Kerala Congress (M), the third largest ally of the Congress party in the state, has startled political circles by severing its three decade-old ties with the United Democratic Front (UDF).
The party with six legislators has decided to quit the Opposition, which is in tatters after the humiliating defeat in the Assembly elections held on 16 May this year, and act as an independent block in the state Assembly.
Party supremo and former finance minister KM Mani cited attempts by a section of the Congress leadership to malign the image of the party and its leaders as the major reason for the crucial decision, which was taken on the concluding day of the two-day party camp in Charalkunnu, Pathanamthitta district on Sunday.
He also alleged that this section had worked for defeating the party candidates in several constituencies, including Pala, where he won the election with a reduced margin. “They had recruited special squads and flowed money to ensure the defeat of the party nominees,” Mani said.
“The foundation of a coalition is based on trust, mutual love and help. If they are missing, there is no point in continuing. We have been with the UDF for the last three decades. Now, the time has come to review our stand,” Mani said.
The Congress and its other allies in the UDF do not view this as a convincing reason for quitting the coalition. Former chief minister Oommen Chandy wondered how the party could flow money to defeat KC(M) candidates when they did not have sufficient funds to meet the election expenses of their own candidates.
“We had tried to address all the genuine concerns of the KC(M). I had gone to Mani’s residence at Palai and explained everything to him personally. We were ready to discuss all the grievances of the party and find solutions, but he was determined to leave the UDF,” the senior leader said.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) vice-president VD Satheeshan, however, pointed out that the decision may be prompted after the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government's move to revive the probe into the bar bribery case in which Mani is involved.
“Mani thinks that the LDF will let him off if he distances from the UDF. This is an abject surrender before the ruling front,” Satheeshan said adding that it may not be possible for the LDF to bail him out easily since one of the main campaign themes of the LDF in the Assembly election was the bar bribery scam.
KC(M) had alleged a conspiracy behind the bribery charges levelled against him by bar owners that he had accepted bribe for re-opening the bars closed prior to the Lok Sabha election in 2014. The party had set up a committee to probe the alleged conspiracy but the report has not been made public so far.
Congress leaders also see a move to take the party to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party behind the decision to quit the UDF. They feel that Mani may switch over to the NDA if his son Jose K Mani is offered a berth in the Narendra Modi ministry.
There were reports that the MP had secret meetings with BJP president Amit Shah in this regard. Curiously, BJP state president, Kummanam Rajashekharan has not shut the option though the party had led a series of agitations against Mani in the bar bribery case.
“We had launched agitations against Mani based on the conviction that he had received bribes. There is no change in our stand. However, we will wait for the KC(M) to clarify its future political course before considering an alliance with the party,” the BJP chief said.
However, party spokesman VV Rajesh has no pretensions over the party’s future plans. He said that the BJP will not lose any opportunity to expand the NDA and stake claim for power in the state.
“The exit of KC(M) from the UDF shows that it is disintegrating. We feel there will be a time when the Congress may join hands with the CPM as in West Bengal, leaving the field open for a direct contest between the NDA and the LDF,” Rajesh said adding that none was untouchable to the BJP.
Political observers view the KC(M) decision as part of a pressure politics. Jacob George, a senior journalist based at Thiruvananthapuram, feels that it may be aimed at increasing the party’s bargaining power by the time elections will be held next.
“A shrewd and experienced leader like Mani will not take a drastic step like this without eyeing something. He cannot survive in Kerala politics by standing alone. He is definitely eyeing a berth in the LDF or the NDA,” says Jacob.
He feels that Mani may not even shy away from returning to the UDF if the party does not get entry either in LDF or NDA before the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. There is no need for the ruling front to accommodate Mani at present as they have sufficient strength in the Assembly.
Having led an aggressive campaign against the KC(M) leader in the bar bribery case, it will be suicidal for the LDF to join hands with the KC(M). Interestingly, CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has already made it clear that there will not be any place for the KC(M) in the LDF.
Though BJP is ready to welcome Mani, Congress hopes that the party may not jump into the bandwagon as it will split the party. KPCC president V M Sudheeran says the people supporting the KC(M), especially the Christians, will not approve such an alliance as they want a strong democratic alliance to fight the communal politics of the BJP.
Mani has ruled out any alliance with either front. “We cannot blame if LDF or NDA tries to woo the KC(M). But we will not align with anybody and remain as a strong Opposition maintaining equal distance from all existing coalitions,” he said.
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Updated Date: Aug 08, 2016 10:58:32 IST