By P. Sreekumaran


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It was a momentous occasion worthy of a celebration. And the Kerala Congress(Mani) did celebrate the fiftieth year of its formation in grand style.


But the celebrations were marred by an acrimonious war of words and articles between the KC(M) and ‘big brother’ Congress, allies in the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) in the State.


The proximate cause for the ratcheted-up tensions was an article in ‘Veekshanam’, the Congress’s mouthpiece, highly critical of KC(M) president and Finance Minister, K. M. Mani.


The article titled ‘Do Not Shy Away As You Cross 50’ came down heavily on Mani for what the Congress perceives as flirtation with the CPI(M). The article comes against the backdrop of the increasing fear in the Congress camp of the possibility of the latter crossing over to the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front(LDF). Of course, the CPI(M) leaders have added ‘fuel to the fire’ by their invitation to Mani to hop over to their front. The article reminded the KC(M) that the party was formed fifty years ago on a strong-anti-communist foundation, and any attempt to join hands with the CPI(M) would spell disaster for it. “The Kerala Congress(M) would be ruined if Mani leaves the UDF and joins the LDF,” the article warned.


Clearly rattled by the critical ‘Veekshanam’ article, the KC(M) was prompt to retaliate through an article in its own weekly publication, ‘Pratichaya’. The piece which appeared in it snubbed the Congress with the sharp retort that Mani needed no lessons in politics from the Congress.


True, both Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president, V. M. Sudheeran, and Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, have swung into action to tamp down the tensions. Chandy frowned on the article, saying that the Mani-hostile piece should not have appeared in the party mouthpiece. Mani is a senior leader of the UDF and such critical statements against seniors should be a strict taboo for party publications, Chandy said.


The KPCC chief has also identified himself with the sentiments expressed by the Chief Minister. In his reaction, Sudheeran said the article that ‘Veekshanam’ carried did not have the permission of the party. “K. M. Mani is the leader of an important coalition party in the UDF. We fully respect his seniority and the valuable services he has rendered for the State,” Sudheeran opined.


Both the KPCC chief and the CM have a point when they say that the articles which appear in the party mouthpiece do not reflect the view of the Congress. But care should have been taken to ensure that such articles do not appear in the party’s publications. That there was a clear disconnect between the party and those who manage its mouthpiece is clear, and it bodes ill for the smooth functioning of the coalition ruling the state now. Strict instructions have been given, thundered Sudheeran, to make sure that there is no recurrence of such incidents. But the intervention has come a tad too late, and amounts to locking the stable doors after the horses have bolted! Also, it remains to be seen whether the damage-control efforts made by both the CM and the KPCC chief will have the desired effect. Whatever the denouement, the articles have left a trail of bitterness – a luxury which neither the Congress nor the KC(M) can afford at a time when the UDF is being buffeted by inter-party bickering squabbles and struggling to battle a buoyed up BJP in the State.


Be that as it may, both the Congress and the KC(M) are to be blamed for the sharp deterioration in the relations between the two. The KC(M) has a long-standing grievance against the Congress – rightly so to some extent – that the ‘big brother’ has consistently refused to concede what the KC(M) perceives to be its genuine demands: an additional Lok Sabha seat for the party and a berth for Mani’s son, Jose K. Mani in the previous Union Cabinet. As a result, the resentment in the KC(M) against the Congress has increased, leading to an escalating war of words.


On its part, the CPI(M) too tried to cash in on the KC(M)’s dismay, by making overtures to Mani to cross over to the LDF. The CPI(M) leaders have said that Mani was a very senior leader in Kerala politics and he and his party certainly deserved better than the shabby treatment being meted out to it by the Congress. Meanwhile, KC(M) leaders like P. C. George and Antony Raju fuelled Mani’s not-so-veiled ambition to become the Chief Minister saying that Mani, deserved to be the CM in view of his status, seniority and clout.


Mani himself has added to the confusion and tension by saying that, in politics, no party is an untouchable. Mani’s assertions have followed an open invitation by a section of the BJP leaders as well to join the BJP in its attempt to form a third front, independent of the UDF and the LDF. These efforts have gained traction ever since the Modi Government assumed power at the Centre.


On its part, the Congress has also been utterly indifferent to the KC(M)’s urgings to be sensitive to its demands. The Congress has steadfastly refused to concede the KC(M) request to be given one more Lok Sabha seat and a berth for the Mani son in the Union Cabinet in the past. It is the Congress’s high and mighty attitude that has aggravated the sense of grievance nursed by the KC(M). The Manmohan Singh Government’s vacillation on the implementation of the Kasturirangan report on the Western Ghats’ preservation was another factor which contributed to the nosedive in the Congress-KC(M) relations.


The Congress leaders are hopeful of the storm blowing over. But, the big question is: will it?  If the KC(M) leaders’ blow-hot-blow-cold attitude is any sign, then the ‘ big brother’ has every reason to feel tense and edgy. (IPA Service)


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