Gouriamma, Iron lady of Kerala, no more

Kerala politics would have been an absolute male dominion had it not been for Gouriamma, who epitomised women in Kerala politics for over 70 years

By   |  Published: 12th May 2021  9:46 am
File photo of K R Gouri

Hyderabad: An era ended in Kerala politics on Tuesday, with the State bidding adieu to its first woman Minister, K R Gouri. She was 102.

Gouriamma or Kunjamma, as she was more popular, breathed her last in a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, the only time she succumbed to any challenge, this time to age and ill-health. She did not give up easily, fighting for nearly 20 days after being admitted to hospital on April 22.

Gouriamma was the Revenue and Excise Minister from April 1957 to 1959 in what was the world’s first democratically elected Communist government led by EMS Namboodiripad. She was the architect of the revolutionary Land Reforms Bill and also agricultural reforms that set the tone for the State’s pioneering growth on those counts.

The Iron Lady of Kerala politics, as national media called her, Gouriamma lost only four times in a political career that was as long as independent India, starting off as a student activist in 1946. She was a Minister in Communist-led governments in 1957, 1967, 1980 and 1987.

In 1987, she was widely perceived to become the first ever woman Chief Minister of Kerala, but the party that she dedicated her life to – even when that led to a scarring, irreversible split with her husband and CPI stalwart TV Thomas – gave the mantle to EK Nayanar. She did not quite forgive, the embers kept smouldering, and in 1994, she was expelled from the CPI(M) in the name of ‘anti-party activities’.

She did not give up, and founded the Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samithi, which became a partner in the Congress-led United Democratic Front. She was the Agriculture and Coir Minister in the Oommen Chandy Ministry from 2004 to 2006.

In the 2011 Assembly elections, when she returned to her home constituency of Cherthala after 51 years, public sentiment did not convert into votes and in what was her last election, she lost by over 18,000 votes.

But fact remains that Kerala politics would have been an absolute male dominion had it not been for Gouriamma, who epitomised women in Kerala politics for over 70 years.

She was quite a political phenomenon, one who strode the political arena with stories of surviving police brutality and internal party politics, much before the country saw the likes of Mayawati or Jayalalithaa.

Personally, for those who knew Gouriamma beyond politics, she was a mother figure, scolding one for not eating on time, and yes, an eternal romantic who framed and kept innumerable black and white photographs of herself and TV Thomas in their younger days in every available space in her home in Alappuzha. The home was always open to all, food always ready, with ‘Kunjamma’ herself ready to serve.

She was an emotion, and like Communist slogans say, one who will live through the women of Kerala for long.


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