Friday, July 19, 2024

Throngs line route of Chandy’s final journey to hometown

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Flowers being showered and people jogging alongside or walking in front of the bus that carried the mortal remains of former chief minister Oommen Chandy, considerably slowed down the leader’s final journey from the state capital to his home town in Kottayam on Wednesday.

By dusk, thousands of people, including women and children, gathered along the busy Main Central Road – about a hundred kilometres ahead of Kottayam – to pay tributes.

Mourners of all ages and walks of life gathered in thousands braving the sun and in some other places – the rain, as the specially modified low floor bus — covered in garlands and pictures of Chandy — carrying his remains inched forward.

Honouring the sentiments and emotions of huge crowds that thronged all along the route as the leader’s mortal remains was taken in a specially modified bus, Congress leaders and Chandy’s family members decided to keep the body on display in his hometown in Kottayam.

Following this Chandy’s remains will be laid to rest in a specially prepared tomb alongside departed priests of his village church on Thursday.

Arrangements were made at the Thirunakkara Ground in Kottayam, the stronghold of the Congress stalwart, for the public to pay homage before the body is shifted to Chandy’s home in Puthuppally.

However, the huge turnout slowed down the pace of the procession to Puthuppally in Kottayam, and Congress sources said his body was likely to reach the Thirunakkara Ground post-midnight.

The journey — which began at around 7.20 AM from Chandy’s residence in Thiruvananthapuram — was not even halfway through when the bus reached Valakom in Kollam district at 5.45 PM, having covered only close to 60 kilometers of the total distance of around 150 kms to Puthuppally.

Chandy had passed away in Bengaluru on Tuesday and his mortal remains were being taken from Thiruvananth apuram to Kottayam, the stronghold of the Congress stalwart.

During his decades long political career, Chandy had spent a major chunk of his life in the state capital as legislator, leader of the Congress party and chief minister.

Referring to the turnout, Chandy’s son — Chandy Oommen — and daughter, Achu, said they were happy to see the love people had for their father.

“He got many awards when he was alive, but the farewell he is getting now from the people is the highest recognition he has received,” his daughter said.

Similar views were also expressed by the Congress leaders travelling on the bus carrying Chandy’s remains.

Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the state assembly V D Satheesan said that as he looked into the eyes of the public lining the roadside, he was able to see the grief and sense of loss they had, “as if they have lost a close loved one”.

He also said that Chandy was “an irreplaceable leader” for the party.

Senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said he was at a loss of words after seeing the huge farewell that the people of Kerala were giving to Chandy.

State Youth Congress president Shafi Parambil said the turnout and resultant slowing down of the journey indicated that even on his last journey, Chandy was not alone.

“The public is with him. It is the people who have been left alone with his demise,” he said.

Chandy’s children also said that their father did not want to be buried with full state honours and the government has agreed to that request.

Chennithala said that before his demise, Chandy had expressed his wish to the family members that he be buried like a common man.

AICC secretary and MLA P C Vishnunath said the state government has accepted the request of the late leader’s family.

As his remains slowly inch towards its destination — his hometown — preparations are in full swing there for the funeral ceremony on Thursday, which will be attended by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

Chandy will be laid to rest in the exclusive priests’ burial area inside the church premises instead of his family vault in the cemetery.

He is being accorded the honour as a mark of respect by the authorities of the St George Orthodox Church at Puthuppally.

Church vicar Varghese Varghese said the decision was taken considering the immense contributions made by Chandy to the parish and to the church for decades.

As per the common practice, the mortal remains of ordinary believers are buried in the cemetery and those of priests in an exclusive area located north or south of the church, he said.

Earlier in the day, emotionally charged scenes were seen along the route of the bus.

Outside the Niyamasabha, where he was a constant figure for 53 years, the assembly staff — including the watch-and-ward personnel — came out to catch a final glimpse of the veteran Congress leader as they bid farewell to him.

Those whom Chandy had helped in one way or another also turned up to see him for the last time.

One person told TV channels that Chandy was the reason he is able to walk again.

“I suffered injuries in one of my legs in 2005 and required surgery to be able to walk again. I met sir (Chandy) when he was CM with a request for funds for the surgery. He heard my plea and immediately sanctioned the funds for my operation. I am able to walk again now thanks to him,” he said.

Many others who had lined up on the roadside said Chandy had a special place in their hearts and that he was a leader who was irreplaceable.

State Cooperation Minister V N Vasavan, who hails from Kottayam, also accompanied Chandy’s remains to his hometown.

“He (Chandy) loved and respected his political rivals and opponents. That is the kind of political leader he was. There was a mutual love and respect among us,” the Minister told reporters.

People had started arriving at his home in Puthuppally, where he is affectionately called ‘Kunjukunju’ by the locals, since morning to pay respects to Chandy when his remains were brought there.

One of them, a ward member of the area, broke down saying she cannot imagine he has passed away.

“He was always there for us. Always helped everyone who was in need. We cannot believe he has gone. He will never leave our hearts,” she told reporters.

Another woman of the area, speaking through her tears, said Chandy helped her in getting her daughters married. “I could not see him once more while he was still alive,” she cried.

Chandy, who served as the Chief Minister of Kerala twice, breathed his last in a private hospital in Bengaluru at 4.25 AM. His end came while undergoing treatment for cancer, party sources said. He was 79.

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