By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The more things change, the more they remain the same. This seems to be very true in the case of the Congress party in Kerala.
The spectacular victory in the Thrikkakara assembly by-election had given a big boost to the party, which has been languishing under a slew of electoral setbacks. The party certainly seemed to be on a comeback trail.
But the euphoria has all but evaporated into thin air with signs of groupism back. The leadership of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president came under attack at a recent meeting of the party office-bearers held in Thiruvananthapuram. Ironically, the first salvo was fired by none other than the Leader of the Opposition, V D Satheesan, who said that the momentum generated by the Thrikkakara victory has been lost. This was interpreted as a direct attack on Sudhakaran. It may be mentioned that differences between Sudhakaran and Satheesan, simmering for a long time, now seem to have come out into the open.
As if on cue, leaders owing allegiance to AICC secretary in charge of organization, K C Venugopal, launched a broadside against Sudhakaran. Satheesan is known to belong to the newly-formed Venugopal faction. Prominent among the leaders who criticized Sudhakaran were state general secretaries Prathapavarma Thampan, Pazhakulam Madhu, MM Nazeer and Deepti Mary Verghese. The enthusiasm of the rank and file, which was visible in the wake of the Thrikkakara victory has all but evaporated. This was the crux of the criticism levelled by these leaders.
At the receiving end of the criticism, Sudhakaran promised to address the concerns of the leaders. But Sudhakaran blamed it all on the delay in organizational elections, on which he was very keen. Incidentally, the list of office-bearers forwarded by the Kerala leadership was rejected by the Congress High Command. The reason: the list failed to go by the directions of the Udaipur Chintan shivir to include more representatives from youth and women.
Accordingly, as many as 104 members belonging to these two categories have been added to the list, it is learnt. The general impression was that the list of 280 was dominated by the two groups headed by former chief minister Oommen Chandy and former leader of the opposition Ramesh Chennithala – a distinct sign that the group rivalry in Congress is back again with a bang. There was also a demand that more Kerala Students Union (KSU) and Youth Congress leaders should be included in the general council list which would elect the party president.
As if all this was not enough, senior party leader and Lok Sabha MP K. Muralidharan made no secret of his disillusionment with the way things are being managed by the current state party leadership. Muralidharan saw attempts by interested parties to push the Congress into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU)! He lamented that the unity which was on show during the Thrikkakara by-election has become a thing of the past, to the chagrin of the rank and file. Unfortunately, now, groups are back in action and party positions are being cornered by them once again. This will have a disastrous effect on the party’s efforts to wrest power from the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government in the State.
In another interesting development, the KPCC chief has sprung a surprise – an ugly one for a section of senior Congress leaders – by ordering a special external audit of the party’s bank account. This is the first time in 15 years the Congress in the state has decided to go in for an auditing of accounts.
Sudhakaran took this decision, which cannot but create uneasiness among a few leaders, after it came to light that bank accounts have been diverted to another five to seven accounts, which are not in the knowledge of the party president! The unusual step is being construed as Sudhakaran’s way of getting even with his detractors in the party. Aimed at ensuring greater transparency, the step forms part of Sudhakaran’s much-trumpeted efforts to see the party evolving into a semi-cadre set-up. The auditing is also expected to look into the distribution of funds in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
The High Command, reports have it, received a few complaints in the allocation of funds. It may be remembered that the then leadership of the state unit of the Congress had come under fire in this connection. The candidates were angry over being divided into three categories. For instance, candidates belonging to the lowest category were aggrieved that funds given to them were insufficient. Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear. With this deft move, Sudhakaran has put his critics in the party on the back foot. An unfortunate corollary of it all would be the revival of groupism, which the High Command had hoped to end with the installation of the Sudhakaran-Satheesan duo.
How this drama will play out in the days to come remains to be seen. The recrudescence of group rivalries is not good for the party, which is on a comeback trail. Unless the High Command intervenes, the situation may go beyond control, to the detriment of the Congress, which is still a force to be reckoned with in the State. (IPA Service)