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Kerala Witnesses Biggest Congress Rebellion in a Decade Over Single Rajya Sabha Seat

The open rebellion in Congress has been triggered by the troika of opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, former CM Oommen Chandy and outgoing KPCC chief MM Hassan after they decided to hand over a Rajya Sabha seat to former ally Kerala Congress (M).

Achyuth Punnekat | CNN-News18

Updated:June 8, 2018, 2:11 PM IST
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Kerala Witnesses Biggest Congress Rebellion in a Decade Over Single Rajya Sabha Seat
File photo of former Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy. (PTI Photo)
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Thiruvananthapuram: After a bleak summer of discomfort, the BJP in Kerala finally has a reason to smile. It is not a smile of satisfaction, but glee at the prospects of a Congress that is imploding from infighting.

The open rebellion in Congress has been triggered by the troika of opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, former chief minister Oommen Chandy and outgoing Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee chief MM Hassan after they decided to hand over a Rajya Sabha seat to former ally Kerala Congress (M). The seat is falling vacant soon after the term of current member Joy Abraham ends.

‘Villain’ Chandy

The decision to accommodate KM Mani’s outfit has triggered widespread protests. Overnight, flex boards and posters have come up across Kerala condemning the “appeasement of Mani”.

In Alappuzha, a poster of Oommen Chandy was defaced. There is rebellion even within Chandy’s own ‘A’ group. Several ‘A’ group leaders like PJ Kurien, KC Joseph, Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan and Aryadan Mohammed have opposed the move.

Kurien, who was hoping for a renomination to the Rajya Sabha, termed the move “a decision taken by three people without consulting the party”. Kurien has gone even as far as calling Chandy the “main conspirator”.

Ironically, at the forefront of this rebellion are also young leaders who had been angling for the seat. They seem to have now found common cause with Kurien, whose re-nomination they had been opposing.

Several Youth Congress and Kerala Students’ Federation office bearers have resigned in protest. In Karunagappally, some Youth Congress leaders burnt effigies.

Chandy’s detractor and former KPCC president VM Sudheeran walked out of a UDF meeting. “It is an insult to every self-respecting Congressman. This cannot be seen as a move to strengthen the alliance. Only if the Congress remains strong can the alliance be strong,” he said.

The greatest irony perhaps is the fact the Chandy had resigned as finance minister from the K Karunakaran ministry in 1994 to protest against the decision to hand over a Rajya Sabha seat to the Muslim League.

‘Kingpin’ Kunjalikutty

News18 has learnt that the Congress leadership was coerced into handing over the seat to Kerala Congress (M) by key ally Muslim League. Sources say League senior leader PK Kunjalikkutty had warned that his party will not back a Congress candidate for the Rajya Sabha post.

To gain that Rajya Sabha, the UDF needs 36 votes. Congress only has 22 MLAs, and is heavily dependent on the support of the League’s 18 MLAs and Kerala Congress (M)’s six MLAs.

Kunjalikutty had earlier flown to Delhi to push the case for Mani with the Congress High Command. Kunjalikutty is no stranger to arm-twisting the Congress. In 2011, the same Muslim League forced the Congress to cede an extra cabinet berth in lieu of continued support for the Chandy government.

Incidentally, Chandy had been League’s preferred choice for Chief Minister in 2004 after AK Antony stepped down following infighting. Kunjalikutty, who was industries minister at the time, had led the attack on Antony following his remark that minorities in Kerala were “indulging in collective bargaining as an organised force to extract concessions from the government.”

The Rajya Sabha decision has lent weight to those who allege there is a culture of minority appeasement that has set in the Congress. KM Mani’s Kerala Congress predominantly draws its strength from the Christian belt in Kottayam. Kunjalikkutty’s friendship with Mani has also been long-standing. He has met the latter multiple times in the past year to engineer the Kerala Congress (M)’s return to the UDF fold. This time around, too, there is a sense that the Kunjalikutty-Mani duo have managed to get the upper hand.

The view that the Congress leadership has bent the knee to the League is so powerful now that in Malappuram a Muslim League flag has been hoisted above the Congress office by the protestors. The running joke on social media is that is that a League leader is likely to become the new KPCC chief.

Saffron Opportunity

For some leaders in the Congress, the ‘blunder’ by the state Congress leadership has brought great distress. Disaffection with the Congress leadership had already been rampant as many leaders felt they were deprived of power. The BJP, which has been at pains to poach senior leaders, is capitalising on the sentiment. Through back-channel talks and social media posts, the saffron party is openly inviting leaders to defect.

Sources say some are actively considering the possibility. For them, the current ‘insult’ is the ripe excuse to leave camp.

In fact a DCC General Secretary in Kannur had alleged on Thursday that senior leader K Sudhakaran had held discussions with the BJP leadership. It is not a new allegation. Last month, the CPM had claimed Sudhakaran had met with Amit Shah secretly in Chennai. Another Hindu Congress leader from the south of Kerala is also said to be actively considering the prospects of joining BJP.

For the BJP, even one defection would be a shot in the arm after the abysmal show it put up in the recently concluded Chengannur by-election. There is also a leadership vacuum in the party after Kummanam Rajashekharan was removed as state chief. The question is whether the BJP central leadership plays its cards right. Under Amit Shah, it has shown that it is out of touch with ground realities in Kerala.

Command Failure

Luckily for the BJP, the current crisis shows that the Congress High Command under Rahul Gandhi is also out of touch. The decision to accommodate Mani has been paraded by Chandy and Co. as having the stamp of approval from Rahul himself.

The Congress chief seems to have deferred to the state leadership, instead of carrying out his own investigation. Ironically, the current rebellion draws its strength from the young leaders or ‘Rahul’s Brigade’ who have been trying to loosen the stranglehold of veterans.
| Edited by: Huma Tabassum
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