One of Kerala’s foremost intellectuals, author and politician MP Veerendra Kumar, 84, died of heart attack in a private hospital in the state’s Kozhikode district on Thursday night. He was the Chairman and Managing Director of one of the two biggest Malayalam newspapers, Mathrubhumi, and its top executive for nearly 40 years.
He was a serving member of the Rajya Sabha as an independent backed by the Left parties. A last in the line of India’s socialist-era politicians, who plunged into politics inspired by Jayprakash Narayan, Vireendra Kumar was jailed during Emergency in 1975. Later, he became a Union Minister of state for Finance and Labour, and multiple-times MP and MLA. A fiercely vocal orator and champion of anti-globalisation and environmental movements, he was also once a Minister of Forests in the state for a span of about 48 hours, when he controversially made his first order against cutting forests.
The last rites will be held on Friday in Wayanad, his birth-place, reported Mathrubhumi newspaper.
For decades, Vireendra Kumar was an innate part of Kerala’s social and political life, mostly popular through his award-winning writings and speeches, powerful journalistic role as the chief of Mathrubhumi, and as a politician wielding inordinately large power compared to the other two major parties in Kerala— the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress.
He was born to socialist leader and planter MK Padmaprabha Goudar and Marudevi Avva, had his higher education from northern Kerala, then part of former Madras Province, and from Cincinnati University, Ohio, U.S.A. He was invited to join the Socialist Party by Jayprakash Narayan and had been an all-India treasurer of the Samyukta Socialist Party between 1968 and 1970. Later, he became part of the Janata Party and the Janata Dal factions and recently, founded his own break-away unit, Lok Tantrik Janata Dal (LJD).
Widely seen as someone who commands respect across political flags, he kept his friends close and enemies closer when it came to politics— something which allowed him make the rare switching from the Communist camp to the Congress camp once, and then jumped back to the Left fold.
For a long time until the 2009 Lok Sabha election, Veerendra Kumar was chief of Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) in Kerala and was a fellow traveller of the region’s Communist regime. Just before the polls, he broke off with the Left front over differences on seat sharing agreements and formed his own party, Socialist Janata (Democratic). It was soon merged with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), and joined with the Congress camp.
In 2017, he quit his company with Kumar, over the latter’s decision to join hands with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, and resigned his Rajya Sabha in protest. He later formed LJD.
But for a man who donned many hats, he may be best recalled for his over a dozen books, which combined have won more than 80 awards including Kendra Sahitya Akademi and Kerala Sahithya Akademi top honours. These books ranged a diverse swath of topics ranging from Mahabharat to Amazon rainforests to the fall of Soviet Union, that helped build a broader and subtler understanding of history for generations of Keralites.
“He was a giant in the worlds of journalism, publishing & principled politics who leaves an unfillable void.OmShanti,” Congress MP and author Shashi Tharoor tweeted.