By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The camp of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy is cock-a-hoop. Understandable. They have won another round in the tug-of-war between the camps of the Chief Minister and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee(KPCC) president, V. M. Sudheeran over the United Democratic Front(UDF) Government’s liquor policy(is it not a non-policy?).
After all, the CM has outsmarted – crow his loyalists – Sudheeran who has all along opposed what has been dubbed as the CM’s soft corner to the liquor lobby. Thirty out of the 39 MLAs supported the CM’s U-turn executed on the liquor policy. That has resulted in the splendid isolation of ‘spoiler’ Sudheeran in the party. The exercise has also sent a strong message to the Congress High Command, which has become a ‘commandless wonder’ following a series of electoral debacles. The message, according to the CM loyalists is: hands off the Kerala unit. We know how to handle the crisis without your intervention!
Sudheeran’s supporters, however, say there is nothing surprising about the MLAs’ support to the CM. After, all they know jolly well that they don’t have even the ghost of a chance of being back in the assembly in the event of an early election!
But once the hangover is over, what awaits the CM’s camp is the sobering reality: the total alienation of core supporters of the Congress and the UDF Government it leads. A recent survey has it that more than 96 per cent of women had enthusiastically supported the Government’s original liquor policy which had decided to close over 700 bars in the state. The subsequent somersault — the amended policy allows the closed bars to sell wine and beer — by the Government has shocked the women who have made no secret of their sense of outrage over the Government’s ‘surrender to the liquor lobby’. The wrath of women is all set to translate into anti-UDF votes in the upcoming local bodies elections next year and, more importantly, in the State Assembly elections due in 2016.
Equally ominous is the stern warning delivered by the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC). The KCBC has accused the Chandy Government of virtually handing over the State to the liquor lobby. Furious KCBC leaders have warned that the MLAs and leaders who have supported the sellout to the liquor lobby will have to pay a heavy political as well as electoral cost. The pro-liquor lobby MLAs will be forced to drink deep of the bitter cup of defeat in the upcoming elections. That is the crux of the strong signal beamed by the KCBC.
The Opposition, consisting of the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front(LDF) and the BJP have poured scalding scorn over the Chief Minister’s argument that the Government was forced to reverse the liquor policy after the suicide of 10 workers who lost their jobs following the closure of the bars! The claim is reprehensibly ridiculous and preposterously pathetic, thundered Leader of the Opposition, V. S. Achuthanandan. Where were the CM and his aides when as many as 19 Kerala State Road Transport Corporation(KSRTC) pensioners committed suicide, VS asks, adding that the ‘bleeding hearts’ were yet to hand over the solatium of Rs 10 lakh each to their families.
The fact, VS says, is that the CM has abjectly bowed to the bar owners’ blackmail and threat to expose more ministers – Congress ministers are also said to be among them – who had allegedly accepted bribes from bar owners. The disclosures would have resulted in the collapse of the thoroughly discredited Chandy Government. That is why Chandy has meekly accepted all the demands of the bar owners, VS points out.
If the Government was really blameless and had nothing to hide, as claimed by the UDF drummer boys, it should have looked the bar owners in the eye and dared them to come out with their damaging disclosures. None of the UDF leaders, the CM included, has shown the courage to stand up to the belligerent bar owners. All that they have done is scramble for cover with the tails tucked firmly between their legs, ridiculed by LDF leaders.
Meanwhile, KPCC chief Sudheeran has refused to budge from his firm stance despite the so-called isolation of his. If anything, the CM’s stratagem seems to have steeled his resolve to persist on the path of resistance to the Government’s wrong moves. The KPCC chief, who is known for spotlessly clean image and high credibility, has chosen to sound a note of warning to the CM. “Those who are around you when you are in power, will not be there when you lose it. That is what K. Karunakaran’s life has shown us,” Sudheeran said, adding that those who have power should not think that everything is under their control.
The hardening of the KPCC chief’s stance shows that he is in no mood to throw in the towel and go into a silent mode – a denouement the CM’s supporters had hoped for. Sudheeran’s supporters say he would rather resign from his post than give into the pressure tactics adopted by the CM and the Home minister who head the two most powerful groups – the A group and the I group respectively – in the party.
The Chief Minister’s camp is drawing comfort from the statement by Sonia Gandhi’s Political Secretary Ahmed Patel that the High Command would not approve of any stand that could destabilize the Chandy Government. An obvious reference to Sudheeran’s firm opposition to the surrender to the liquor lobby.
The boot, however, is on the other leg, Mr Patel. The destabilization process has been started, ironically, by the very people who are supposed to protect the government, through the shocking capitulation to the bar owners.
As for the so-called liquor policy of the Chandy Government, the less said the better. As a few cynics put it, the liquor policy, which was launched with the sole aim of outsmarting the KPCC chief who was the first to demand the closure of the bars in the state, is dead; long live the liquor policy!
In conclusion, it can be said without the fear of being contradicted: the Chandy Governments behaving typically like the Bourbons of Europe. We shall see nothing, and we will learn nothing!