Factionalism has reappeared in Kerala’s Congress party which had presented a semblance of unity in the recent past with Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy and Pradesh Congress president Ramesh Chennithala operating like Siamese twins.
Oommen Chandy inherited the leadership of the Congress (A) faction along with the chief minister’s post when AK Antony moved to Delhi to join the Central Cabinet in 2004. Ramesh Chennithala was a protégé of Congress (I) leader K Karunakaran but had broken away from him and emerged as a group leader in his own right.
After Karunakaran’s exit from the party with his son and former Pradesh Congress president K Muraleedharan and Vayalar Ravi’s entry in the Central Cabinet, there was no one to challenge to the Chandy-Chennithala duo, which enjoyed the patronage of party president Sonia Gandhi. As a result factionalism subsided.
Karunakaran returned to the Congress after a brief sojourn in Sharad Pawar’s National Congress Party, but Muraleedharan is still waiting to be readmitted. Chandy and Chennithala are in no hurry to let him in. They don’t want his readmission to be considered until his six-year suspension is over.
There was a time when the Congress in Kerala elected its office-bearers through a transparent process. As factionalism became intense, rival groups enrolled bogus members, leading to bitter disputes over the rolls and elections became impossible. The central leadership then nominated office-bearers, as in other states.
Although Sonia Gandhi is said to be keen to restore the democratic process, the exercise now under way falls short of full-scale elections. The party is now experimenting with a form of guided democracy.
For the youth and student bodies of the party, Rajiv Gandhi, who is general secretary of the All India Congress Committee, devised a system of elections in which there are no losers. There is an open contest between two candidates. Te one who gets the largest number of votes becomes the president and the runner-up is accommodated as vice-president.
Office-bearers of the Congress party at different levels are being decided through consensus building. There is a tacit understanding not to disturb existing arrangements.
As the process got under way in the state, word spread that Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala had struck a deal to maintain the status quo. This means Chandy will be the chief minister if the Congress-led UDF emerges victorious in the next Assembly elections, as is expected, and Chennithala will remain PCC president. This led to heartburn in some erstwhile faction leaders.
Later there was speculation that Chennithala may make a bid for the chief minister’s post with the backing of the Nair Service Society, which speaks in the name of the forward Nair community. This raised hackles in the Chandy camp. The party is keen to placate the NSS leadership which has expressed dissatisfaction at the absence of a Nair acceptable to it in the Central Cabinet.
According to reports in the local media, under the emerging consensus Oommen Chandy’s Congress (A) faction will head the party unit in seven of the 14 districts. The reconstructed Congress (I) faction under Chennithala will get six districts. One district will go to Karunakaran’s nominee.
The ‘A’ faction, it is said, will get at least half of the 280 seats in the Pradesh Congress Committee, the ‘I’ faction about 115 and the Karunakaran rump about 15. That leaves just about 10 places for leaders who have stayed away from factional games.
The new group equation places the Congress at a disadvantage in the context of the realignment of caste and religious forces now under way.
There has been a consolidation of Christian sectarianism with the merger of the PJ Joseph faction of the Kerala Congress, which was until recently an LDF constituent, in the KM Mani faction, a UDF constituent, and The Indian Union Muslim League, another UDF constituent, is working for a consolidation of Muslim groups, taking advantage of the alienation of Muslim bodies which were aligned with the LDF.
That leaves the Congress in keen competition with the Communist Party of India-Marxist for the Hindu vote. The CPI-M has already made a pitch for it by talking of the growth of Muslim and Christian communalism and glossing over the growth of Hindu communalism. Karunakaran has warned that the new equation may not help the party in the panchayat elections due this year and the Assembly elections to follow next year. –Gulf Today, June 21, 2010