The first election of this millennium, along the coast of Kerala - from Kasargode to Kanyakumari has thrown up some very interesting faces. Among the 675 candidates seeking mandate from over two crore voters for the 140 seats in the State assembly, there is a priest, a poet, a novelist, a writer/screenplay-writer, a filmmaker, an actor and a film producer.
Father Mathayi Nooranal: Meet Father Mathayi Nooranal, the first priest to stand in an election in Kerala. He is a man-about-town and a sophisticated clergyman. Seeking the mandate from the Sultan Bathery constituency of Wayanad district, Fr Nooranal of the Orthodox Church is a face very familiar to everyone in Wayanad, even children. This priest came to Wayanad in the north of Kerala from his home in Muvattupuzha in the south, in 1951, to take charge of the services in Sultan Bathery’s St Mary’s Orthodox Church
He has been championing the cause of the farmers in Wayanad since the time he set his feet on this land. He was on the forefront of a struggle here that resulted in the famous distribution of land to 7,000 farmers by the then revenue minister K.T. Jacob.
As the priest trustee of the Malankara Orthodox Church, his services to the society have not just been pastoral. A leader of sorts and one who takes pride in "having rubbed shoulders with the likes of Fr Vadakkan and Baby John in the fight for farmers' rights both here and in the neighbouring Nilambur district", Fr Nooranal is also a practicing homeopathy physician. He has been the force behind Wayanad getting its first college, St Mary’s College, in 1965. He is the president of the All Kerala Private College Management Association, president of Sultan Bathery Cooperative Bank since 1960 and has founded the Sultan Bathery Urban Cooperative Bank and the Cooperative Coffee Society. The resume goes on.
The CPI (M) couldn’t have found anyone better. This despite the fact that there are some among the tribals (all Marxist supporters) here who feel that this cleric has cheated them of their land. They allege the St Mary’s college stands on a land that belongs to them. But this resentment is likely to create only minor potholes in the road that leads this veteran priest to the Kerala Assembly.
This is not the first time that a priest has become an elected member of the state assembly in India (Father P.J. Joseph, originally from Kerala, was elected to the Karnataka assembly as an independent, supported by the Janata Party a decade ago). Nor is this the first time that a priest has entered the repugnant world of politics. Fr Vadakkan’s (a prominent social activist) Karshaka Thozhilali Party was a part of the seven-party Front led by E.M.S Namboodiripad that swept the State polls in 1967.
Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan: The Malayalam poet who gave the language such immortal lines as Ningala Njangalude Kochumakale Chuttu Thinnille (Didn’t you roast and eat our little children?) is back again on the road seeking votes as an independent on the CPI (M) panel. A sitting MLA, the betel-nut-chewing Kadamannitta Ramakrishnan, however, will be knocking the doors of the Konni assembly constituency this time.
Aranmullah, therefore, will miss the traditional Rudraksha mala and a lyricism that evokes the smell of the lush green paddy fields, Ramakrishnan’s trademark weapons that helped him make a Goliath in Kerala politics, Comrade M.V. Raghavan, bite the dust.
Madambu Kunjukuttan: The author, famous for Bhrasht, a novel that criticised the Namboodiri community, is a household name in Kerala thanks to his screenplays, which the Leftist say have "uncomfortable embellishments of Hindu symbolisms" that have become both award-winning and commercially successful films ( a whole series) directed by Jayaraj. Winning would be a tough ask for Madambu who is contesting in Kodungallur (Thrissur district) on the BJP ticket and who some say may meet the same fate that Madahavikutty (now Kamala Surayya) met with in Thiruvananthapuram many years ago. She lost her deposit. The winds, they say, blow in Kodungallur to keep only the Red Flag flying.
"I am a Hindu Communist," says Madambu, though it is too literary a term for the commoners' comprehension. And the mix of a politician and a writer is a potent one - the former capable of finding any meaning in a word and the latter of meaning anything by it. So like a true writer-turned-politician, Madambu, whose screenplay for Karunam (see pic above) fetched him the national award last year, has been heard saying during his election campaign: "I fully deserve to get the Jnanpith Award." Next you may hear him saying: "I must be made the Chief Minister."
Punathil Kunjabdullah: He is the second author in the BJP fold. The writer of an acclaimed novel, Smarkashilakal, and a doctor by profession, Kunjabdullah’s loyalty to the BJP does not look strong enough, though he has stopped short of changing his ancestors: "I think my ancestors were Hindus and were converted by force," he said.
"I chased all the parties for a ticket. It was the BJP who came with an offer. I accepted it and that is how I am with them," Kunjabdullah was seen making this announcement sheepishly on a TV channel. Only to add in an apologetic tone later: "I am attached and was attracted towards the BJP for the concern they have shown towards Indian values and culture."
In recent times there has been a perceptible change in the writings of Kunjabdullah who in the past has shown ample political skills. He deftly dodged the accusations of plagiarising several years ago. Recently in a signed article in a leading Malayalam newspaper he had criticized the Marxist government for constituting a jury of members from outside the state "who were alien to Malayalam aesthetics" to judge the state film awards.
An indication, perhaps, of the fact that Kunjabdullah had begun dipping his pen in saffron ink. He hopes to get elected from Beypore.
P.T. Kunjumohammed: Director of award-winning films like Magreeb and Gershom, P.T. Kunjumohammed is seeking re-election from Guruvayor. But this time his campaign faces a minor problem. Kunjumohammed who had been assured of his seat from Guravuyur by the CPI (M) even before the party announced its list of candidates had begun his campaign using the drum symbol - the same one that he had used to drown out the challenge of veteran Abdul Samad Samadani, known in Kerala as ‘the man with a thousand tongues’.
Just when he had filled all the wall spaces available to him in this temple town with graffiti and posters showing his drum, there comes the Election Commission’s order allotting the symbol to a registered political party in Meghalaya. The drum goes out of the window taking with it the beats. Kunjumuhammad is now on the lookout for a new instrument (sorry, symbol) to play the same old tune as the challenge in opponent P.K.K. Bawa is equally daunting.
Allay all fears, as this isn’t a difficult thing for Kunjumohammed, who now sports a French beard. All that it requires are a few flashbacks - a salient feature of his films. Every year when the state film awards or the list of the national Panorama films are announced, our man cries hoarse about the discrepancies in the selections.
MAC Ali: Malayalam Film Producer M. Ali or MAC Ali, as he is popularly known, is hoping that he would be second time lucky when he seeks mandate from the Mankada constituency as an independent with CPI (M) support. In 1966 he had lost by a narrow margin of a thousand votes which has prompted the Marxists to put him in the fray once again.
Not to mention the fact that he can hitch a number of cine-stars on to his campaign bandwagon.
Ganesh: The actor who made an impressive entry into the Malayalam film world with his portrayal of a disturbed youth in Padmarajan’s Irakal is now a permanent fixture on the small screen with celluloid roles drying out with time.
A maiden entry into politics from the Pathanapuram seat is only a natural progression for this famous son of a famous father - K Balakrishna Pillai - the length of whose party, the Kerala Congress (B) begins and ends with Kottarakara.
The other seat in this district is being contested by none other than his father, whose fate was decided only on Wednesday when the returning officer accepted his nomination, contrary to expectations. The father’s luck is likely to extend to the son too.
Pathanapuram is a constituency dominated by the Nair community. And thanks to Balakrishna Pillai, the Nair Service Society headquarters are based, and have always been, in Perunna in this taluk. Incidentally, Balakrishna Pillai has been the president of the Taluk NSS union for the last 45 years. So NSS here is synonymous with this Pillai family.
Tailpiece: Sources in the UDF say Balakrishna Pillai sought only two seats for his party from the UDF because his two daughters are yet to show any interest in politics.