K.M. Mani has been representing Pala constituency in Kottayam district since 1965. He has won 13 consecutive elections from the constituency and is the longest-serving legislator in India. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Mani spoke on different issues in quality English, at times roaring with laughter. Excerpts:
UDF says there should be efforts to placate you. The CPI (M) has extended issue-based support to your party. The BJP-led NDA is keen on an alliance with your party. What makes the Kerala Congress (M) so sought after?
Everyone likes us and wants to be a part of us. Is it our fault? (Laughs.) That's what makes our party so special. Kerala Congress (M) will continue to render its services for the welfare and betterment of people.
Will your party join the BJP-led alliance?
We have no truck with the BJP. We are a party with a certain ideology. An alliance with the BJP is being played up by certain vested interests in the state. Nothing of that sort has been decided.
Are you ruling out such an alliance?
We have nothing to do with the BJP. (Smiles.)
But you share close relations with some BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley. He even made you the chairman of the empowered committee of state finance ministers on GST.
Not just Jaitley, I am friendly with most politicians in all political parties. Having good relations with Jaitley doesn't mean that I am joining his alliance (NDA).
You have said that a section in the Congress party in Kerala tried to tarnish your image. Who are the people you are referring to? Is former home minister Ramesh Chennithala one of them?
I don't want to wound the feelings of others. I won't reveal the names. I don't know for what reason some leaders constantly harmed my party and me. The Congress party took us for granted. Most of the leaders in the Congress had an unsympathetic attitude (towards us). I am not afraid of any leader in the Congress. Kerala Congress has time and again proved that it can stand alone.
"In fact, he (Jose K. Mani) is the one who advises me on important matters. He has come up in life in his own way. I didn't have to push him."
If you had problems with the Congress leaders in the state, why didn't you take up the matter with Sonia Gandhi?
It is not in our habit to complain. At appropriate forums, we discuss the issues. If the Congress ignores our concerns, so be it. Even we will ignore them.
Was there a political conspiracy behind the bar bribery case in which you were named? It was even alleged that you have a currency counting machine at your home.
You can check my house. There is nothing like that. (Laughs.) These are the ways of tarnishing the integrity of an honest public servant. I have a half-a-century of experience in politics. Nobody can malign me in any manner. People know the truth.
The Kerala Congress has split so many times in the past.
So what? Each time there was a split, we have emerged stronger.
You have been accused of promoting your son in the party at the cost of other capable leaders.
This is not right. Kerala Congress has so many capable leaders. My son (Jose K. Mani) has been serving as an MP for so many years. He is an intelligent, industrious and service-oriented leader. In fact, he is the one who advises me on important matters. He has come up in life in his own way. I didn't have to push him.
You have been vocal on the problems of rubber farmers in Kerala.
Yes, I speak for rubber farmers like no other leader does. I did everything possible to help rubber farmers when the prices of rubber were at an all time low. As finance minister, I announced an increase in support price for rubber. I asked the Union government to take measures to curb the rubber imports from foreign countries. Today, things are improving. I hope the problems of the rubber farmers will end soon.
Fifty long years in politics. The only legislator in India who has been elected 13 times from the same constituency. What next for Mani?
In economics, there is the law of diminishing returns. But, in my case, it is the opposite. I am more confident after every election. I don't make false promises. People know me well. I will continue to serve the people in Pala to the best of my ability.