The demise of Kerala Congress (Mani) supremo KM Mani throws up a series of not-so-easily surmountable problems to the party.
It will have to find a replacement for Mani which is going to kick up a fresh row as the transfer of power to Mani's son Jose K Mani, Rajya Sabha member, as desired by the late leader, will see strong infighting signals of which were visible during the candidate selection for the Kottayam seat.
A new leader for the legislature party will have to be finalised and finally the candidate for the Pala Assembly seat by-election. While these two can be put off to a later date, the selection of the new party chairman would have to be done immediately. This will also decide the future of the party.
Mani had been ruling the party unquestioned for aeons. While he made attempts to see that the supremo’s post could be transferred to his son, bickerings came to the fore last month itself when the selection of candidate for the Kottayam seat, allotted to it by the UDF, came up.
Party working chairman PJ Joseph demanded the seat even threatened to contest from Idukki as an independent as Mani unanimously announced the candidature of his trusted lieutenant Thomas Chazhikkadan. Joseph had at one time got the support of a section of the Congress which felt snubbed at the earlier allotment of the Rajya Sabha seat to Mani's son Jose K Mani, who represented Kottayam in the Lok Sabha. Mani had ensured his son a 'safe’ six-year term in the Upper House.
A miffed Joseph was placated by the Congress. Insiders said that with Mani being ill, the reins of the Kerala Congress would finally fall on him. It remains to be seen how the seasoned Joseph will handle the demand of Jose for the chairman post of the party with a quite strong base in Central Travancore.
The other issue would be to selecting the parliamentary party leader. Jose supporters expect to make Joseph the leader and this could pave the way for Jose taking over as party chairman and ensuring that the party leadership does not go out of the family.
With Mani's demise, there will be the by-election for Pala, a seat the supremo held for over five decades. If a member of the Mani family, even if it were Jose's wife, who at one time was said to be considered for the Kottayam Lok Sabha seat, the Mani family can keep the party under its wings.
All decisions, according to party sources, would be taken after the elections. But given the 'promise' made by even UDF partners to Joseph when he raised the flag of rebellion, post-election, the going may not be smooth. It remains to be seen if the Kerala Congress goes by it cult of ‘splitting only to go stronger’.