Monday, August 10, 2009

Muraleedharan looking for a way out of wilderness

Gulf Today

From what appeared to be a win-win situation to suspension in a state of limbo, former state minister and Kerala Pradesh Congress (KPCC) president, K. Muraleedharan has travelled a long way in a short time. Son of former chief minister K.Karunakaran, he had risen quickly in the party after his induction as chief of the Seva Dal.

During the prolonged faction fight with Karunakaran, AK Antony helped him on more than one occasion to move up, presumably as a peace gesture to his rival. It was with Antony's support that he first became a member of parliament and later state party president.

As Antony moved to New Delhi and emerged as a confidante of Sonia Gandhi, Karunakaran felt that he was not receiving the attention due to him as a Congressman of long standing, who had stood by Indira Gandhi when the Antony faction had broken away.

Before the Lok Sabha elections of 2004, Muraleedharan became minister for power, striking a deal with Oommen Chandy, who had succeeded Antony as chief minister. Karunakaran was unhappy as the deal was negotiated behind his back. In a bid to appease Karunakaran, the Congress nominated him and his daughter, Padmaja Venugopal, as candidates for the Lok Sabha.

Muraleedharan, who had to enter the Assembly to secure his position as minister, contested for that house. All three lost.

The electorate, taking a dim view of the developments in the Congress, resorted to wholesale slaughter of the party's candidates. The old war horse that he is, Karunakaran was not ready to take the defeat lying down.

With an eye to the Assembly elections of 2006, he walked out of the Congress with Muraleedharan and floated a party, styled as the Democratic Indira Congress-Karunakaran (DIC-K).

They hoped to find a place in the Left Democratic Front, led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which was widely tipped to win. CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan was ready to welcome the DIC-K into the fold, but VS Achuthanandan, who has been pursuing a corruption charge against Karunakaran, set his face against any truck with his outfit.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) too did not want the DIC-K in the front. Left in the lurch, the DIC-K decided to go it alone. It's presence made no difference to the prospects of the two fronts, which constitute the political mainstream.

The LDF romped home with 100 seats in the 140-member Assembly. The DIC-K won just one seat.

Karunakaran and Muraleedharan, looking for a refuge, zeroed in on the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), formed by Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar who had walked out of the Congress, protesting against Sonia Gandhi's projection as prime ministerial candidate. As a party of ex-Congressmen, the NCP appeared to be a good choice.

Pawar was willing to make Muraleedharan president of the party's Kerala unit. The NCP held out the promise of new avenues before the father-son duo. It was a partner of the Congress in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which was in power at the Centre. It was also a partner of the CPI-M in the Left Democratic Front, which was in power in the state.

The NCP had two ministers at the Centre. It had no minister in the state because the CPI-M was unwilling to offer representation to parties with lone members. With the DIC-K's merger, the NCP will have two members in the Assembly and may be able to claim a cabinet post. But things did not work out that way.

The LDF said the post-merger NCP was a new outfit and it was not part of the front. The Congress was not prepared to extend its alliance with the NCP beyond Maharashtra. The duo started operating separately once again.

Karunakaran went back to the Congress after securing promise of a fair deal to his supporters. Muraleedharan stayed back in the NCP. The rout of all five candidates the NCP put up in this year's Lok Sabha elections convinced Muraleedharan that he was on a blind alley.

Last month, he invited expulsion from the NCP by publicly expressing his desire to return to the Congress. His statement set alarm bells ringing in the Congress.

Leaders of the dormant factions came together at last week's state party executive meeting to block Muraleedharan's entry. They are a formidable combination but he is hoping Antony will help him out of the wilderness.

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