The present turbulence in the Congress's Kerala unit, triggered by the high command's ambitious restructuring process, can have far-reaching ramifications.
In what was hitherto unthinkable, the party's newly appointed leadership has clipped the wings of the Oommen Chandy-Ramesh Chennithala power axis, which had a major say in all the organisational matters in the party's state unit, as leaders of two rival factions.
The new state leadership, headed by Pradesh Congress Committee president K Sudhakaran and Leader of the Opposition V D Satheesan, has signalled they would not want any impediment in their efforts to revive the party.
The side-lining of the two veterans, with the tacit support of the Congress high command, is an attempt to purge factionalism in the Congress's state unit.
The writing on the wall
The reaction by both Chandy and Chennithala against the manner in which District Congress Committee (DCC) presidents were appointed was quite expected. The unexpected was the sharp retort of Sudhakaran and Satheesan in response.
Chandy and Chennithala, through their proxies or group managers, have been sulking for weeks over the appointment of the DCC presidents, something they considered their prerogative as the leaders of the 'A' and 'I' factions of the party.
This time, they were consulted but not allowed to give the final say. The result is that the new DCC chiefs, even though they belong to either 'A' or 'I' factions, cannot be truly called representatives of the two factions.
Most of them were handpicked by Sudhakaran, Satheesan and other senior leaders in their home turfs.
Chandy was left with only Kottayam, while Chennithala managed to get his nominee appointed in Alappuzha at the last minute.
The writing on the wall was clear.
The immediate rebuttal of the charges raised by Chandy and Chennithala by Sudhakaran and Satheesan made it more evident.
“The public reaction by Sudhakaran and Satheesan challenging a leader like Oommen Chandy was, to be frank, unexpected,” a senior loyalist of Chandy told Onmanorama.
“Sudhakaran and Satheesan, with the blessings of (AICC general secretary) K C Venugopal, betrayed the senior leaders,” the former minister, said.
Ever since it became evident that the new leadership was snubbing the Chandy-Chennithala duo in the restructuring process, key players of their factions have been peddling the theory that the Sudhakaran-Satheesan-Venugopal trio has been nurturing a group of their own in the name of dismantling factionalism in the state unit. Asked if the latest developments have threatened the existence of the traditional group structures in the party, the former minister said, “some leaders have changed their loyalties, but our support base is intact.”
As of now, there is no way to gauge the leader's claim about the “support base” remaining intact.
There is no election nearby. Nor do we see any protest on the streets. Sudhakaran has effectively silenced the critics wielding the sword of discipline in an unusual way.
Senior leaders K P Anilkumar and K Sivadasan Nair were suspended immediately after they questioned the selection process of the DCC chiefs.
P S Prasanth, a Congress candidate in the April assembly polls, was expelled from party as he shot off a letter to the high command terming Venugopal 'a BJP agent'.
Change in group equations
Though the Chandy loyalist claimed 'only a few leaders have shifted allegiance', from the responses of several senior leaders, it is evident that the foundations of the group structures in the Congress's state unit have collapsed.
The ‘A’ faction leaders who have questioned the outrage by Chandy and Chennithala include Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, P T Thomas and Kodikkunnil Suresh.
The new leadership could make a dent in the ‘A’ group even before the DCC rejig by making PT Thomas and T Siddique KPCC working presidents.
“Thomas has never been active in ‘A’ group. Thiruvanchoor must have shifted loyalty as Chandy did not support his bid to become leader of the opposition or PCC president,” the former minister said.
An MP from central Kerala, who used to be associated with the ‘A’ faction, told Onmanorama that he would stand by the new leadership.
“When there's a leadership change, we have to accept that. I have stopped functioning as part of a group after I became an elected representative. I know I got votes from both the factions,” the MP said.
All the three top leaders — Sudhakaran, Satheesan and Venugopal — who now call the shots in the party were earlier associated with the 'I' group.
K Muraleedharan, the former PCC president and son of K Karunakaran who was with the 'I' group, also backs the new leadership.
In other words, Chennithala, the former leader of the opposition who has been heading the 'I' group after Karunakaran, looks isolated even though Chandy may be supporting him going by the principle that 'enemy’s enemy is a friend'.
Only a few top leaders like Joseph Vazhakkan is standing by Chennithala at the moment. Senior leaders Sooranad Rajasekharan and Rajmohan Unnithan have raised their voice against him. Reports say Chennithala's open revolt against the new leadership has even harmed the chances of him getting a key post in the upcpoming AICC restructuring.
A source close to a young Congress MLA said the general feeling among a large section of party workers is that the current crisis was the need of the hour.
“Something like this was bound to happen. Only then the party could be unshackled from the clutches of factional politics. The current slug-fest will end soon,” the source said.
If the responses of party workers on social media are anything to go by, it is evident that a large section of Congress workers, who have been demoralised with the party's dismal performance in the assembly polls, are totally unhappy with the posturing of the Chandy-Chennithala duo against the attempts to revive the party.
Congress supporters are mincing no words to slam Chandy and Chennithala on social media.
But will the party’s revival mission reach a logical conclusion or wither midway? Only the time will tell.