At the end of a week long political wrangling in and around AICC Headquarters and in houses of various senior national leaders in New Delhi, finally the Congress Kerala state leadership has wrapped up its candidate selection exercise on Tuesday.
The dramatic entries in the candidate list are K.Muraleedharan and Rajmohan Unnithan. The search for a tall leader to take on CPIM candidate P.Jayarajan in Vadakara ended with the Congress deciding to field former KPCC President K. Muraleedharan. In fact, the strong stand taken by KPCC president Mullappally Ramachandran in seat sharing talks, paved the way for Rajmohan Unnithan’s candidacy. Despite these unexpected entries, what makes the Congress candidate list controversial, is the conspicuous absence of K.V. Thomas, the former Union Minister and the incumbent MP of Ernakulam.
After flexing their muscles for a few days, the prominent groups in state’s Congress unit lead by former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala have agreed to be satisfied with equal number of seats. The bone of contention between the groups was the Wayanad seat. Due to the demise of sitting MP M.I. Shanawas , who belonged to the ‘I’ group, the party had to find a new face for Wayanad. In the seat sharing exercise Oommen Chandy staked claim for Wayanad seat and Ramesh Chennithala opposed it vehemently. Hard bargaining between these two senior leaders for a candidate of their choice, had reportedly held back the announcement of the Congress candidate list for two-three days. As per the final tally, the A group led by Oommen Chandy and the I group led by Ramesh Chennithala has got six seats each in their baskets.
Among the 16 Congress candidates, Adoor Prakash MLA (Attingal), Shanimol Usman (Alappuzha),Hibi Eden MLA (Ernakulam), K. Sudhakaran (Kannur), K.Muraleedharan MLA (Vadakara) and DCC President V.K. Sreekantan (Palakkad) are the I ‘group nominees.
Sitting MP Anto Antony (Pathanamthitta), Youth Congress president Dean Kuriakose (Idukki), UDF convenor Benny Behnan (Chalakudy), Remya Haridas (Alathur), sitting MP M.K.Raghavan (Kozhikode), T.Siddiq (Waynad) belong to A’ group. Former central minister, Dr.Shashi Tharoor (Thiruvananthapuram) is keeping equal distance to both groups. Another former Union Minister Kodikkunnil Suresh (Mavelikara), who once had strong ties with A’ group, is not keeping any group affiliation now .T.N.Prathapan (Thrissur) is known as an ardent supporter of V.M.Sudheeran and Rajmohan Unnithan owes his allegiance to Mullapally Ramachandran.
The difference of opinion between the senior leaders and the resultant deadlock in candidate selection process of Congress and BJP has given a head start to CPM lead Left Democratic Front (LDF). In fact, sealing the seat sharing in the LDF in time and choosing the candidates without delay helped LDF to gain an early bird advantage in the initial round of the Lok Sabha elections. After announcing its’ candidates on March 9th, LDF has so far completed its first round election campaign. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran are spearheading the campaign of LDF. They have decided to start the next round of electioneering by March 23rd.
Though , BJP is also yet to complete it’s candidate selection and seat sharing with Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) cadres have already started campaigning without waiting for BJP’s call. The RSS is planning to unleash a scathing attack on LDF Government for the stand taken on Sabarimala women entry issue. Apart from national issues, the BJP has decided to concentrate on Sabarimala issue in the electioneering, a top BJP functionary pointed out .
The infighting within the state BJP unit regarding the Pathanamthitta seat has reached new heights which came out in the open during the candidate selection process. The factional fight even in election times has provoked the RSS Kerala leadership and they have conveyed their opinion and displeasure over these squabbles to BJP National President Amit Shah.
The reluctance shown by the senior leaders such as A.I.C.C General Secretary (Organization) K.C. Venugopal, Former Chief Minister and A.I.C.C General Secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh Oommen Chandy and K.P.C.C President Mullappally Ramachandran to contest the Lok Sabha election has caused a lot of speculation and ambiguity among the party rank and file. I group which holds the legislative party leadership suspects that these leaders were planning to contest next Assembly elections.
Despite the hiccups and tussles during the candidate selection talks, the state Congress leadership has been able to present an array of prominent leaders, who enjoy mass support, in the candidate list. Besides the stalwarts and sitting MPs, Dr.Shashi Tharoor, P.K. Kunhalikutty, Kodikunnil Suresh, N.K.Premachandran and M.K.Raghavan, the presence of prominent leaders such as former K.P.C.C president K.Muraleedharan, K.P.C.C. working president K.Sudhakaran, U.D.F convenor Benny Behnan and former minister Adoor Prakash will give the U.D.F an added strength in the electoral battle –a Congress leader said. Another interesting thing is that Congress which criticised LDF for fielding six MLAs in the Lok Sabha election has also fielded three MLAs to the electoral fray. K.Muraleedharan (Vadakara) Adoor Prakash (Attingal) and Hibi Eden (Ernakulam) are the MLAs fielded by the UDF. One thing is clear that the C.PM –CPI leadership will use this double standard of U.D.F as a campaign point a CPM leader pointed out.
Though the banner of protest was raised by K.V. Thomas after being denied a ticket for re –election from Ernakulam has come down due to the intervention of Sonia Gandhi, the ripples created by him may reverberate for sometime. K.V. Thomas who expressed his discontent in public, went to the extent of saying that he was not air dropped. The state leadership should state his mistakes and he can’t be thrown away just like that. To a poser whether he would leave the party, K.V. Thomas replied that he would continue in politics. He added that his further course action will be decided after consulting his friends. These words of K.V. Thomas caused widespread speculation in the social media that he may quit Congress after former AICC secretary Tom Vadakkan. Anyway, there is enough chance of LDF and B.J.P using K.V. Thomas episode against Congress in election campaign.
The rumblings of discontent which erupted in the Kerala Congress (M) over the denial of candidature to its’ working chairman P.J.Joseph in Lok Sabha election has subsided for the time being but the revolt that occurred is learnt to have created serious repercussions in the Kerala Congress (M) party. P.J. Joseph had to drop his parliamentary aspirations at least for now, but the way he dealt with the situation has increased his acceptance in UDF, especially in Congress. But the fire that broke out over the Kottayam seat has not been doused completely. It may have some impact in Kottayam parliamentary constituency where P.C.Thomas, a former Kerala Congress leader is contesting as a NDA candidate.