Speaking of politicians from Kerala, one of the most respected must be KR Gowri, now 101 years old. Also referred to affectionately as Gowri Amma, she could be the oldest living politician in India. There does not seem to be any book on her, as yet. Even if there is, I am yet to come across. There is, however, a Wikipedia page here.
Born in Alappuzha district of Kerala, she was the first female from her community to have studied law. Having joined the Communist Party early, under the influence of an elder brother, she was a member of the legislative assembly of Travancore-Cochin in 1952 and 1954. She went on to become the only lady in the first Communist Ministry in Kerala led by EMS Namboodiripad, from 1957 to 1959 , before it also became the first Ministry in the country to have been dismissed by the Nehru Government. Perhaps the finest moment in her political career was her historical role in piloting the Land Reform Bill during this period. She would later be Minister in the 1967, 1980, and 1987 CPM-led ministries.
Gowri Amma was widely expected to become the Chief Minister in 1987. But, that was not to be, perhaps due to differences with the party, and in particular EMS, who was apparently not comfortable with her independence and outspokenness. She would later be ousted from the party in 1994. She went on to form the Janathipathiya Samrakshana Samithy, which joined the United Democratic Front. She would become a Minister again in the third AK Antony and the first Oommen Chandy Ministries.
It was in the 1980s that my father worked with her very closely as Secretary and Commissioner in her Ministry. Earlier, from around 1971 to 1974, he was a Special Secretary in the Industries Department under T.V. Thomas, Gowri Amma’s husband, from whom she got separated when the CPI split and she joined the CPM, while he remained with CPI. But, T.V. and my father had fallen out on some issue, I think, in 1974 or 75, resulting in my father’s rather ignominious transfer out of the Industries Department. But, I will be digressing
On the other hand, Gowri Amma and my father had immense regards and respect for each other. My father admired her integrity, courage, and outspokenness, and above all her humility. As she would tell my mother later, he was one of the few who could walk straight into her kitchen whenever he came visiting. She had high appreciation for my father’s administrative capabilities. When she, along with T.K. Ramakrishnan, another Minister in the 1987 LDF ministry, called on my mother, soon after my father’s death in 1988, she recalled my father’s ability to get things done where even the Ministers had failed. And this included getting some neighbouring States especially Tamil Nadu to come round to Kerala’s point of view. But that is also a different story.
My mother also became quite close to Gowri Amma during this period. This was partly helped by the fact that both were from Alappuzha, where my maternal grandfather was a popular doctor, who had dispensaries in around four places including near Gowri Amma’s hometown. She would one day ask my mother, was Doctor close to TV? He was, just as he was with leaders across the political spectrum. I suspect there was more to the question than I can now ever hope to find out.
I had occasion to meet Gowri Amma a couple of times, accompanying my mother, on the way from Trivandrum to Kochi. My last meeting was many years after my mother had passed away. I was working in Mumbai. When on one of those rare visits to Kerala on official work, I took time off to call on two persons. The first was T. Padmanabhan in Kannur. The other was Gowri Amma in Alappuzha. My good friend, G. Shankar, the architect, arranged for someone to accompany me to show the way. This was in 2017, and she was 98 years old. She was reasonably active, but I found her memory fading. As it was only a courtesy call, the meeting lasted only about half an hour.
To me at least, she was probably the best Chief Minister that Kerala never had. Opting for one with less calibre, charisma, and connect with the people, is a path to a downward spiral. Perhaps this was one of EMS’s great failings.
(Photos sourced from http://www.niyamasabha.org/ and https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29701144)