WHEN VETERAN CONGRESSMAN K. Karunakaran led his breakaway faction into the National Congress Party a year ago it was seen as a masterly stroke. Since the NCP was a coalition partner of the United Progressive Alliance ruling at the Centre and the Left Democratic Front in power in Kerala, it looked as though he had a win-win strategy.
When Karunakaran, four-time chief minister, and his son, former Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president, K. Muraleedharan, left the Congress and floated the Democratic Indira Congress (DIC), they were hoping to join the LDF, which was expected to win the approaching assembly elections. CPI-M State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan was ready to accommodate them but the party's Politburo put its foot down.
As DIC president, Muraleedharan repeatedly declared that the party would contest all 140 assembly seats. However, on the eve of the elections, it hurried back into the UDF. It lost all but one of the seats the UDF allotted to it.
Sharad Pawar, NCP's founder-president, who was looking for ways to extend his party's beyond the borders of Maharashtra, thought a Congress leader of Karunakaran's vintage would be an asset. He arranged for DIC's merger in the NCP and made Muraleedharan president of the party's State unit.
The LDF was not pleased with the back-door entry of Karunakaran and his followers into the alliance. It told the state NCP that it was no longer welcome as its composition had undergone a major change.
Critics have accused Karunakaran of seeking to establish his children in politics.
Muraleedharan, who is his only son, became PCC president under a deal he had struck with the rival faction in Congress. On the eve of the Lok Sabha poll, Muraleedharan was inducted into the State Cabinet. Unfortunately for him, he lost the assembly by-election and had to bow out of office.
Karunakaran's only daughter, Padmaja Venugopal, was Chairperson of the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation when the UDF was in power. She did not follow her father out of the Congress but that did not make her acceptable to the rival faction.
During the past few months, Karunakaran made a couple of well-publicised visits to Delhi, leading to much speculation in the media. Some thought he was aspiring for a role in national politics. It was presumed that as a senior Congressman he was in position to bring together all those who had left the party in recent years. Some others thought he was trying to find a place in national politics for Muraleedharan. They presumed he was hoping to send Muraleedharan to the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra with Pawar's help.
Karunakaran is 89, going on 90. For him one year in the political wilderness is too long a period.
In an interview telecast last week, he indicated that he would like to return to the Congress.
Congress leaders' immediate response to his statement showed a sharp division in the party.
AK Antony and several others belonging to his erstwhile faction, like VM Sudheeran and Mullappally Ramachandran, favoured his readmission to the party. However, leader of the opposition Oommen Chandy and PCC president Ramesh Chennithala, who fad inherited the leadership of the Antony faction, indicated that they did not want him back.
Mohsina Kidwai, who was on her first visit to the State as All India Congress Committee general secretary in charge of Kerala, said it was for Congress President Sonia Gandhi to decide on the issue of Karunakaran's return.
Karunakaran had made some uncharitable remarks about Sonia Gandhi when he left the party.
However, there is reason to believe that she might be inclined to welcome him back. Although she was not pleased with his activities, she had intervened to prevent his leaving the party on the eve of the last Lok Sabha elections. She had again intervened to accommodate his DIC in the UDF on the eve of the Assembly elections. With the next Lok Sabha elections fast approaching, she may want him back in the party.
Karunakaran did not attend a meeting of NCP leaders held recently. He sent word that he was not in a position to take an active part in the party's activities. Apparently, father and son have parted ways on the issue of return to the Congress. Muraleedharan has stated that even if Karunakaran goes back to the Congress he will not. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 12, 2007.