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‘Born comrade’ with feudal roots, Veerendra Kumar had one last wish — united socialist party

M.P. Veerendra Kumar, Rajya Sabha MP and former junior finance minister, died Thursday at 83. He had also been the managing director of Kerala-based Mathrubhumi group of publications.

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New Delhi: M.P. Veerendra Kumar, the 83-year-old Rajya Sabha MP and former finance minister who passed away Thursday, was a man of paradoxes. Hailing from a feudal background, he was an ardent socialist, say people who knew him closely, noting that he was a bigger cultural icon than he was a politician. 

“He came from a strong feudal Jain family that owned acres of coffee estates in Kerala’s Wayanad district, yet rose to be one of the key leaders of Kerala’s socialist movement,” a senior journalist from Kerala said.

Yet people remember him less for his politics, and more as a cultural leader who contributed significantly to literature through his books and also won the Sahitya Akademi award and the Kerala Sahitya Academy award.

Senior journalist K.J. Jacob, the executive editor of Deccan Chronicle, echoed the view. “He was a socialist leader who came from a feudal background. He was beyond a political leader. He has etched himself into the cultural landscape of Kerala as an orator and writer as well.”  

Veerendra Kumar’s stellar career included three stints as chairman of the Press Trust of India (1992-93, 2003-04, and 2011-12), and a term in the Lok Sabha (2004-2009). His stint as finance minister came in 1997, and he also held other portfolios in the union council of ministers.

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‘Born comrade and a true statesman’

Born 10 years before Independence, on 15 August 1937 in Kalpetta, Kerala, to socialist leader and planter M.K. Padmaprabha Goudar and Marudevi Avva, Kumar was known among acquaintances as a “born comrade” who was secular to the core. 

Thampan Thomas, former MP and member of the Janata Party, said Kumar remained a socialist all his life. 

“I had an association with him for more than 50 years. He considered Ram Manohar Lohia his icon, and joined the socialist movement back in the early 1960s, when he was just a student. Since then, he has been a socialist at heart and continued to be one till his last breath,” Thomas said.

After completing his higher education in the United States, Kumar returned to Kerala and became the treasurer of former defence minister George Fernandes’ Samyukta Socialist Party, which ceased to exist some time between 1968 and 1970.

He later joined the Janata Party and was arrested during Emergency.

“It was then that he really gained prominence, and he continued to rise through the ranks after that,” Thomas said.

In 1987, he was elected as MLA from Kerala on Janata Party ticket and became the minister of forests in the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front government, in which the party was a coalition partner. But he had to resign within 48 hours owing to disagreements within the coalition over deforestation. 

Despite having switched parties multiple times through his career, Thomas said Kumar remained consistent in his ideological commitment to socialism. But there was one wish he couldn’t fulfil.

“All he really wanted was for all the socialist parties to get united. That was the one dream of his he couldn’t fulfil,” Thomas said.

He changed a lot of parties over the years, serving stints in the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Janata Dal (United) as well. In 2018, a year after Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) joined hands with the BJP in Bihar, senior party leader Sharad Yadav ended his association with the party and launched the Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD).

LJD leader Arun Kumar Srivastava said Kumar was a “hardcore secular” at heart. 

“So, after the JDU’s alliance with BJP, he had to join the LJD. But he was also a man of principles. So, he resigned as MP after quitting the JD(U) since he had won on a JD(U) ticket. He then returned to the parliament on an independent ticket,” he said. 

Sharad Yadav called Kumar a “true statesman”. He was among those who tweeted their condolences to the leader, as was PM Narendra Modi.

“He was a giant in the worlds of journalism, publishing & principled politics who leaves an unfillable void. OmShanti,” Tharoor tweeted. 

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‘Cultural icon, prolific author, orator of class’

The unnamed senior journalist quoted above said Kumar may not have been the most successful political leader, but he was a well respected one. 

“He was a popular cultural icon, an orator of class, a thoroughly well-read politician and a prolific author who went on to write many books on philosophy, economics and politics,” the senior journalist added. 

“His book Ramante Dukham delved into how Hindutva has desecrated the idea of Ram. He also wrote a book on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade where he spoke about how international treaties were undermining the lives and economic conditions of third-world countries, particularly India,” the journalist said. 

During his stint with the Mathrubhumi group starting in the 1970s, where he rose to the post of managing director in the 1980s, Kumar is said to have turned around the “traditional” paper with his management perspectives. 

“With him came new management perspectives, new editions, and modern technology was introduced. He spent money on the paper even though he never intervened in the editorial decisions,” said a second senior journalist, who has worked with the paper, ThePrint spoke to. 

Former journalist N. Asokan, who also works with the group, said he was close to the employees. 

“He has brought in several innovations to Mathrubhumi and it turned into a big company under his stewardship. With the employees, he had always been cordial and friendly in his regular interactions,” Asokan said. 

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