Rajya Sabha member and former Union Minister M.P. Veerendra Kumar (84) passed away at 11.30 p.m. on May 28 at a private hospital in Kozhikode following a cardiac arrest. He was one of Kerala’s most well-known intellectuals, socialist leader, author, and orator. He was the Chairman and Managing Director of the widely read and respected Malayalam daily, Mathrubhumi , and its group of publications.
He also served the shortest stint of two days as a State Minister in Kerala and was elected to the Lok Sabha twice and to the State Assembly once.
He was the son of the well-known planter, socialist party leader and Madras Assembly member M.K. Padmaprabha Gowder and Marudevi Avva and was born on July 22, 1936, at Kalpetta in Wayanad.
He graduated from the Zamorin’s College in Kozhikode, did his postgraduate studies in Philosophy at the Vivekananda College in Madras and later got his MBA from the University of Cincinnati, U.S.
Drawn by socialist ideals, he joined politics and was given a membership in the then Socialist Party when he was still in school in Wayanad at the age of 15 by Jayaprakash Narayan.
He was imprisoned during the Emergency and his assets were confiscated by the government.
He was one of the leaders who had a role in shaping post-Independence socialist politics in India, and he played a key part in bringing the Janata Party to power soon after the Emergency.
He first became an MLA on the Janata Party ticket from Kalpetta in 1987. He joined the E.K. Nayanar Ministry as State Forest Minister, but resigned within 48 hours over a controversy that followed an order he issued banning the felling of trees in State forests.
He later served as Union Minister of State for Finance and Union Minister of State for Labour in the governments led by H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral.
He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2004 as a candidate of the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), of which he was one the founding members. As State president of Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) and as a powerful orator and author, he was a key figure in the LDF and in Kerala’s social life.
In 2009, following an ugly controversy over seat sharing within the LDF, the Janata Dal headed by Veerendra Kumar ended its 25-year association with the Left parties. He then formed his own party, the Socialist Janata (Democratic), which soon merged with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). Perhaps in desperation, he then joined the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala.
When the UDF came to power in 2011, his party was given a Cabinet seat in the Oommen Chandy government. But Veerendra Kumar lost the Lok Sabha election in 2014 by over a lakh votes, and following that his alliance with the UDF was not a happy one even though he was given a Rajya Sabha seat by the UDF in 2016.
The following year, however, with Nitish Kumar deciding to ally with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP, Veerendra Kumar resigned his Rajya Sabha seat in protest and formed the Loktantric Janata Dal (LJD). He rejoined the LDF in 2018 and became a Rajya Sabha MP with the support of the Left parties.
Veerendra Kumar is well known as an uncompromising champion of anti-globalisation and environmental movements and for his leadership role in the people’s struggle against the exploitation of water and pollution caused by the Coca-Cola company at Plachimada village in Palakkad district.
He was a familiar figure in Kerala’s political and social circles and was highly regarded for his voracious reading habit, oratory, travels in nearly 100 countries and travelogues, and for the many books he authored. He has won over 80 awards, including the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award and the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award.
He had served as chairman of Press Trust of India for three terms in 1992-93, 2003-04 and 2011-12 and as president of Indian Newspaper Society in 2003-04.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan described him as “a leader who fought against communal forces that divided the people and destroyed the unity of the nation, till his last breath”. Recalling his close association with him for several decades, and especially during the struggle against the Emergency, the Chief Minister said his death was “a big loss to democratic and secular forces in the country”.
Veerendra Kumar is survived by his wife Usha Veerendra Kumar, son M.V. Shreyams Kumar (Joint Managing Director, Mathrubhumi) and daughters M.V. Asha, M.V. Nisha and M.V. Jayalakshmi.
His body is to be cremated today at 5 p.m. at his residence at Kalpetta in Wayanad district. In the context of COVID-19 restrictions, the last rites are to be held as per the guidelines issued by the State Health Department, an announcement in the Mathrubhumi newspaper said.