By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The time for tinkering is over. A quick surgery alone can save the Congress in Kerala, reeling under the twin setbacks it suffered within the space of 10 days.
First was the humiliating defeat the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) suffered in the Chengannur assembly by-election. This was followed by the crisis caused by the ‘gifting’ by the Congress of a Rajya Sabha seat to the Kerala Congress (Mani). The decision, taken by the triumvirate of former chief minister Oommen Chandy, Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala and KPCC president M M Hassan without taking the Political Affairs Committee or the KPCC executive into confidence has stirred a hornet’s nest. The sell-out to the KC(M) has created widespread resentment in the Congress, with leaders belonging to the dominant factions indulging in mud-slinging and trading charges and counter-charges.
Hell broke loose with the triumvirate giving the Rajya Sabha seat, being vacated by senior leader and deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha P. J. Kurien to the KC(M), which has since named Jose K Mani, currently Lok Sabha MP from Kottayam to the RS seat. Jose wanted a change as he is no more sure of retaining Kottayam in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The chorus of criticism created by the move was led by former KPCC chief V M Suddheeran, PC Chacko and Kurien himself. The latter went to the extent of accusing Oommen Chandy of hatching a conspiracy to deny him the seat. Suddheeran also launched a scathing attack against the party leadership, especially blaming Oommen Chandy for the sorry plight the Kerala unit of Congress finds itself in.
The gravamen of Sudheeran’s charge is that the gifting of the RS seat to KC(M) would result in the destruction of Congress in Kerala. He went hammer and tongs against the manner in which the decision was taken.
It is an open secret that Congress simply succumbed to the blackmailing tactics of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leader P K Kunhalikkutty, who insisted on the RS seat being given to KC(M). Failure to do so would lead to the exit of the IMUL from the UDF, warned the IUML leader. The Congress caved in, justifying the decision on the ground that it was needed to strengthen the UDF! The decision is in line with the policy of the national leadership of the Congress to accommodate regional parties in the broad front being formed against the BJP to fight the Lok Sabha elections.
Sudheeran also blamed the debacle in the 2016 assembly polls and the subsequent humiliation in Chengannur to rampant group politics being unabashedly practised by Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithla. He himself had to resign as KPCC chief due to virulent groupism and non-cooperation of Chandy and Chennithala, Sudheeran contended.
No doubt, Sudheeran has hit the nail on the head. Groupism has done incalculable damage to the party. Unless it is contained, the Congress show in the Lok Sabha polls would be dismal.
The ball is now in the court of the Congress High Command. The twin setbacks have provided it with a golden opportunity to set things right. The group managers are low on confidence; the ambience is right. The time to act is now.
The High Command must act with alacrity, shedding its inhibitions about taking drastic action. The need of the hour is a total revamp of the party organization, showing the group managers their place. They need to be cut to size if the Congress has to retain its political relevance. The earlier the exercise is undertaken, the better.
The group leaders, of course, counsel caution. They are also indulging in barely-veiled warning against ‘targeting’ their leaders.
But the High Command must ignore the warnings with the contempt they deserve and go ahead with the cleansing operation. Such a ‘surgical strike’ would be appreciated by the rank and file of the party, fed up with the antics and group feuds indulged in by the dominant factions.
The High Command must also ignore the clamour for action against Sudheeran for his open criticism. Sudheeran was not merely voicing his individual opinion; he was giving expression to the views and opinions of the ‘silent majority’ in the Congress, which is dead against group politics.
The Congress in Kerala boasts a good crop of young as well as experienced leaders who can rise to the occasion and rebuild the party. These leaders had been sidelined so far by the group managers. Once groupism is out of the way, leaders who do not belong to any group and who have a clean record must be brought to positions of power in the party. That is the only way the Congress can strengthen itself and act as the leader of the UDF.
At present, the party is literally dancing to the tune of the allies like IUML. The Congress must summon the courage to call the IUML bluff. That party must be told firmly: the days of caving in to your brinkmanship politics are over, and enough is enough. A leader capable of looking the allies without blinking is what the Congress needs. Will the High Command muster the courage to do so? Or will it play safe by allowing the status quo to prevail? The later course will be a disaster with calamitous consequences for the Congress. (IPA Service)