Thiruvananthapuram: He was never the darling of party bosses. But down-to-earth Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, who began life working in a small textile shop, was the only reason the Marxists were still seen to be in the reckoning for power as Kerala went to the polls. Even as the Left lost, the 87-year-old man stands tall.
In a state that has thrown out the ruling coalition in every election, the one and only reason why some refused to write off the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) was Achuthanandan.
A school dropout, Achuthanandan was, in the five years he governed Kerala from 2006, one of its most popular chief ministers, a man who some have compared with E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the legendary Marxist who became chief minister in 1957 heading the world's first elected Communist government.
An uncompromising Marxist whose ideological pantheon includes Stalin, Achuthanandan was as hard hitting at his critics outside the party as he was within. His foes often tried to cut him to size but failed.
As it happened in 2006, CPI-M bosses this year too declined to give him a ticket to contest the election. Both times, hundreds of members took to the streets in his support, forcing the otherwise regimented party to retreat.
It became quickly clear that Kerala's 2011 election was less a battle between the LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). It was a showdown between the UDF and Achuthanandan.
So much so that almost every LDF candidate sought votes in Achuthanandan's name. That many of them lost is another story.
Even as the LDF bowed out of power, CPI-M leaders still hold Achuthanandan in awe.
Said Saju Paul: 'He knows the mind of the common man. Just look at the milling crowds that came to hear him.'
Seen as a Communist of the old school, Achuthanandan came from a humble Dalit (Ezhava) family who once cut cloth in a textile shop in his hometown in Alappuzha district.
The first political party he embraced was the Congress. But he quickly switched over to the then Communist Party of India (CPI), only to leave it in 1964 when the CPI-M was born.
A committed and hard worker, Achuthanandan quickly went up the ranks, occupying various positions in the CPI-M. He has been the LDF convenor and also the opposition leader in the Kerala assembly twice.
His maiden election victory came in 1967, and he was only the third CPI-M leader to be Kerala's chief minister after Namboodiripad and E.K. Nayanar.
Achuthanandan was never afraid of speaking his mind -- whatever the issue. In the process, in 2007, a year after be became the chief minister, the CPI-M ousted him and his rival Pinarayi Vijayan from the politburo.
Both were taken back. But as they fought again, it was Achuthanandan who was reprimanded and again removed from the politburo in 2009.
However, nothing dented his popularity, more so because of his simple life. The fact that his son and daughter pursued their own careers without basking in the glory of their father only raised his stature.
Of course he has his critics.
Once an ardent fan of Achuthanandan, opposition legislator P.C. George now calls the Marxist leader hollow.
'He speaks one thing and does something else. He is the least secular of all leftwing politicians. Time will prove that he bluffed his way into the minds of the people,' George said.