Congress group war in Kerala with KPCC president on one side and chief minister on the other side during party rule is nothing new. Rather it is the norm in Congress from 1962 onward when CK Govindan Nair fought with R Sankar. Later A K Antony fought with K Karunakaran. However fight between present KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala and CM Oommen Chandy is different. This is because while earlier infighting in Congress was basically factionalism linked to loyalty to individuals, in the current in fight issues related to representation of various religions in the cabinet play the key role.
Their cold war in Congress Kerala unit erupted as open fight yesterday (May 22) when Chennithala in an interview to Indian Express said Chandy can now have his own way. Though he denied having given an official interview later, the issue remains and it is likely that only Congress high command can bring both leaders together now.
Reasons for current infighting
The main issue in Congress at present is imbalances in power sharing among party leaders belonging to Hindus, Muslims and Christians. The present fight for key positions in Congress has its roots in a power struggle which began in Congress Kerala unit around two decades ago in which communal forces also played a key role. As a result of that fight, in1992, K Karunakaran was forced to resign as Kerala chief minister. There had been allegations that majority community had been sidelined following Karunakaran’s resignation. After Karunakaran, both chief ministers of Congress A.K Antony and Oommen Chandy have been from Christian community.
Recently Major Hindu organizations in Kerala Nair Service Society (NSS) and SNDP yogam of Ezhava Community had publicized their opinion that minority communities (Read Muslims and Christians) are controlling power in the state and Majority Community has been sidelined. Afterwards, they said they had bargained for a key post for Ramesh Chennithala in Kerala ministry before election. They added that Oommen Chandy had violated an agreement they made with Congress central leadership that Ramesh will be given a key post.
It was in this backdrop that leaders owing allegiance to Chandy recently met Chennithala and expressed Chandy’s willingness to include Chennithala in the cabinet. However this seemed to be a clever move with Chennithala being lured to take an unimportant portfolio. While those who support Chennithala demand that he be given an important portfolio like Home in the ministry, Oommen Chandy seems to be strictly against it. Chandy had divested home portfolio which he was holding a few months back and had appointed his confidante Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan as home minister.
It seems that Chennithala has realized that if he goes for an unimportant position in ministry he will later lose all clout, similar to what happened to former KPCC president K Muraleedharan. Muraleedharan resigned KPCC president post and contested in election when he was offered power minister post. However he couldn’t even win election then as a section of Congress leaders rigged his campaign. Now he is just an MLA. Chennithala has realized that the same may apply to him also and stated that he will continue as KPCC president which will force Congress leadership to intervene.
Even though NSS and SNDP supported Chennithala, the latter distanced from them publicly. This could have been Chennithala’s own strategy for a secular image or he might have been forced to do so by his opponents in party. Anyway, it means now he doesn’t have support of community. Now his opponents can handle him easily.
Those Congressmen who ditched Karunakaran earlier are now playing the same game at Chennithala also. They will up the pressure using community and media to put all blame on Chennithala for any setback of Congress and ensure that he won’t get any position of importance in future. Attitude of his opponents show they are not even willing to make him number two. Chennithala’s future depends on his own fighting skills and ability to force high command to intervene and give him home portfolio. Anything less will be a defeat for him.
Consequences of Congress group fight
While earlier Congress groups used to declare cease fire in faction wars when high command intervened, now even if leaders end fight cadres and sympathizers won’t. The Pandora’s box has already been opened. Meanwhile NSS leadership after directly attacking Chandy for the plight of Congress said they don’t have any love lost for Chennithala too. If NSS and SNDP stick to their opinion that they won’t have any relation to Congress in the coming days, then Chennithala’s crisis in Congress plus NSS and SNDP stand would further alienate majority community from Congress. It is likely that Congress will feel the impact in coming Lok Sabha election.
Middle level leaders of Congress belonging to Hindu community are likely to complain of neglect. Example of Karunakaran would force many to accept this view. While it is unlikely that those who distance from Congress leadership may vote for CPM, one cannot dismiss possibility of their coming close to BJP if BJP works properly among them.