By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The K. Sudhakaran era in the Congress in Kerala has begun with the Kannur strongman formally taking charge as the president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) on June 16 amid much hype and blatant violation of the Covid-19 protocol. The Police have filed cases against six Congress leaders and 100 workers for flouting covid guidelines to witness the change of guard at Indira Bhavan.
And among his first declarations is Sudhakaran’s resolve to end groupism in the party which has been its bane over the decades. The million dollar question, however, is: Can he succeed in ridding the Congress of the two dominant groups – A and I – led by former chief minister Oommen Chandy and former Leader of the Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala? Sudhakaran himself knows that it is a Herculean task. It is true that, for form’s sake, both Chandy and Chennithala have extended him ‘full support’ for transforming the Congress into a force strong enough to take on the formidable CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front(LDF) Government and easing it out of power in 2026. But Congress politics is littered with such hollow promises which are no more than mere lip services.
That trouble is brewing is evident from prominent A group leader and staunch loyalist of Oommen Chandy, K. C. Joseph’s remark that group politics in the party is a reality which cannot be wished away. The Joseph salvo shows that the groups are in no mood to throw in the towel tamely. It is an open secret that the A and I group leaders are unhappy about the manner in which the new Leader of the Opposition and three working presidents were appointed by the Congress High Command. In fact, the group bosses have complained to the High Command that Sudhakaran has already started taking decisions without taking anyone into confidence. Unless he changes his style of functioning, the groups are likely to intensify their protests. And that is a clear call for non-cooperation. Sudhakaran has been forewarned.
What has raised the hackles of group bosses is Sudhakaran’s announcement of a five-member committee which will be tasked with the formidable job of revitalizing the moribund party organization. The combative Congress leader is also on record that ‘Jumbo Committees’ will go lock, stock and barrel. They will be replaced with trimmer committees numbering not more than 51 members. Last but not the least, there is no need for KPCC secretaries who are a drain and drag on the party, Sudhakaran opined, adding that majority of these secretaries are entities unknown even among the party’s rank and file! The intent is clear. The reorganization will be total and from top to bottom. Not surprisingly, the group bosses are not happy with Sudhakaran’s revamp move as they fear that the exercise is aimed at undermining their position. In other words, the battle lines have been well and truly drawn. And the exercise has been undertaken with the full knowledge and the blessings of the party High Command, which is also determined to ensure disintegration of groups.
The group managers are of the view that Sudhakaran should have held discussions in the Political Affairs Committee (PAC), the highest decision-making body in the Congress before taking crucial decisions on party reorganization. It is unfair of him to ignore the PAC and go ahead by taking unilateral decisions. It may be mentioned that the PAC is dominated by the two dominant groups which had ensured that their loyalists got equal representation in the PAC. A discussion in the PAC would have enabled them to call the shots. But that was not to be. Sudhakaran seems to have outsmarted them at least at this stage.
Sudhakaran’s intentions are clear. He and the new leader of the opposition, V D Satheesan have secured a clear mandate from the High Command that they should no longer allow the groups to dictate terms. Evidently, the 51-member committee will be composed of deserving people, ignoring group affiliations. Merit alone will be the criterion for membership of the committee. That is why the dominant groups are worried. Reports however have it that they are unlikely to come out in the open immediately. The strategy will be to wait for the composition of the 51-member committee and strike if the Committee ignores leaders who owe allegiance to them. The knives will be out then. That is for sure.
The big question uppermost in the minds of Congress leaders and workers is: Will Sudhakaran succeed where former KPCC chiefs, V M Sudheeran and Mullappally Ramachandran failed? Opinion is divided on the issue. There is a stream of thought which thinks that Sudhakaran will come up trumps as there has been a sea-change in the political situation. The Congress is facing the toughest test in its history. Things simply cannot go the way they have gone so far. The strategy will have to change. The party organization will have to be strengthened.
Sudhakaran is credited with the view that the Congress must go in for a semi-cadre party in the State. That way alone can the Congress counter the organizational might of the CPI(M). An essential prerequisite to achieving this is the taming of the groups. It is a decisive battle. And the last chance for the Congress to revive itself before the Lok Sabha elections. Failure to take corrective action will mean ruination of the party in Kerala, which is one of the few States where the Congress is still a force to reckon with and can hope to regain power.
Meanwhile, Sudhakaran’s stand that the CPI(M), not the BJP, is the main enemy of the Congress has caused a flutter in party circles. The CPI(M) has promptly grabbed the chance to savage Sudhakaran for his soft stance vis-à-vis BJP, which had sent feelers to him in the past. The CPI(M) has asked a pointed question: Does the Congress agree with what Sudhakaran said about the CPI(M) being the main enemy ? Sudhakaran’s stance is also at odds with that of leader of the opposition, VD Satheesan, who said the party’s top priority would be to fight the communal forces led by the BJP-RSS combine. The new KPCC chief’s stand will further alienate the Muslims from the Congress. It will also hamper the party’s efforts to bring back the minority voters who voted overwhelmingly for the CPI(M)-led LDF in the Assembly elections.
There is another school of thought which frowns upon Sudhakaran’s combative Kannur-style politics. It may have worked in the past. But that kind of confrontational politics has become a counterfeit coin even in Kannur. If Sudhakaran tries to practise it across the State, the party will suffer badly in the process, they fear. Sudhakaran’s priority, they think, should be to strengthen the party organization and reach out to the people. Mere channel politics would only deepen the disconnect with the people. Bluster and bluff won’t do. Sudhakaran must change his strategy to suit the party’s needs in the changed political milieu. (IPA Service)