Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had told his party men in the southern state of Kerala three months before the Assembly polls that only the Congress can defeat itself in the state.
The disastrous performance of the party and the United Democratic Front (UDF) it heads in the 16 May elections has proved him right. But many in the party believe that the people responsible for the humiliating defeat include the Gandhi scion himself.
Though political leaders are still not ready to say this openly, the orchestrated attack on Rahul Gandhi's nominee for the party chief’s post, VM Sudheeran, is seen in political circles as a clear indication of their growing frustration against his actions if not his leadership.
Party men do not dare to criticise members of the Gandhi family openly as those who did it in the past suffered for it. Former state minister and AICC member TH Mustafa, who called Rahul a ‘joker’ in the wake of the setback the party suffered in the last Lok Sabha election, was suspended from party for six years.
Gufran-e-Azam, a former MP from Madhya Pradesh, was expelled from the Congress for questioning Rahul’s leadership. Many party leaders in Kerala, especially the youngsters, privately share this view. Though this section is not ready to come out openly, political observers consider that the questions being raised increasingly against his political nominees as an indirect criticism of the Gandhi heir.
They believe that the attack against Sudheeran is being spearheaded by two active groups in the party led by former chief minister Oommen Chandy and opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala may turn out to be a big setback for the party vice-president politically if it culminates into a full-fledged campaign for a change in the party leadership.
While second rung leaders like Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, K Sudhakaran and M M Hassan have already set the process into motion by demanding a total revamp of the party from top to bottom, Chandy has lent them silent support by refusing to accept the post of UDF chairperson.
The former chief minister had earlier refused to take over as the leader of the opposition owning moral responsibility for the poll debacle. Political commentators view Chandy’s refusal to accept any leadership positions in the party or the coalition as a clear reminder to Sudheeran about his own responsibility in the defeat.
Both the groups are irked by Rahul’s continued backing of Sudheeran, who claimed after a meeting with the party vice-president in New Delhi last week that he had got a mandate to overhaul the party structure. The displeasure of the two groups was conveyed to the party high command by Radhakrishnan and Sudhkaran, who represents Chandy and Ramesh respectively.
The duo told the national leaders of the party that the survival of the Congress in Kerala will be difficult as long as Sudheeran continued in the post. Sensing danger, Rahul has summoned the three warring leaders to Delhi on Saturday to sort out the issues.
However, political observers do not see any chance for rapprochement since both the groups have prepared a strong case for the removal of Sudheeran, who was elevated to the top post without the consent of the rival groups.
Rahul had appointed Sudheeran as party chief just before the 2014 Lok Sabha election with the avowed objective of ending groupism in the party, but the two dominant groups in the party have been at loggerheads with him from day one saying that he was trying to create his own group.
Sudheeran’s critics believe that he tried to create a space for himself in the party, which was sharply divided between two groups, by taking moralistic positions on various issues and by inducting his men into party forums.
The two groups believe that the obstinate stand Sudheeran took on the closure of bars and his open criticism of the government and the ministers for various reasons caused much damage to the UDF in the election.
While the bar closure that later led to phased prohibition did not bring any dividend to UDF in the Assembly polls, the bar bribery scam that rocked the government in its wake caused a lot of damage to its poll prospects. The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) reaped the benefit by exposing the political intrigue behind the decision and highlighting the bribery charges leveled by bar owners against two ministers.
The rival groups also consider Sudheeran’s attempt to question the decisions taken by the government and certain ministers at the fag end of its term and his open opposition to the candidature of three ministers and two sitting MLAs disastrous for the UDF.
Former Excise Minister K Babu, whose candidature was openly opposed by Sudheeran, held him solely responsible for his defeat at Tripunithura, which is considered as a party stronghold in Ernakulam.
“How could I expect people to vote for me when the party president himself projected me unwanted,” asked Babu, who faced corruption charges in the infamous bar bribery case. Sudheeran open stance came as the most potent weapon for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) not only against Babu but also several other party candidates.
The Sudheeran camp defends itself saying that the responsibility for the election defeat could not be fixed on any particular individual since the campaign was led by a collective leadership comprising himself, Chandy and Ramesh.
Young leaders in the party feel that the party can be revived in the state only if the old guards pave way for new crop of leaders. The million dollar question is whether the Congress high command will be ready for such an experiment in a state like Kerala where the party still has strong roots.
Updated Date: Jun 10, 2016 19:39:38 IST