Thiruvananthapuram: Those who thought the United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala will not have the courage to throw away one of the two factions of the Kerala Congress (Mani) were greatly mistaken.
The UDF and the state politics has now reached a turning point after the front decided to oust the Jose K Mani faction over the dispute on the presidency of Kottayam district panchayat.
The UDF decided to remove the faction from the alliance after it refused to vacate the panchayat presidency and give it to the Joseph faction as per an agreement on sharing the post.
The UDF’s decision to bite the bullet and choose one of the two factions highlights the fact that its leadership is still greatly haunted by the unexpected reversals it has suffered in Palai.
It believes that it lost the supremacy, which it had secured in the 2018 Lok Sabha elections by winning 19 of the 20 seats in the state, after the loss in the Palai in the Assembly bypoll held in 2019.
The UDF’s loss of grip on Mani’s Pala, which had stood with the front for five decades, has given the Left Democratic Front (LDF) the confidence that it can make inroads and win Congress bastions Vattiyoorkavu and Konni.
The UDF believes that the loss in Pala was the people’s way of saying that they will punish those who fight with each other. It felt it would have to suffer more losses if it did not put an end to the infighting in the Kerala Congress.
What the UDF expects
The UDF maintains that there is a possibility of Jose being allowed to remain in the alliance if he accepts the Front’s decision on the Kottayam district panchayat presidency. It, however, doesn’t expect him to stay in the UDF.
It believes that even if his path to join the LDF becomes clear, a group of leaders will be against his inclusion in the front.
The UDF hopes that its image will get a boost by sending out the strong message that it will not tolerate factionalism.
At the same time, there is concern that the alliance may lose votes in some strongholds of the Kerala Congress.
Mood in LDF camp
While the LDF feels that it may have to lure one of the factions of the Kerala Congress away from the UDF for it to succeed in the Assembly elections scheduled for next year, it did not expect things to pan out the way they did.
The LDF, which allowed Kerala Congress (Pillai), Democratic Kerala Congress, and Scaria Thomas factions into the alliance, will consider it an achievement if it can win over the Jose K Mani faction.
While the Front had won only one Lok Sabha seat in 2018, its tally will double through Thomas Chazikadan, who won the Lok Sabha seat from Kottayam in 2019, if the Jose faction reaches its camp.
Through the Mani faction, the LDF will also get a Rajya Sabha member and MLAs N Jayaraj (Kanjirapally) and Roshy Augustine.
It may, however, have to appease the CPI, which is against the Kerala Congress.
The options for Jose faction
After the loss of face due to the UDF’s decision to stick with the Joseph faction, it is unlikely that the Jose faction will remain in the Congress-led alliance.
It has commenced efforts to keep everyone together after what is being seen as an injustice caused by a hasty decision.
There is also the feeling that it should exact revenge on the UDF by getting a ministership in the current LDF dispensation.
However, there is doubt over its ability to win back the Pala seat, currently held by the NCP, in the next Assembly elections.
The faction can have a Union minister if it allies with the BJP-led NDA or the National Democratic Alliance. However, that may not be possible since the right-wing alliance doesn’t expect to benefit much from the faction in the Assembly elections.
If the Jose K Mani group goes out of the UDF, the UPA will lose two Parliament members.
It will be without the Rajya Sabha member, Jose K. Mani, and Lok Sabha representative Thomas Chazikadan.
Expulsions are rare
While there have been many instances of small parties leaving an alliance in Kerala due to the unilateral decisions of the main party, the expulsion of a unit from a front has been rare.
The NCP was excluded from the LDF a few years ago when it allied with the BJP.
When infighting in the Kerala Congress PC Thomas group heightened, the CPM was ready to expel Thomas from the LDF.
The UDF’s previous strong action was in 2005, when it kept the Kerala Congress (Pilliai) and Jacob factions out of the cabinet after appointing Ooomen Chandy as the chief minister instead of AK Anthony.
LDF in wait and watch mode
Thiruvananthapuram: Even though the LDF has not given any indication that it will admit the Jose K Mani faction in the alliance, there could be discussions to explore the possibility.
The CPM would want to take advantage of the widening cracks in the UDF and will also consider the fact that it would get two MPs and MLAs by accepting the Jose K Mani faction in its fold.
At the same time, the LDF also doubts that the UDF’s decision could be a strategy to tame the two factions of the Kerala Congress to make them stay together in the alliance.
In politics, nothing is constant and actions are based on circumstance prevailing at any given time, said chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. “Let them first make their stance clear. We will take a decision based on the unfolding situation. It is also to be seen if they are eligible to join the LDF. We have not reached a stage where we should be looking at that,” he said.
When it was pointed out to him that the BJP-led alliance was also trying to lure Jose K Mani faction, he said that party should not be portrayed as having no stand.
There is the possibility of the Jose K Mani faction holding discussions with the UDF, let the situation clear up, said CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.
It is not yet time to decide if the door should be opened or closed for the Jose faction, said LDF convenor A Vijayaraghavan. “Let the faction first make its stand clear and then we will respond,” he said.