, Kanam was a Left leader who took pride in the fact that his rise within the ranks of the party was because he led workers’ protests. During the first Pinarayi government, Kanam was the lone dissenting voice within the Left. In his initial years as CPI state secretary, Kanam openly criticised what he called ‘deviation from Leftist ideologies’ and ‘emerging dictatorial tendencies’ in the government.

True to expectations, he openly questioned the government on issues such as Maoist killings, UAPA charges against students, Lok Ayukta ordinance and reluctance to issue RTI information on cabinet decisions. When Thomas Chandy faced corruption charges, he even went to the extent of directing party ministers to boycott the cabinet meeting.

Even while the rebel in him remained active, his proximity to the then CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan ensured smooth sailing for the Left. In hindsight, Kanam had clear political reasons behind each of his decisions — be it opposing the entry of Kerala Congress into the Left Front or enforcing the age cap in the CPI.

Noticeably, the second Pinarayi government saw a mellowed-down Kanam. Towards the end, it seems his ill-health coupled with the settling of scores within the party left the veteran with no choice but to lower the moral vanguard within the Left. However, Kanam chose to portray it as a quintessential compromise for the sake of Left unity.

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The New Indian Express