October 09, 2022

An Elder Brother and A Committed Comrade

M A Baby

COMRADE Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was much more than a colleague to me. Senior to me by two years, he was as close to me as a brother in a relationship spanning over five decades. It dates back to 1972-73 when we worked together as colleagues and office bearers of the SFI at the state level. His end has come now, as we were working together simultaneously at the state and national levels.

Kodiyeri was at his best, working at the organisational level. His skills in this regard were quite evident even from his student days. I remember our first visit to Calcutta in February 1974 to attend the second national conference of the SFI. West Bengal was notorious for its lawlessness then, where semi-fascist armed groups of hoodlums had a field day. The stormtroopers of Chhatra Parishad, the Congress’s student wing, were infamous for their hooliganism, especially in Calcutta. The Party leadership had warned the delegates against engaging with them. On our way to the venue of the conference in a minibus, their game plan was invoked by heckling us and throwing stones at the bus. Kodiyeri could easily comprehend that they were deliberately provoking us to react so that they could justify a carefully rehearsed plan to disrupt the conference. Kodiyeri immediately took charge of the situation and enforced strict discipline among our delegates. It was this strategic intervention, but for which, the Chhatra Parishad would have succeeded in their larger design to disrupt the conference.

The SFI was invited to the international youth and student festival held in Havana in 1978 with the slogan ‘For Anti-imperialist Solidarity, Peace and Friendship’. Kodiyeri and I attended that conference as representatives of youth and student organisations. Our delegation was led by Prakash Karat. It was our first exposure to an international conference of the Left.

As Party secretary of Kannur, the strongest unit of the Party at the district level in Kerala, and later as state secretary of the Party, with a membership of more than five lakhs, he could function most effectively. His organisational skills were played out in full in evolving a consensual working model in the Party.

One of the most outstanding qualities of Kodiyeri as a leader was the personal courage he exhibited during the most trying situations. He would never lose his cool and engage with the crisis without betraying any tension. He would calmly discuss the pros and cons in depth and arrive at a consensual solution to resolve the crisis. Kodiyeri was well known within the Party for his skills in crisis management.

Kodiyeri was jailed twice, once under MISA during the Emergency. He was let out only after Indira Gandhi had to announce elections and the lifting of Emergency. Kodiyeri could complete his graduation during his enforced leisure in jail. Meanwhile, I was arrested under DIR and released from jail after some time. One of my tasks during this time was to deliver study materials to Kodiyeri in the jail. I would also visit his house to enquire about the welfare of his family members.

Kodiyeri and I were colleagues in the ministry headed by VS Achuthanandan from 2006 to 2011. As minister in charge of home and tourism, Kodiyeri could successfully implement many popular reforms like Janmaitri Police and Responsible Tourism. The innovative programme of Student Police was also initiated by his department and implemented in collaboration with the education department.

Kodiyeri and I had several occasions to collaborate as ministers in charge of home and education. One of the important tasks for such collaboration was the holding of SSLC Examinations. The confidential printing, upkeep and distribution of the question papers to thousands of examination centres without leakage was very taxing. The home department under Comrade Kodiyeri coordinated with the education department to ensure the security of the entire process.

One of the flagship programmes of the 2006-11 government was the launching of the Kochi Muziris Biennale. This was a joint project of the ministries of culture and tourism. Realising the multi-dimensional possibilities of the biennale, Comrade Kodiyeri came forward to shoulder the main responsibility of the project. That is how we could earmark five crores of rupees for the inaugural biennale. Renowned artiste Bose Krishnamacharya in his condolence message recalls the unstinting support given by Kodiyeri for the conduct of the biennale.

Kodiyeri was the deputy leader of the Party in the assembly during 2011-16. He would do his homework for every speech or intervention. He was thorough with the rules of procedure and meticulously followed them which could win the respect of even the opposition.