The jury is still out on whether Jose K Mani walked out of the United Democratic Front or the Congress-led alliance gave the boot to the Rajya Sabha member. The front may have left a little room for manoeuvre in case the newest Kerala Congress faction decides to toe the line.
The Kerala Congress (Jose K Mani), however, has decided to stand alone in Kerala politics without latching on to the Congress and its allies. What does it mean for the Congress? Losing one more ally was bad enough. In this case, the United Democratic Front has lost one more valuable seat in the Rajya Sabha. Losing two Rajya Sabha seats in two years is an unprecedented shock for the opposition front.
Rajya Sabha MP Jose K Mani led his loyalists out of the United Democratic Front two years after M P Veerendra Kumar switched to the CPM-led Left Democratic Front in 2018. While Veerendra Kumar’s Janata Dal opted to part ways with the Congress, Jose K Mani’s Kerala Congress was forced out of the alliance. Effectively, however, the United Democratic Front is short of two Rajya Sabha seats allotted to its smaller constituents.
Veerendra Kumar was gentleman enough to resign from Rajya Sabha before shifting his allegiance. Even K Karunakaran had forsaken a Rajya Sabha seat before leaving the Congress. Will Jose K Mani follow the principled stand when he ends his partnership with the Congress, which had given him the seat in a controversial decision?
Jose K Mani can always claim that he was expelled whereas Veerendra Kumar’s was a voluntary decision. However, that justification would fall flat if he ventures into a new partnership with the CPM-led Left Democratic Front. In case he decides to latch on to the BJP as some observers had already predicted, he would be causing a strange situation in which the ruling NDA gets a Rajya Sabha member with the votes of the Congress-led opposition.
For the United Democratic Front, it is a lose-lose situation. Jose K Mani got more than his due share when he was allowed to go to the Rajya Sabha. That seat was a bait for the Kerala Congress to remain with the alliance. The Kerala Congress was a significant ally in 2016 when K M Mani and P J Joseph worked together.
The Congress state leadership came under fire for gifting the party’s eligible seat to the Kerala Congress to bring them back to the fold. That costly investment has gone sour when the United Democratic Front convener called for a press conference to announce Jose K Mani’s expulsion.
The opposition leader later clarified that the front had only decided to keep the Jose K Mani faction out of top-level discussion forums of the front, as if the alliance leaders were not aware of the subtle differences between the two actions. The Congress was at its wit’s end with the adamant attitude of the Jose K Mani faction in compromise talks. Even Muslim League leader P K Kunhalikutty looked the other way after Jose K Mani refused to reply to his request to vacate the post of the Kottayam district panchayat president as previously agreed upon. Ironically, it was Kunhalikutty and other Muslim League leaders who had taken the initiative to persuade the Congress to let the Kerala Congress go to the Rajya Sabha.
If Jose K Mani sticks to his word to keep away from the United Democratic Front, Congress’ Kerala alliance would have only two members – A K Antony and P V Abdul Vahab – in the Rajya Sabha. Vayalar Ravi has been absent from Parliament for some time due to health related issues. Ravi, Vahab and K K Ragesh will complete their terms in next April. The Left Democratic Front is sure to get two of those seats if the election is held before the assembly election. That means, the United Democratic Front will have only two members to represent itself in the Rajya Sabha, provided Jose K Mani does not return to the fold by then.
That means a lower count than NDA’s Kerala unit comprising V Muraleedharan, Suresh Gopi and Alphons Kannanthanam, though the BJP leaders have been elected by other state assemblies.
The seat held by Veerendra Kumar may go to poll soon if the election commission notifies it. Even if Jose K Mani resigns as a Rajya Sabha MP, the United Democratic Front has little to do. The Left Democratic Front controls enough members in the Kerala legislative assembly to claim the two seats. The Left Democratic Front, which has only one member in the Lok Sabha, will have six representatives in the upper house. That tally might increase to seven in April. That would be a record for the Left Democratic Front.
The United Democratic Front has no one to blame but itself for the fiasco.