By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Pala in Kottayam district is not an assembly constituency that luxuriates in its obscurity. It has all pretensions to national and international attention. The constituency’s unique selling point (USP) is the fact that it was represented by Kerala Congress(Mani) chairman, K. M. Mani for 54 years -a world record. A by-election has been necessitated by the passing away of the veteran who bestrode the constituency like a Colossus.
In the normal course, it should be a cakewalk for the KC(M). But ground realities tell a different tale. The sailing would be anything but smooth.
The main reason for KC(M)’s worry is that the party is sharply divided over its candidate to the b y-election. The two factions in the party – one headed b y working chairman, P. J. Joseph and the other led by self-appointed chairman of the party and KM Mani’s son, Jose K. Mani are engaged in a desperate search for a consensus candidate – a futile exercise so far.
At one stage it looked as if the wrinkles have been ironed out. Senior KC-M leader E J Augusty had emerged as a consensus candidate acceptable to both groups. But Augusty’s failure to attend two meetings convened by Jose created doubts in the latter’s mind.
Latest reports have it that the Jose faction has decided to field his wife, Nisha Jose. Her candidature has the support of the party’s youth wing and women’s wing.
But indications are that the Joseph faction would strongly oppose her candidature. Joseph does not want it to be an exclusively family affair. And he has the support of other senior leaders in the party like C F Thomas. These leaders, who owed their allegiance to KM Mani, have shifted their loyalties to Joseph since Mani’s death, strengthening the latter’s position in the party. Besides, three out of the five party MLAs are also with Joseph.
As if all this was not enough, Jose suffered a legal setback as well. Jose’s decision to appoint him as the party chairman has been stayed by a court in Thodupuzha. This would mean that Joseph, who is the working chairman, would enjoy all the powers of the chairman in the event of his death as per the party constitution. In a way, Jose has been outsmarted by Joseph in the tussle for power.
Also, Jose’s demand for the convening of the state committee has not been conceded b y Joseph, who alone has the power to convene the state committee by virtue of his being the chairman. Since Jose faction has a clear majority in the state committee, Joseph is in mood to oblige Jose. The ball, therefore, is right now in Joseph’s court.
Another plus point for Joseph is the solid support he enjoys from the Congress, which heads the United Democratic Front (UDF), of which KC(M) is an important constituent. The top Congress leaders have a better rapport with Joseph than Jose, whose style of functioning is not to the liking of them.
However, the Congress leaders also want both the KC(M) factions to agree on a consensus candidate for the Pala by-election – a task that has so far proved extremely difficult given the unconcealed hostilities between the two groups.
The factionalism, needless to say, has created confusion among the KC(M)’s rank and file. They want the party to slink their differences. How the party will untie the ticklish knot remains to be seen.
In contrast, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) has decided that its constituent, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) would contest from Pala. And the NCP candidate is none other than Mani C. Kappan who unsuccessfully contested against Mani on several occasions in the past. Kappan’s best performance came in the 2016 assembly elections when he managed to reduce Mani’s majority to a mere 4,700 votes.
Having named its candidate fast, the LDF in general and the CPI(M) in particular enjoys a headstart. The LDF has already launched its campaign, with the CPI(M) determined to wrest the seat from the UDF this time around. And the CPI(M)’s awesome organisational machinery has started functioning with clockwork-like efficiency to the worry of the UDF.
The NCP candidate is a picture of confidence. With Mani no more on the scene, Kappan is confident of upsetting the applecart of the KC(M) candidate whoever it is.
It is a prestigious contest for both the fronts. A defeat in Pala would seriously undermine the cohesion of the UDF. Likewise, failure to wrest the seat from the UDF would be a setback for the CPI(M), which is trying hard to erase the humiliation of the drubbing it suffered in the Lok Sabha elections. That being the reality, the stage is set for a battle royal. The by-election is scheduled to be held on September 23. (IPA Service)