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No Hair Splitting With This Politician

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Kerala CPI state secretary Pannian Raveendran maintains his mane for political gain

If you discount film actors and popular artistes, then the most famous hair in Kerala belongs to Pannian Raveendran. This is something of an anomaly because Pannian is a politician.

A former Member of Parliament and current state secretary of the Communist Party of India, Pannian’s long flowing hair goes all the way past his shoulders. It has been a hallmark of Kerala politics for four decades, ever since he was a student leader and Hippie culture was in vogue. Times changed but his hair style did not. Now, among an array of balding senior politicians, Pannian’s hair is an anachronism.

This is the origin story of Pannian’s hair-do in his own words: “It was the period of Emergency [1975-77] and obviously the season of police excess. Many young men in my native place Kannur had long hair. There was a notorious police sub-inspector, Pulikkodan Narayanan, whose main hobby was to go around town, catch youths who had shoulder-length hair, bring them to the police station and shave a round bald patch in the middle of their head. We could not protest openly against this. Hence, I had decided to let my hair grow like that of Hippies as a gesture of protest.”

For reasons unknown, the officer spared Pannian. “One day I was standing at a bus stop in town with my shoulder length hair. A police jeep stopped nearby. Narayanan got down, stared at me and threatened, ‘Don’t think that I have not seen your hair. You are spared for the time being, but keep it in mind that I will be around’,” Pannian recounts.

Hippie styles are long gone, but Pannian did not change his hair style “in memory of the police atro- cities [committed] during [the] Emergency.” He maintains his long hair with care, and it has its benefits. “I stand out in any crowd because of my hair. Even in Parliament, I was easily identified,” he says. Even Sonia Gandhi used to greet Pannian by name in the Lok Sabha. “He will not compromise on his hair,” says NN Krishnadas, a former CPM MP who served in the Lok Sabha at the same times as Pannian. “Once, I suggested that he cut his hair, since it didn’t suit him. He refused. He told me it is a symbol of his political determination.”