Kerala’s new Congress chief K Sudhakaran: Pinarayi Vijayan's arch-rival & party’s crowd-puller

Congress disciplinary panel to check Sudhakaran's remarks on Pinarayi

K Sudhakaran's appointment as the Congress party's Kerala chief at the age of 73 could not be considered a generational shift. But it signals a change in the party's style of functioning. In Sudhakaran, the state unit of the grand old party, which suffered a humiliating defeat in the recent Assembly poll, gets a face of aggression. 

Sudhakaran's political identity is that of an arch-rival of the CPM, especially its Kannur wing. His rivalry with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan started during their student days at Government Brennen College, Thalassery. The tale of enmity has now assumed the proportions of a local saga. 

Calls for making Sudhakaran the KPCC chief have been reverberating in the Congress circles for long. Every time a president stepped down, his name kept coming up as the frontrunner for the post. However, each time, he missed the post for the obvious reason that there were many who wanted to stop him from occupying the top post.  

Sudhakaran now replaces Mullapally Ramachandran who was forced to step down after the poll debacle.

Strengthening the party

Sudhakaran is anti-CPM to the core. He is the Congress's antithesis to the CPM's muscle power in Kannur. Sudhakaran's top appointment is sure to bring back discussions on his alleged involvement in the murder of Nalpadi Vasu and a murder attempt on CPM leader E P Jayarajan. The simple logic behind the AICC's choice of Sudhakaran must be that he can pump in some much-needed energy to the party machinery at a time when the cadre's confidence is at its lowest point. 

By picking Sudhakaran, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) has once again made it clear that it is no more willing to entertain the factional feud between Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala. 

But, then, that was the same logic behind picking V M Sudheeran and Mullappally, the two previous presidents, too. Both the experiments failed as factionalism flourished. 

This time there's a difference though. Unlike Sudheeran and Mullappally, Sudhakaran is a mass leader. He has a fan base among party supporters across the state.  His appointment is sure to make them happy and active. This may help Sudhakaran to strengthen or rebuild the organisation in areas where it is weak. It seems the central leadership wants to tap into Sudhakaran's crowd-pulling skills to rejuvenate the party in the state.

Risk factor

With Sudhakaran at the helm, Congress is also taking a risk. Sudhakaran is no V D Satheesan. Satheesan's appointment as opposition leader helped the party earn some quick points in perception building. Even Congress' hardcore opponents had nothing much to attack Satheesan. Sudhakaran, on the other hand, comes with the baggage of a series of controversies and controversial remarks. His personal attacks on Pinarayi Vijayan has done more harm to the party than good. More than once, he has made statements that prove his sense of gender equality has not been updated. He was among the first Congress leaders who played up the controversy over the Sabarimala verdict. His pre-poll remark about a possible exodus of Congress workers to the BJP earned the party much ridicule. 

Still, the AICC has gone for what could be termed a gamble because the election results have made it clear that change is inevitable. There were reports about AICC's plan to make Sudhakaran the PCC chief ahead of the assembly polls. However, the factional leaders stopped the attempt to convince the high command that a leadership change amid the campaigning could create confusion among the party ranks and files. 

Political career

A native of Nadal in Kannur, Sudhakaran started his political career as the taluk president of the Kerala Students Union, Congress' student body. He didn't stay in Congress. He fought two elections on the Janata Party's ticket before returning to Congress.

He became the Kannur District Congress Committee president through an election in 1991. He went on to occupy posts like KPCC executive committee member, general secretary and political affairs committee member. In 2018, he was made one of the three working presidents of the KPCC when Mullappally was appointed the president. 

He has contested 10 elections, both to the assembly and parliament. He was elected thrice to the assembly. In 2001, he became the minister for forests and sports in the A K Antony-led cabinet. 

He contested to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 2009 when he was an MLA. Though he won the election, he lost the Lok Sabha polls in 2014. In 2019, he contested the Lok Sabha again at the insistence of the High Command. He won the polls from the Kannur constituency by a margin of 94,559 votes.

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