Thiruvananthapuram: In Kerala where politics revolves around various allies of the rival fronts, three of four factions of the Kerala Congress have been in the news for some time now. There is the possibility of a fifth faction coming into existence ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Today, of the four Kerala Congress parties, three are in the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front. Things are hardly smooth and frequent skirmishes occur within each party and also among them. Things are however quite smooth with the Kerala Congress that is in the opposition Left Democratic Front - perhaps because it doesn't have a single legislator.
Of the four, the biggest, the Kerala Congress (Mani) has nine legislators, followed by the Kerala Congress (Pillai) and the Kerala Congress (Jacob) with one legislator each.
In 2010, there were two more Kerala Congress parties, one led by present government chief whip P.C. George (Kerala Congress-Secular) and the Kerala Congress (Joseph), which was then in the LDF. Following an understanding, these two outfits merged with the Kerala Congress (Mani).
Today the biggest problem for the Kerala Congress (Mani) is the frequent skirmishes between the Joseph faction leaders and chief whip George. It has reached a stage where the three legislators of the Joseph faction have expressed anguish at the manner in which George is going hammer and tongs against them while Mani continues to have a soft corner for him.
"P.C. George's words and actions often lead to embarrassing moments for both Mani and our party. We have raised this in our party a few times," said former Lok Sabha member Francis George, son of K.M. George, the founder of the original Kerala Congress in 1964.
But the irrepressible P.C. George is not willing to lie low and has often said that he will not only speak the truth but also loudly.
"No one can stop me or prevent me from speaking frankly and if people do not keep their mouths shut, then they are inviting trouble," George said.
But Mani, a wily politician who has been a legislator without ever tasting defeat since 1965, has time and again brushed aside the worsening relations between leaders in his party.
"Why is that you always only have to ask about George? Please understand there are so many other things that are happening. George is a non-issue," Mani shot back, when the media asked him about churning in his party.
"With Lok Sabha polls round the corner, things will be tense in the Kerala Congress (Mani) when it comes to seat distribution as there would be more than one claimant for the only seat that their party will get," said P.C. Thomas, whose Kerala Congress - the only one without an appendage - is in the LDF.
"The noise that you hear in that party is just the beginning and it can get louder as days go by," added Thomas, a minister of state in the 1999-2004 government of prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Now all eyes are on the erstwhile Joseph faction because it could give sleepless nights to even Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. The million dollar question that's being asked is: has the time come for another split? If Joseph decides to walk out, it could well be curtains for Chandy as his government has a majority of just three in the assembly.
Another possibility is that Joseph could walk out of the Mani faction but remain with the ruling coalition for some time more.
But then, as Mani once famously said: his is a party that splits as it grows and grows as it splits.
As for the Kerala Congress (Pillai), its leader R. Balakrishna Pillai's son, K.B. Ganesh Kumar, had to quit as a minister earlier this month following a complaint of domestic violence. The father-son relations are at rock bottom and they do not see eye to eye on anything. At one point of time, Ganesh Kumar even spoke of forming his own party.
In the Kerala Congress (Jacob), relations between Food Minister Anup Jacob and party supremo Johnny Nelloore are hardly at their best.
Watch this space for updates!
(Sanu George can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)