KOCHI: “KSU, KSU, Vayalar Ravi, A K Antony, Oommen Chandy chernu nayikkum prasthanam” (KSU, KSU, the movement unitedly led by Vayalar Ravi, A K Antony, Oommen Chandy).” The famous slogan resonated in campuses across the state in the 1960s.
Chandy, who began his political career as the KSU unit secretary in St George High School, Puthuppally, Kottayam, lent a powerful and unique voice to the student outfit with his style of functioning. He is one of the prominent Congress leaders who grew up through KSU and attained a unique stature as a mass leader in Kerala politics.
While Vayalar and Antony shifted their political base to New Delhi, Chandy remained rooted in Kerala and its politics. Since cutting his political teeth as a KSU activist, Chandy actively moulded several young leaders through the outfit. New-gen leaders like P C Vishnunadh, T Siddique and Shafi Parambil, hand-picked by Chandy during their student politics days, are among the most vocal legislators in the present assembly.
From a unit secretary, Chandy was elevated to the KSU state president post in 1967 with the blessings of Antony, the then KSU chief, and Vayalar. During his two-year tenure, Chandy played a decisive role in building KSU and making it as one of the biggest student organisations in the state.
As Chandy himself recalled on several occasions, it was the Orana Samaram organised by KSU against a hike in concession on boat fare for students by the EMS Nampoothiripad government that attracted him to the outfit. The agitation went on to be the first successful student-led strike in Kerala and shaped the careers of several political leaders, including Chandy. His former KSU colleagues recalled his decisions as president that changed how the outfit operated.
“One of his decisions was to launch a programme named Onathinu oru para nellu, (a para of rice during Onam – Seven para equal one sack – with the aim of infusing farming culture among students. It was a strange thing at the time,” recalled former minister Ramachandran Kadannappally. Chandy travelled across the state for the project’s success, said Kadannappally, then KSU general secretary who succeeded Chandy as the outfit’s head, but later aligned with the Left camp.
The period in KSU with Chandy at the helm was a memorable time, said Saseendran, who served as KSU secretary with Chandy. In the late 1960s, when CPM’s political dominance was unquestionable in the state, the vibrant youth leadership comprising Chandy emerged as a force to be reckoned with.
To capitalise on this ‘youth power’, Congress fielded five young Turks – Chandy from Puthuppally, Shanmughadas from Balussery, N Ramakrishnan from Edakkad, Kottara Gopalakrishnan from Kottarakkara and Antony from Cherthala – in the 1970 assembly elections. All the seats were Left bastions and chances of a Congress win were slim.
However, to everyone’s surprise, and the Congress’ delight, all five youths proved their mettle by winning. And it also marked the start of the unbreakable bond between Chandy and Puthuppally.