Kerala Congress (Mani) faction led by Jose K Mani has been suspended from the UDF on Monday for refusing to hand over the post of the Kottayam District Panchayat president to the P J Joseph faction.
“They don't deserve to be in the UDF,” UDF convenor Benny Behanan said, announcing the decision to keep the Jose K Mani faction out of the UDF.
Behanan said that there was an understanding that the nominee of the Jose K Mani faction would step down as Kottayam District Panchayat president and make way for the Joseph faction's nominee. “Even when there was an understanding, they publicly denied such an agreement existed,” Behanan sad.
He said the UDF steering committee meeting would be held on July 1 to discuss further action. “We have not invited the Jose K Mani faction to the meeting,” he said.
Even a week ago, top UDF leaders including former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Muslim League leader P K Kunhalikutty had held discussions with both the factions. Chandy, who had reportedly worked the hardest to keep the Jose K Mani faction in the UDF, said on June 22 that he had requested Jose K Mani to hand over the president's post to the rival faction.
Chandy said other issues were raised by both the factions but made it clear that they would be taken up only after the Jose K Mani faction stepped down from the president's post.
The other issues related to the sharing of wards between the two factions for the coming local body polls expected in October-November.
However, the Mani faction refused to budge. They said there were such sharing arrangements in other local bodies, but not in Kottayam. The faction said they had honoured their promises in other areas. For instance, its members had voted for Joseph's nominee as president in Kanjirappally Block Panchayat on June 22, the day Chandy held talks with them.
The UDF leaders, on the other hand, insist that Kottayam District Panchayat was also part of the compromise formula worked out by the UDF leadership in July 2019. It was on the basis of this understanding that Jose K Mani's nominee Sebastian Kulathungal was elected president of the Kottayam District Panchayat on July 25. He got 14 votes in the 22-member panchayat.
As per the compromise, Kulathungal had to hand over the post after eight months, allowing the Joseph faction to hold the post for he remaining six months. The Mani faction was given a longer period because it had four members. The Joseph faction had just two.
The Mani faction can retain the 22-member panchayat if it gets the support of the LDF that has eight members in the panchayat; CPM – 6, CPI – 1 and Congress (S) – 1.