After ardent appeals, humble requests, intentions, persuasions and mild threats the warring leaders P.J. Joseph and Jose K. Mani agreed rather reluctantly on the Kerala nominee to Pala constituency. The assembly seat there is vacant in the Kerala Assembly after the demise of veteran Kerala leader, late K.M. Mani who represented the constituency for over five decades without any break. After his death, the senior leader P.J.Joseph leader of the Kerala Congress (M) and Jose K. Mani, son of late K.M. Mani have been making no holds barred efforts to take over the party. But both could not succeed and the issue of nomination of party candidate from Pala came to a breaking point.
Parting of ways in Kerala Congress (M) on the seat issue would have been a major setback to the UDF as such a contest would have led to definite vote split which would have made the position of the UDF candidate rather dismissal. After all, the LDF candidate, Mani C. Kappan, who was the main opponent against K.M. Mani in the last election, lost only for a little over 4000 votes. UDF leaders were aware of the precarious situation today, though it could register a resounding victory in the recent Lok Sabha polls. They knew that the threatened vote split within the Kerala Congress (M) could make the prospects of the UDF’s candidate rather dismal.
In the past few weeks, UDF veterans were burning the mid night oil with the defiant leaders, Joseph and Jose, to work out a compromise. The task was not simple as the two were adamant. On Sunday after considering many permutations and combinations, the two were forced to agree to a formula in which the two had to accept a give and take attitude. But interpretations by political circles felt that it was just patchwork as the two leaders continue to harbor inimical feelings for giving up their rather “just” demands, which may adversely affect their political position, prestige and honor in the long run.
P.J. Joseph’s main demand was that Jose K.Mani’s wife, Nisha should not be the party candidate as she had poor winnability . Joseph’s other demand was that he should allot the symbol of the party nominee and that a senior leader of the party should be the candidate, aiming at total control of the party and settling the leadership issue once and for all.
For Jose K. Mani, to keep the constituency within the family was a sentiment. He tried for Nisha’s candidature in the LS election time too but had to retreat fast due to formidable opposition from many quarters. To be fair, Nisha was not at all keen on entering the political fray though she is well-versed with the movements of political Chaturang played in Kerala. Jose K.Mani’s first option was to contest the seat and reinforce the hold over Kerala Congress (Mani) and keep the constituency with the family forever. He too wanted that he should allot the symbol in the initial negotiations so that Joseph can be kept at a respectful distance from managing the party founded by his father.
But on Jose contesting from Pala, the UDF leaders were vociferously opposed to. They were justified too. His contest from Pala and successful outcome would have meant his quitting from the Rajya Sabha. Such a situation would have enabled the CPIM to get another member in the Upper House as the UDF at present do not enjoy enough presence in the Kerala Assembly to elect a nominee to the elders’ house. There were some in the UDF who felt that Nisha Jose ‘s winnability was not certain, though Pala is a pocket burrough of Kerala Congress (M) and going by the LS poll mood, the UDF ‘s too. Aware of the opposition from UDF, Jose K. Mani in secret parleys started searching for an alternate candidate and finally found one: a grand old loyalist of Mani family, Jose Tom Pulikunnel (Tigerhill, roughly translated). What is more, he was suspended from Kerala Congress (M) for anti party activities and consequent indiscipline by P.J. Joseph a few days ago, which would also mean an insult and fitting reply for denying Nisha ‘s candidature. Jose Tom, an M A, LL B, and a committed party member was a known figure there. Jose agreed to dropping the name of Nisha, but put forward the name of Jose Tom and insisted that the decision on the allotment of the symbol should be left to the UDF leadership, who should study the constitution of the Kerala Congress (M) and take a decision. UDF felt that the formula can be tried and put forcefully which did not give an escape route to Joseph with the nomination getting closer, and the fact that the LDF nominee, Mani C. Kappan has already filed his nomination and started campaigning in right earnest.
Though two rival faction leaders agreed to the formula with reservations, Joseph has reasons to be unhappy. For the nominee, Jose Tom Pulikunnel, was suspended by Joseph. And the right to decide on who should allot symbol is left to the UDF, which again is questioning Joseph’s claims. What is worse, talking to newspersons Pulikunnel said that he is not bothered about the symbol as his symbol in fact would be late K.M. Mani. And he hinted that he can contest without the two leaf symbol of Kerala Congress (M). Sporting a rather sarcastic smile, he pointed out that the symbol is only a formality to be complied with in an election.
After the meeting when Joseph was asked his assessment of the election he said rather curtly “it is an election”. He will abide by the UDF decision. About symbol allotment he said that he waiting for UDF’s decision. If he is not given the authority to allot the symbol there could be problem some feel. In any case speculation is on that it would not be easy for Joseph and his group to campaign for Pulikunnel, who is under suspension. One thing is certain Kerala Congress (M) is not united as it was during the last assembly election or in the LS election in which Joseph, a senior veteran with a following in the area, took part in the campaign with full commitment. For the UDF constant vigil to keep the two warring camp together in the campaign is called for to put up a credible image before the electorate. For in both the camps there are many with bad temper and hurt sentiments to maintain equanimity.
One comforting thought for the forces opposed to LDF is that Pinaryi Vijayan has said that there is no change in its Sabarimala policy which may alienate a large number of Ayyappa devotees from the LDF camp. One is not sure whether it will benefit the UDF or the BJP. One is also not sure whether the statement of Pinarayi that the election will be a verdict on his government would have an impact on the electorate. There are many who are opposed to the state government and supporting too. The fact that BJP has decided to put up its own candidate may have an impact in the Hindu votes in the Constituency. How the Pala electorate will respond to the petty and nauseating quarrels between the two Kerala Congress (M) leaders is also a factor which cannot be ignored. For the LDF the strong factor in favour is its popular candidate, Mani C. Kappan. Given the scenario it is not necessary that the voters’ mood in the constituency is that of the one during the Lok Sabha elections, though only a few months have passed.