Congress at war with itself in Kerala (News Analysis)

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 08, 2012 04:20 hrs

Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 8 (IANS) The Congress is at war with itself in Kerala and at least one leader says this is affecting governance while another says he will continue to air their grievances against the party. There is even a suggestion that the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) could come apart if the infighting and faction-feuding continues.

Not long ago, the tussle was between the factions led by the late K. Karunakaran and (now Defence Minister) A.K. Antony. Today the factionalism continues with different actors.

The feud today is led on one side by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and on the other by state Congress president Ramesh Chennithala, who has with him a majority of the erstwhile Karunakaran group and some leaders of the (Overseas Indian Affairs Minister) Vayalar Ravi group.

This doesn't bode well for the party, says Karunakaran's son, K. Muraleedharan.

"There are issues that have strained the smooth functioning and the best thing would be a meeting to be called which could well sort out all unpleasant issues that are now boiling," Muraleedharan said.

Till the 2011 assembly polls, the Chandy-Chennithala duo had combined well for around six years, but things went for a toss the moment the latter threw in his cap for the chief minister's post.

This was seen as a challenge by the Chandy camp, as there was an unwritten understanding that if the Congress won the polls, Chandy would become the chief minister.

From then on, things went haywire as both of them wanted the maximum seats for their respective camp followers. As a result, selection of candidates became tough and not the best got selected after seats were allocated on the basis of caste and creed.

When the results came in, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) had a minuscule majority of just four seats in the 140-member Kerala assembly.

And when Chennithala sought to be the parliamentary party leader, a call came from Delhi hours before the meeting asking him to make a public statement that he was not in the running for the plum post.

Since then, for all practical purposes, the once smoothly functioning Chandy-Chennithala duo got strained and this continues even now.

Things have now reached a crescendo as the warring factions, even more than a year after starting talks to revamp the organisation at all levels, are yet to come to an understanding. The duo often states that the revamp will happen after they return from meeting the national leadership, but all such trips have turned out to be a damp squib.

Another pointer that all is not well within the Congress here is the emergence of a new group of Congress legislators that calls itself the Green Brigade and has the secret blessings of Chennithala. For some time now, they have been giving sleepless nights to Chandy and his camp.

The Green Brigade is led by V.D. Satheesan, who has with him T.N. Pratapan and V.T. Balaram. They lose no opportunity to come out in the open against the policies of the Chandy government.

With close to a dozen TV channels operating in the state, the three are the most sought after guests on news programmes and debates, where they frequently take on the Chandy government.

When things went a bit too far, Satheesan and Pratapan were summoned to Delhi by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, after which they appeared to take a break. In the past week, they have, however, resumed their Chandy bashing.

On Monday UDF convenor P.P.Thankachan, a former state Congress chief, suggested that Pratapan pipe down, but he refused to do so.

"I don't care and I will raise these issues at party forums and even in public and I am not worried about the outcome," Pratapan said at a public meeting Monday evening.

Chief whip in Kerala Assembly P.C.George added a new twist when he said that in the best interests of all concerned, those who speak out should not forget that Chandy's was a coalition government.

"If a few Congress legislators do not want this Congress government in office, then we are not bound to prop up such a government. The Congress party has to settle their issues because all accepted levels of patience are over," said George, the vice chairman of the Kerala Congress (Mani), the third biggest ally of the UDF.

Chandy and Chennithala were to have travelled to New Delhi Wednesday for talks on the revamp issue. This has now been delayed indefinitely, meaning it will take a while before the Congress can get its house in order.

(Sanu George can be contacted at

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