By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The cohesion of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) has been severely dented with the Kerala Congress (M) openly hinting at the possibility of the party having tie-ups with ‘like-minded’ parties outside the UDF.
The KC(M)’s latest warning came in an interview party president and Finance Minister K. M. Mani gave to a TV channel. In the interview, Mani said that the KC(M) is not at the mercy of the Congress and that the party is free to exercise the option of having discussions with like-minded parties. The KC(M) is a long-standing ally of the Congress. But the latter should introspect whether it has done justice to the KC(M), Mani said.
A worried Congress has initiated swift damage-control measures to mollify the disgruntled KC(M) chief. Both Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president V M Sudheeran and Chief Minister Oommen Chandy have lavished praise on Mani saying that the KC(M) is an integral part of the UDF and there is no reason for the party to leave the Front. Oommen Chandy echoed Sudheeran’s sentiments, saying that Mani is the seniormost leader of the front and a vital cog in the UDF’s wheel.
The KPCC chief also criticized the CPI(M) for trying to lure the constituents of the UDF into the Left Democratic Front(LDF)’s fold. The CPI(M)’s efforts won’t succeed and the UDF would remain a united front, he asserted.
True, Mani later denied any intention of leaving the UDF. But the Congress is no more sure of whether the KC(M) will remain a part of the UDF. The growing perception is that the KC(M) has now the option of allying with either the CPI(M)-led LDF or the BJP.
The BJP has also made it clear that the party is not averse to joining hands with the KC(M). A section of the Kerala BJP leaders has favoured luring Mani into the BJP’s camp. They are of the view that the BJP must seriously explore the options of forging a third front in the State, and that the KC(M) should be persuaded to join such a front if it is ready to do so. Of course, another section led by the state BJP chief V. Muraleedharan has reservations about welcoming Mani and the KC(M) into a BJP-led front. But the section favouring a tie-up with the KC(M) seems to have an upperhand.
On the other hand, the CPI(M) too does not seem to be against having the KC(M) in its camp. Top CPI(M) leaders like Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and Thomas Isaac have gone on record that Mani is welcome to join the LDF.
The quit-UDF campaign within the KC(M) gathered momentum with a few party leaders demanding that Mani should be made the Chief Minister to the shock of the Congress. KC(M) MP Antony Raju was the first to float the make- Mani-the CM idea. Party’s vice-chairman PC George took up the refrain and made a strong pitch for making Mani the Chief Minister. Both Raju and George said Mani richly deserved the CM’s post in view of his seniority and stature within the UDF. That Mani too nurses chief ministerial ambitions is no secret.
It is also an open secret that the KC(M) is angry over the Congress’s steadfast refusal to concede its demands. For instance, the Congress said an emphatic No to the KC(M)’s demand for one more Lok Sabha seat. The Congress also refused to oblige the KC(M) by giving a ministerial berth to Mani’s son, Jose K. Mani in the Union Cabinet.
It is against this backdrop that Mani’s latest remark has to be viewed. The party’s message to the Congress is loud and clear: Do not take us for granted anymore. We have the option of either joining hands with the LDF or crossing over to the BJP camp.
The only question is when the party will decide to quit the UDF. There is a stream of thought which believes that Mani may remain with the UDF until the next assembly elections which are due in May 2016. The KC(M) may raise the demand to make Mani the CM before the assembly polls. And if the Congress rejects it, then the party could cross over to the BJP’s camp. (IPA Service)