Who will lead Congress in Kerala? Political riddle remains unanswered

Tariq Anwar

The Congress's search for a new head for the party's Kerala unit (Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee - KPCC) is continuing even as K Sudhakaran's name has emerged as the front-runner for the key post.

Tariq Anwar, AICC general secretary in charge of Kerala, has been consulting Congress MPs and MLAs and other senior leaders about the appointment of a new KPCC president in the wake of the party's dismal performance in the recent assembly elections.

Mullappally Ramachandran has already expressed his willingness to vacate the post after the central leadership made it clear that they want a change.

The appointment of V D Satheesan as the Leader of the Opposition, despite Ramesh Chennithala’s claim to retain the post even with the support of Oommen Chandy, was proof of the party high command's stance.

Tariq Anwar on Monday evening told Onmanorama that no name has been finalised. He said the matter was still under discussion.

A senior KPCC office-bearer said Anwar was supposed to consult all MPs and MLAs of the party and KPCC working presidents and vice-presidents besides the members of the political affairs committee.

The selection of the KPCC president has become a political riddle with new names of probables emerging everyday. While Sudhakaran's name has been doing the rounds since the beginning, there were also speculations that the AICC may pick a senior leader like Oommen Chandy or Ramesh Chennithala for the top job. While Oommen Chandy has repeatedly said that he was not ready to take up the post, Chennithala has not made any public response. K Muraleedharan, another top name in the air, has asked the media not to drag his name.

Sudhakaran's pros and cons

Sudhakaran, the Kannur MP, stands a good chance to be picked for the post in the present situation. There is a general feeling among the ranks and files that he can energise the party machinery at a time when it has lost confidence with the defeat in the two consecutive assembly polls.

The party has won in perception building with the appointment of the vibrant Satheesan as the Leader of Opposition and bringing in someone like Sudhakaran would help in keeping the momentum, according to those supporting the Kannur strongman.

However, Sudhakaran is not acceptable to everyone in the party top brass. It's learned that the outgoing PCC Chief Mullappally Ramachandran, Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala are not in favour of Sudhakaran.

At 73, Sudhakaran is still known for his vibrancy and bravado. Over the years, he has built an image of someone who fights the CPM nail and tooth in its Kannur fortress. Sudhakaran minces no words when it comes to criticising CPM leaders, especially those from Kannur. While this habit has earned him a fanbase among party cadres across the state, it has also harmed his and the party's image too at times.

Ahead of the assembly elections a controversy had erupted after he addressed Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan as a 'toddy tapper's son'. His misogynistic comments are also haunting him. During the assembly election campaign, he made a statement that Congress workers and leaders may go to BJP if the party cannot come to power. This was widely used by the Left front in their campaign.

Due recognition for K Muraleedharan?

If the AICC's aim is to revitalise the organisation, Muraleedharan could be a better choice. Son of former chief minister K Karunakaran, Muraleedharan is playing a renewed political innings after going through his ups and downs in the party. A former KPCC president, he was once ousted from the party after he along with his father abandoned the outfit to float their own party. He was taken back after his political experiment failed utterly and had to remain a mute spectator in the party for years. However, Muraleedharan has regained the confidence of the central leadership and the party workers with his perseverance. He became a hero in 2019 with his decision to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Vadakara constituency against CPM strongman P Jayarajan. He won the polls. Again, he saved the face of the party earlier this year by daring to contest the assembly polls from Nemom, the lone constituency held by the BJP in the previous polls. Congress had been accused of handing over the constituency to a minor ally and paving way for the BJP's win in 2016. Though he couldn't wrest the seat, Muraleedharan's candidature turned out to be a key reason for the defeat of BJP in the seat this time.

Muraleedharan is acceptable to party leaders as well as allies.

P C Vishnunadh as surprise choice?

Reports suggested that young legislator P C Vishnunadh's name is also among the probables. Vishnunadh has made a strong comeback to parliamentary politics defeating former minister Mercykutty Amma at her home constituency of Kundara.

Vishnunadh is 43 and if he is picked for the post, it would indeed be a generational shift in Congress leadership in Kerala. However, at the moment it seems to be unlikely. The high command would be preferring an experienced leader who can handle the faction-ridden party hierarchy and allies.

Working presidents K V Thomas and Kodikkunnil Suresh were also discussed as probable names in the initial stage, along with senior leaders like K C Joseph, Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan and P T Thomas. Suresh had even publicly claimed his eligibility for the post. However, all these names have been ruled out.

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