Kerala's former chief minister Oommen Chandy marks a watershed in his roller-coaster political journey today when fervent party followers in India and overseas celebrate his 50th anniversary as a legislator.
Dubbed one of India's most endearing mass leaders, Chandy will go down in history as the first Congress leader in Kerala with such a record as a member of the state assembly (MLA) successively for five decades.
The late K.M. Mani, the leader of Kerala Congress Party, was the only other legislator who had a better record, representing the Pala constituency since 1967 and remained an MLA for 52 years.
The two-time Kerala chief minister's golden jubilee event, titled Sukritam Suvarnam, will be celebrated by devout fans today in his Puthupally Assembly constituency in Kottayam district.
During one of his visits to the UAE as Kerala chief minister in 2013, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, commended Chandy for his popular mass contact programmes.
"I have heard about your great popularity and know that you work very closely with your people. We also do the same here. We get to learn a lot from them and can gather plenty of information from such frequent interactions with the people," Sheikh Mohammed said during his 40-minute meeting with the Kerala leader on April 11, 2013.
Sheikh Mohammed also enquired about the way in which the acclaimed mass contact programmes are being conducted in Kerala through which Chandy sought to hear and address the grievances and issues of tens of thousands of citizens.
Chandy made his political debut as a firebrand student leader, and became a legislator in the 1970 assembly polls at the age of 26, when he was also elevated as state president of Youth Congress. Since then, his life has been an open book with almost 18 hours of every day spent among the masses who throng around him wherever he is. Chandy has endeared himself to the people, irrespective of party affiliations, through his passionate, candid, "ever-ready to listen and easily accessible operational style". During his two tenures as chief minister, he would often be sighted standing amid milling crowds at his office in the government secretariat even after midnight, or at his residence as early as 6am.
Baffled by his style of working, once this scribe asked him during an interview whether he would get enough time to read newspapers or even think about serious matters. With his usual nonchalant smile, he replied, "I am learning every minute I am listening to people, mostly their grievances, or when being briefed by my staff on various issues."
Ardent Chandy-watchers say 'Kunjuunju', as Chandy is fondly called by his fans, will never get tired as he is continuously getting reinvigorated with the energy imbibed from his mass contacts.
Chandy, who was the chief minister of Kerala from 2004 to 2006 and from 2011 to 2016, received the United Nations Public Service Award in 2013 under the category of 'Preventing and Combating Corruption in the Public Service'.
In a recent interview, when asked how he would look back to the 50 years as a legislator, he said it was not his achievement. "I owe everything to my party, which allowed me to contest all the elections from 1970 onwards. Also, equal kudos to my electorate in Puthupally, who ensured that I win every time I contested."