October 09, 2022

Kodiyeri: A Skilled Leader

Prakash Karat

COMRADE Kodiyeri Balakrishnan is no more with us.  After a long battle with cancer, he died in a hospital in Chennai.  In the last three years since he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he showed indomitable will in continuing to work while undergoing bouts of chemotherapy. It was only in August this year that he was relieved of the secretaryship of the Kerala state committee, when it became evident to him that his deteriorating health would not allow him to discharge his responsibilities. 

Kodiyeri’s evolution as an outstanding Communist leader can be understood only in the background of the revolutionary traditions of Kannur that shaped his political life. He belonged to the first generation who joined the Party after the formation of the CPI(M) in 1964.  This generation of leaders were moulded in Kannur by the existence of a strong Party organisation and a mass base built over decades of struggles and movements of the workers and peasants from pre-independence days.  Kodiyeri was a product of this movement and was imbued with the qualities that had created such a strong Communist organisation and movement. Kodiyeri became a man of strong ideological convictions and a dedicated Communist. 

His first notable contribution was as a leader of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI). He became the secretary of the state SFI in 1973. He played an important role in the expansion of the SFI and its becoming the biggest student movement in the state. It was as an SFI leader that he was jailed for one and a half years for being opposed to the Emergency. He was among the eight office-bearers and Central Executive Committee members of the SFI who were jailed under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) during the Emergency.

His early years of Party work were in Thalassery.  From being a branch and local committee secretary, he eventually became the secretary of the Kannur district committee of the Party.  Kodiyeri, from the outset, was in the forefront in the fight against the RSS communal forces. He himself was a target of an RSS attack and he played a notable role in gearing up the Party to meet the attacks of the RSS goons in Kannur district. 

Being in the state leadership of the Party, first as a secretariat member and later as the state secretary, Kodiyeri showed exceptional ability to articulate the Party’s political line, both concerning the national and Kerala situation.

Kodiyeri was remarkable in being able to combine both political acumen and organisational skills.  Once the Party formulated a political position or approach, Kodiyeri was the most skilled in articulating that political position to the people. He was the most effective propagator of Party policies through his public speeches. It was this skill as a public speaker and his rapport with ordinary people that made him a mass leader.

At the same time, his organisational capacity was also notable.  As state secretary, Kodiyeri set a high level in presenting in a sharp and balanced way, the issues before the Party and how they could be tackled. He had the rare ability to listen to diverse views and unerringly come to correct conclusions. The Party in Kerala benefitted immensely from his political-organisational abilities.

Kodiyeri was uncompromising in his political and ideological convictions. But he treated political opponents courteously and maintained cordial relations with them which earned him the respect of political leaders across the board. 

I knew Kodiyeri since early 1974 when we both became joint secretaries of the SFI at its second all-India conference in Kolkata. Our long association culminated in our working together in the Polit Bureau. We had all expected him to continue in the leadership for a longer time. But he has gone prematurely.  His absence is a big loss for the entire Party.