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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 30-31, July 22 & July 29 2023

Remembering the Humane Legacy of Oommen Chandy | Chathukulam and Joseph

Saturday 22 July 2023, by Jos Chathukulam, Manasi Joseph


With the demise of veteran Congress leader and former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, the people of Kerala has lost not only a man of consensus but also an endearing statesman with a humane touch. The Congress stalwart died on July 18, 2023 at the age of 79. During his lifetime, Chandy was known as the warm, down-to-earth politician and his humility, generosity and accessibility turned him into a People’s leader over the years (Mathew, 2023). Looking at the flood of tributes pouring in or the scenes of scores of people thronging the streets to pay tributes to their endearing leader shows us the desire of the people or yearning of the common man for a politician with a “humane touch”. There is not even an iota of the doubt that our society needs more and more humane and down-to-earth politicians like Chandy who are accessible and generous towards citizens.

The sea of mourners including the elderly and young, the rich and the poor, the elites and the marginalized, irrespective of their religious, social and political differences, turned up on both sides of the roads to convey the message on what kind of a political leader they want to address their concerns and grievances. The crowds accompanying the funeral procession is not only an indication of the extent of the popularity and political weight of the veteran leader enjoyed but also stands as a testimony of the desire of the people for visionary leaders with a humane touch to govern them. As people, as citizens, we want political leaders with generosity, kindness and above all someone who could exercise a “humane touch” as in the case of Chandy. The people expect a Messiah like leader or a Savior who can redeem them from the clutches of poverty, injustice and inequality and the political leaders of the present lot can learn something from these crowd regarding their expectations on the leaders they chose as their representatives.

A Brief Political Profile of Oommen Chandy 

Oommen Chandy held the office of Chief Minister of Kerala twice, between 2004 and 2006, then from 2011 to 2016. Additionally, he led opposition in the Kerala Legislative Assembly from 2006 until 2011. Chandy was elected as the Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Puthuppally constituency in the State Assembly in 1970, and held that position until his death in 2023, that is more than five decades, making him the longest-serving MLA of any state legislature in India. Prior to becoming the Chief Minister, Chandy was a minister in the Government of Kerala on four occasions. He was the minister for Labour from April 11, 1977 to April 25, 1977 in the first Karunakaran ministry and continued holding the same portfolio in the succeeding Antony ministry until October 27, 1978. He was the Home Minister in the Karunakaran cabinet from December 1981 to March 1982. He was also in charge of the Finance Portfolio. In 2013, he was honoured with a public service award from the United Nations for his Mass Contact programme, which saw him directly engaging with the people in the state to address their grievances (The Economic Times, May 22, 2013).

A Leader Who Shared a Deep Emotional Bond with the People of Kerala
In the bipolar political setting of the state characterized by adversarial and competitive politics with a disruptive tenor (Chathukulam and Tharamangalam, 2021), leaders who can provide a humane touch in their governance and administration is a rare phenomenon especially in a politically volatile state like Kerala. It is like once in a blue moon that people get to experience the affection of a statesperson with a humane touch as in the case of Chandy and it is normal for people to yearn for “humane leaders” in a world filled with self-centered , corrupt and power-hungry autocrats and dictators who think they can govern with an iron fist.

Political Legacy of the People’s Leader through the Lens of Transhumanism

The slogans by the crowd and political leaders “Who said you are dead? You are not dead, you will live through us” itself stand as a testimony for the Chandy’s legacy filled with humane touch, generosity and kindness would endure beyond his time. Even though those who chant these slogans may or may not be realizing the prophecy and power embedded in their words, the legacy of humaneness, the succor and solace perspectives of their endearing leader would live on in the hearts of those people who earn for a Saviour in their political leaders especially in difficult and testing times.

Authors: Jos Chathukulam is former Professor, Ramakrishna Hegde Chair on Decentralisation and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru and currently the Director of Centre for Rural Management (CRM), Kottayam, Kerala. Email: joschathukulam[at]

 Manasi Joseph is a Researcher at Centre for Rural Management (CRM), Kottayam, Kerala


  • Chathukulam, J., & Tharamangalam, J. (2021). The Kerala model in the time of COVID19: Rethinking state, society and democracy. World development,137, 105207.
  • Mathew, Liz. (July 18, 2023). A leader to remember: My encounter with Oommen Chandy, The Indian Express.
  • The Economic Times. (May 22, 2013). Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy bags UN award for ’mass contact programme’, The Economic Times.
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