Mohammed Shiyas, the newly appointed District Congress Committee (DCC) president of Ernakulam, has a huge task.
But the 44-year-old Congressman, known for his organisational skills, had to endure such daunting challenges throughout his political career.
He takes the reins of the party in its traditional stronghold at a time when the political fabric of the district has been undergoing a silent change. Not just the CPM, the Congress in Ernakulam also has to battle new-age political outfits like Twenty20 and V4 Kerala.
A native of Aluva, Shiyas started his political career through the Kerala Students Union (KSU) as its state treasurer.
He then became the secretary and general secretary of the Youth Congress and was a DCC vice president for the past seven years.
Shiyas's name was almost confirmed as the DCC president in Ernakulam from an initial stage even though the selection process of other district Congress chiefs in Kerala was mired in various disputes. The most favourable factor for Shiyas was the absolute support given to him by Leader of the Opposition V D Satheesan. There was not much opposition to Satheesan's pick in his home district.
But then it was no surprise as he had proved his organisational and leadership skills in several instances earlier.
The hurriedly organised protest against the citizenship laws was only one among them.
“It was almost midnight when I got a call from the then leader of the opposition Ramesh Chennithala. He wanted us to organise a protest against the citizenship laws at the earliest. I contacted local leaders and youth in various parts of the district and some 80 Congressmen were on the street immediately. I knew whom to call and how to arrange the partymen. I have been maintaining a friendly relation with party ranks and files for several years,” Shiyas told Onmanorama, as we caught him up at the DCC office a day after he took charge.
The VDS school
Shiyas had been at the forefront of Congress's protests in Ernakulam since his college days.
The protests against lottery mafia, the evacuation of the people from Moolampilly, fees issues in the self financing sector and illegal drugs stamped his abilities as a political organiser.
So is the Satheesan factor behind his appointment?
“I belong to the V D Satheesan school of politics. I'm a great admirer of the way he studies an issue and practices politics. He has been a guiding force throughout my political career. Due recognition was eluding Satheesan for long despite being a top performer, but he never looked disappointed,” Shiyas, who imbibed the art of perseverance from Satheesan, said.
No more groupism
Like Satheesan, he has also shed his group affiliations.
“I used to be a part of the I group in Congress. I'm no more a part of the group. Groups can survive only when the party is there. After the assembly election results came, I'm haunted by the fear that what will happen to my party for which I invested the whole of my teenage and youthfulness. I think this fear is shared by all the youngsters and the older generation in the party. Only a few standing in between the two generations have a different line of thinking. They want to see the gain of their groups even at the cost of the party,” Shiyas said.
Asked about the immediate plans for strengthening the party in Ernakulam, Shiyas stressed the need to impart intense political training to the supporters.
He said the KPCC leadership's plans to give political education to the cadre and improve the party's clout in the grassroots level through neighbourhood committees will be implemented aggressively in the district.
“Ernakulam is both a city and an agrarian region. The people of these two areas need to be addressed differently when it comes to politics. The rise of apolitical outfits among both the urban crowds and the people of the eastern region of the district is a matter of concern. We have to expose them. Also, our support base among the coastal areas has been eroding of late. We have to regain the confidence of the people there,” he said.
The immediate challenge before the new DCC is the crisis in the Thrikkakara municipality, where the Congress-led administration is facing a collapse following the alleged Onam gift scam.
The crisis played out after a section of councillors belonging to the opposition LDF alleged municipal chairperson Ajitha Thankappan tried to bribe them with Rs 10,000 each in the guise of an Onam gift.
Shiyas, as DCC vice president, was part of an internal Congress committee that probed the allegations.
“We are convinced that the charges against the chairperson are baseless. The entire episode was politically motivated and the factional feud within the Congress also played a part in it. We are confident that we will sort the issues out soon,” he said.
Now, Shiyas would have to revive the clout of Congress in the district, once considered a party bastion, and do a balancing act by taking along all the warring factions to achieve this goal.