When Kerala Congress (Mani), a regional party championing the cause of Christians, quit the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) soon after the Assembly polls in April last year and decided to remain as an independent entity, political observers thought it would go back before the Lok Sabha election.
The thinking was based on strong opposition from the ruling CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) on admitting the KC(M) into its fold and the lack of support from the church on the party joining hands with the BJP-led National Democratic Front Alliance (NDA). The party’s decision to support PK Kunhalikutty of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second largest constituent of the UDF, in the Malappuram Lok Sabha by-election was the beginning of the process.
Hence the party’s decision to capture the Kottayam district panchayat from the Congress with the support of the CPM has stunned political circles. Congress, which is the single largest party in the 22-member panchayat with eight members, was holding power till now with the support of six KC(M) members.
The CPM, which is the second largest party in the panchayat with seven members, unseated the Congress by voting for the KC(M) nominee Zacharias Kuthiraveli for the post of the district panchayat president in the election held on Wednesday. The seat fell vacant after incumbent president Joshy Philip resigned following his appointment as Kottayam District Congress Committee (DCC) president.
The CPM move has come as a big surprise to not only the UDF but also the party’s cadres and its allies in the LDF. They find it difficult to digest it since the corruption cases faced by KC(M) supremo and former finance minister KM Mani was a major poll plank of the LDF. The CPM, which ran a long campaign both inside and outside the Assembly for the resignation of Mani, had ruled out any truck with the KC(M) after it quit the UDF. Senior Congress leaders have viewed the CPM U-turn as a betrayal of the people, who voted the LDF to power.
State-level CPM leaders have dismissed the interpretation saying its support to the KC(M) at Kottayam was only a local arrangement. However, political observers view this as part of a well-planned move to take the KC(M) to the LDF fold. They connect it to the widening feud between the CPM and the CPI, the second largest constituent of the LDF.
Several senior CPM leaders like state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had described this as part of the CPI’s all-India move to build a strong alliance with the help of Congress against the communal forces led by the BJP. They feared that the CPI may cross over to the Congress camp in the long run. The current understanding with the KC(M) will come handy in such a scenario.
The CPM move is also considered as a counter to the attempt being made by the BJP to woo the KC(M). The party’s state leaders had made several rounds of informal discussions with Mani and his son and MP Jose K Mani in this regard. Sources said that KC(M) was prepared to consider this option if BJP had agreed to induct Jose K Mani into the Union Cabinet.
However, the KC(M) put the plan in the cold storage after a section of the church opposed it tooth and nail. The party apparently cannot displease the church since it draws its strength from the Christian community, which accounts for about 18 percent of the state’s population.
Mani tried the other option as he felt that it cannot survive long as an independent force. It may not be able to retain the lone Lok Sabha seat without the support of either the LDF or the UDF. The party needs the seat to remain relevant at the national level. Party leaders hope the alliance in the Kottayam panchayat can be expanded to the state level by the time elections to the Lok Sabha are held in 2019.
However, this may not be easy as a strong section in the CPM and the CPI are opposed to the alliance. CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran has already made it clear that it will not allow the CPM to include the KC(M) in the LDF. CPI Kottayam district leader N Anirudhan said that the LDF had portrayed Mani as the symbol of corruption.
“We stand by this. The CPM has a feeling that whatever it does is correct. We do not share this. We consider any alliance with KC(M) will be against the electoral mandate that the LDF has received. The LDF is in a strong position in the state now. It should use this to implement the LDF policies and programmes. If the CPM deviates from that path, the supporters of the party will not approve it,” said Anirudhan.
CPM Kottayam district president NN Vasavan was non-committal on its present stand on Mani. He refused to term Mani as the symbol of corruption. “We had raised several allegations against him. They are under perusal of the court. Let the court examine it and pass its judgment,” he said.
However, party veteran and former chief minister VS Achuthanandan does not share this view. He said that he will stand firmly on the allegations the party had raised against Mani. “I wish the news from Kottayam is wrong,” he said when media persons sought his reaction on the party’s support to the KC(M) nominee.
The Congress has described the KC(M) move as political betrayal. Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president MM Hassan said it was a violation of the agreement reached between the two on the status of the alliance in the local bodies. The party leader had agreed not to alter the equations at the local when it quit the UDF.
Mani, who initially feigned ignorance about the development in Kottayam, has indicated that it had his blessing. “The Congress has no right to hurl stones on the KC(M). We are an independent party and we have every right to decide our political course. This is only the beginning. There will be more surprises soon,” he said.
Political observers say the move will have far reaching implications in Kerala politics. While Jacob George, a Thiruvananthapuram-based political analyst, told Firstpost that the CPM move to join hands with Mani will weaken the UDF, Left-leaning political observer NN Pearson feels it will erode the credibility of the Left.
“People have voted for the LDF because of its anti-bourgeois ideology and the policies. The LDF will lose this support if they forge an alliance with a bourgeois party like the KC(M),” Pearson told Firstpost. The duo thinks that this type of opportunistic politics will help the BJP to grow in the state further.
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Updated Date: May 04, 2017 15:14:53 IST