Biography of an unsung politician from Kerala - C M Stephen

C.M.Stephen, a well known politician during Seventies and Eighties, occupies a prominent position in Indian politics and parliamentary affairs. As a trade union leader, journalist, parliamentarian, Union Minister, A I C C General Secretary and as an Opposition leader in the Loksabha, he made his mark in all these fields. An attempt is made here to bring out the biographic sketch of the veteran Kerala leader ...


He was a multifarious personality and a towering leader from the state of Kerala. He was one of the founders of Indian National Trade Union Congress. Till his emergence, all the trade unions were associated with left parties and kept the Indian national congress at one arm distance. His role, thus, was important for Congress for getting it affiliated to the workers, who are the backbone of the industrial development in the country. His contribution as Member, K.P.C.C., A.I.C.C., State Planning Advisory Board; General Secretary, K.P.C.C; Leading Lawyer and eminent leader of INTUC makes him one of the towering personalities from Kerala.

Early Days

C.M.Stephen was born on December 23, 1918 at Mavelikkara in Kollam District, previously known as Quilon. His parents were Eapen Mathai and Esther of Chembakassery house in Cherukole. During his school days, Malayala Manorama promoted the Balajanasakhyam which has influenced Stephen to develop leadership qualities, oratorial and organizing skills. He did his Law and started his career as a journalist. 'Pouraprabha' an evening daily was launched by him and supported the Travancore Congress and attacked the rule of C.P.Ramaswamy Iyyer. Later he became Editor of Hyderbad bulletien and Financial Times (published from Bomabay). In 1949, he left his career as a journalist. He started practising law and became leading lawer in the High Court of Kerala and supreme Court of India.

As a politician

He joined in active politics in 1951. Very soon he was entrusted to the job of District Congress Committee president of Kollam district. His articulate nature and oratory skills helped in gathering of the people and he became the close associate of P T Chacko, Pottam Thanu Pillai and Sankar. He led the agitation of 'Vimochana Samaram' (Liberation Movement) in 1959 against the policies of the Communist Government led by Namboodaripad in Kerala. The Catholic society, Nair Service Society and Indian Union Muslim League joined hands to fight for this cause as an Education bill initiated by the Kerala Government was a door step to deter the religious identity of certain sections. Finally, the E M S Namboodaripad Government was dismissed and President's rule was imposed in Kerala. Thus, his lead role in the agitation made him elevated to one of the Kerala Congress stalwarts.
He made his entry in the Kerala assembly by winning the 2nd Kerala assembly elections in 1960 from Tikkadhavoor Assembly constituency. He served as the Member of Kerala Legislative assembly in 1965 from Punaloor assembly constituency. But he lost the assembly elections in 1967 from Kottarakkara constituency.

He joined the National stream after getting elected to the Lok Sabha from Mavattupuzha constituency in 1971. Later he won from Idukki Lok sabha constituency in 1977 Lok sabha polls. He represented Gulburga Lok Sabha seat in Karnataka during 1980-1984.
C M Stephen C M Stephen (Courtesy:

He followed the principles of sincerity and was ideal to the core. He never left the leadership whom he believed in spite of the struggle and turmoil the party was facing. Congress lost the 1977 General elections under the shrouds the atrocities of the Emergency. Indira Gandhi and her younger son Sanjay were at pointed fingers for the debacle but Stephen who got elected from Idukki Lok sabha constituency from Kerala took his stand to support the duo. Mrs. Indira Gandhi herself was defeated in the 1977 General elections from Rae Barelli and the Janata Party rose to power at Delhi.

He was the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha when Congress was vertically split in 1978. A K Gopalan was the first man from Kerala to become the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha while Stephen was the next one from the state so far to occupy the respectable position in Parliamentary democracy. After the split, Indira Gandhi led the Congress Party (I) and Stephen followed her suit. Indira Gandhi made an entry into the Lok Sabha from Chikamaglur in Karnataka by winning the bye-election but soon she faced a privileged motion initiated by the then Home Minister Charan Singh. As a result, she was expelled from the Lok Sabha and sent to jail for seven days. During the debate on the privilege motion, C M Stephen made a remarkable speech warning the Janata Government that the unwarranted punishment to Indira would be the way to her political comeback which proved to be true in the year 1980. The political developments in India in the year 1979 made the rise and fall of Charan Singh to become Prime Minister after breaking the Janata Party and joining hands with Indira Gandhi led Congress. Soon he was caught in his own web and resigned to the post of Prime Minister. C M Stephen was asked to explore the possibilities of forming the Government at the centre but he immediately explained his party's stand because lack of sufficient numbers. Finally, the Lok Sabha was dissolved and Congress (I) won the elections in 1980 with a thumping majority. But C M Stephen lost to Atal Bihari Vajpai with a slight margin of 2000 votes from New Delhi constituency. Indira Gandhi immediately fielded him from Gulburga constituency in Karnataka in the bye-polls and made him as Union Minister for Communications.

He resigned from the cabinet to take up the responsibilities as General Secretary, AICC along with another Minster and veteran leader Kamalpati Tripathi at the instance of Indira Gandhi. He contributed for the growth and strengthening of the party in southern region. His loyalty to Congress and Indira Gandhi never prevented him to point out any glaring mistake that hampered the image of the party. Stephen said to have objected to nominate Sanjay Gandhi to become Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1980 after the party passed a unanimous resolution in the UP Legislature party meeting on winning the Assembly polls. His association with Indira Gandhi during her bad phase brought him respect from all corners. He tried to keep the image of his party and its leadership in tact and used the platform of Lok Sabha as an Opposition Leader which helped Congress to regain its glory.

His contributions :

At a time when the labour sector used to be the stronghold Left trade unions, his ability to mobilise workers towards INTUC was highly laudable. He demonstrated various labour movements and was instrumental in enabling workers securing their rights. As Union Minister for Communications, he undertook various promotional schemes for the welfare of the employees of the Department. He insisted for not hiking the tariff rates of Post card and Inland letter as they are the essential mode of communication for the poor during those days. He felt that Telephone is the commodity of the rich and was against the liberalization of the communication systems. This attitude was lamented by Shashi Tharoor in his book 'From Midnight to the Millennium' highlighting the slow progress of economic reforms prior to 1991. But his tenure as Minister has seen the establishment of Transmission towers at various places in the country which in the later years has helped in speeding up of the communication net work. He played an important role in improving communication facilities by sanctioning modern telephone exchange facilities at many places including his constituency Gulbarga. Doordarshan Kendra , Gulbarga city was his own baby which was set up even before Bangalore got a full-fledged Doordarshan Kendra.

Wrap up

He was a matured leader and never involved in controversies. He led his life with pride and clean image. He was totally against mixing politics with religion. The great leader died of heart attack on 16th January 1984 in Kerala while he was attending a party meeting as General Secretary of AICC. The final rites were performed at cathedral church cenetenary, Mavelikkara which were attended by Rajiv Gandhi and other leaders. His simple life is an example to say how a common man can rose to the heights with sincerity, hard work and discipline.

Article by Jagdish Patro
Jagdish Patro is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to ISC and other websites. Fond of reading books, novels and spends his leisure time by listening to music. He did his B.Sc in Applied Chemistry and his M.Sc in Resource Development Technology. He edited and published an in-house monthly journal by name ‘Srujana’ during 2009-2011 which was totally a private circulation.

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