From P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The uncharacteristic unity displayed by the constituents of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) to win the crucial Piravom by-election has vanished into the thin air. And the partners of the UDF are back at what they are best at doing: squabbling for the spoils of office.
The latest crisis, which is threatening the cohesion and stability of the UDF, is the face-off between the Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) over the grant of a fifth minister for the latter in the Kerala Cabinet; true, the knives have been sheathed and a ‘ceasefire’ imposed on the bickering partners by the leadership of both the parties. But the smouldering embers may leap to flame at the slightest provocation in the days to come.
Trouble erupted when the IUML, the second largest constituent of the UDF, unilaterally announced that its fifth minister will be sworn in along with Anoop Jacob, who won the crucial Piravom by-election. To be fair, to the IUML, it deserves a fifth ministerial berth based on its strength in the state Assembly. What caused resentment was the manner in which the IUML went about the delicate task, in the process threatening the cohesion and stability of the front.
The IUML declaration, in utter disdain of the coalition dharma, touched off a wave of indignation in the Congress camp. An emergency meeting of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), which discussed the issue, vehemently opposed the grant of a fifth ministerial berth to the IUML, on the ground that such a step would upset the delicate communal balance in the Cabinet. Out of the total strength of 21 in the state cabinet, as many as 12 ministers now belong to the minority communities.
The issue was referred to the Congress high command for the final decision. The high command, however, put the ball back to the court of the Congress in Kerala, asking it to ensure that the decision does not upset the cordial relations between the party and the IUML, an ally of over 30-year standing.
The leadership of the Congress in the state, in its ‘infinite wisdom’ decided to concede the IUML’s demand, opening a Pandora’s Box. The ill-thought out move incurred the strong wrath of the Congress leaders. The KPCC leadership as well as a large number of Congress leaders, including minister Aryadan Mohammed and MLA K Muralidharan, blasted the ‘abject surrender’ to the IUML’s intimidatory tactics.
A war of words ensued between the Congress and the IUML. When things threatened to reach the point of no return, leadership of both the parties intervened and imposed a ban on the statement war. But despite the uneasy truce, sporadic sniping between the leaders of the two parties continues unabated.
What is causing grave concern to the state congress leadership is the anger of community organizations like the Nair Service Society (NSS) and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, representing Nairs and Ezhavas respectively. Both the organizations have strongly denounced the Chandy Government’s unrelenting appeasement of the IUML to the detriment of the majority community. The indignation of the NSS and the SNDP may have a bearing on the Neyyatinkara by-election, likely to be held next month.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s efforts to assuage the anger of the NSS by reallocating crucial portfolios to the members of the majority community in the Cabinet has failed to have the desired effect. Both the NSS and the SNDP have dismissed it as a gimmick which won’t serve any purpose.
The portfolio reallocation decision was strongly opposed by KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala as well, sharpening group rivalries within the party. Ramesh went to the extent of complaining to the party high command that he was kept in the dark by the Chief Minister. A subsequent meeting between Chandy and Ramesh has not succeeded in erasing the trail of bitterness.
All said and done, two bad decisions have weakened the position of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, and severely damaged the credibility of the Congress in particular and that of the UDF Government in general . Another mistake by the CM may force the Vishala I group led by the KPCC chief to take things to the point of no return, forcing a change of guard. It is well and truly a wake-up call for the beleaguered Chief Minister. (IPA Service)