The veteran politician had respiratory illness and was placed on life support and given supplemental oxygen.

Kerala (B) veteran politician and congressman R. Balakrishna Pillai, 87, died Monday in a private hospital in Kottarakara in Kollam district.

Doctors have given age-related conditions, mainly respiratory illnesses, as the cause of death. Mr. Pillai had been in pain since Friday. He was placed on life support and received supplemental oxygen. The end came at 3 a.m.

Read also: Obituary | A seasoned politician whose career has been mired in controversy

The funeral will be held with state honors at his ancestral home in Kottarakara in the evening.

CM offers its condolences

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan offered his condolences to the bereaved family.

Mr. Pillai was Chairman of the Kerala State Welfare Commission for Advanced Communities. He enjoyed the privileges of Cabinet rank.

He was also a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Nair Service Society (NSS) and President of the Congress of Kerala (B).

NSS Secretary General G. Sukumaran Nair paid tribute to the missing leader. He said that Mr. Pillai had made a huge contribution to social organization. “It’s a sad day for the NSS,” he said.

Mr. Pillai was active until recently. He had inaugurated his son’s campaign office and Pathanapuram’s Kerala Congress (B) lawmaker KB Ganesh Kumar, had given television interviews, publicly predicted the return of the DFL and guided the party’s election campaign.

Mr. Pillai was born into wealth and influence in 1934. His father, Keezhoote Raman Pillai, was a member of the Sree Moolam Praja Sabha.

Mr. Pillai made his foray into politics as a member of the Congressional Student Union. He rose through the party ranks and was first elected legislator in 1960. He had served as Minister of Excise and Transport in successive governments.

In 1964, Mr. Pillai left Congress and followed KM George and 15 other lawmakers to form the Congress of Kerala. The party aspired to give voice to the plight of farmers and to defend the interests of the state. It represented a robust agrarian base in central Kerala.

Mr. Pillai was one of the architects of the United Democratic Front (UDF) coalition. However, he left the front line in 2018 and allied his party with the Left Democratic Front (LDF). It was a bitter rupture for the octogenarian chef.

He withdrew from electoral politics after Aisha Potty of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) defeated him in 2006.

Colorful oratory

Mr. Pillai was a storyteller known for his colorful political oratory. However, a controversial remark cost him his Cabinet post and created legal problems in 1980.

He had said, presumably in the heat of the moment, that Kerala had to go the “Punjab way” to assert its federal rights.

At the time, the Pakistan-backed insurgency was at its peak in the Punjab. His words sparked a stormy controversy making his continuation in government untenable.

Mr. Pillai’s gift of the smudge has at times resulted in the blunder and has won him praise and criticism to almost equal extent.

His long political career has had its weak points. He was disqualified under the anti-defection law. A court found him guilty of bribery in the execution of an irrigation project and he was briefly jailed. Former Chief Minister V. S Achuthanandan had fiercely pursued the case against Mr. Pillai.

An accomplished politician, he had the rare honor of being both President of the Grama Panchayat and Cabinet Minister in the mid-1990s.

Mr. Pillai had tried acting and writing. His autobiography traces the period of tumultuous politics which he witnessed closely. Critics celebrated the book Prisoner 5990 for his frankness and forward-thinking vision of Kerala politics. Mr. Pillai also briefly tried his hand at acting.

His wife Valsala had died prematurely. His children Mr. Ganesh, Usha Mohandas and Bindu Balakrishnan survive him.

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