Twenty years after he quit the Congress, Cherian Philip is set to return to the party. An award ceremony in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday had the political message written all over it.
It turned out to be an occasion of confessions and renewal of old friendships. While veteran Congress leader Oommen Chandy owned up the responsibility for paving way for Cherian's exit from the Congress, the latter admitted that he has learned the lesson that hasty decisions lead to nasty consequences.
Receiving the Avukaderkutty Naha Award from Chandy, Cherian said the former was his guardian and he wants that patronage again in his life.
The statements made by the two leaders, who once contested against each other in the assembly polls, have made it evident that Cherian is just short of formally joining back the Congress.
Cherian, 67, has been a 'CPM fellow traveller' ever since he quit Congress in 2001. His relationship with the CPM turned bitter earlier this year after the party denied him a Rajya Sabha ticket much against his expectations.
At Monday's function, Chandy spoke at length about his camaraderie with Cherian and confessed that he was also responsible for Cherian's exit from Congress.
"During the period known as Congress' golden age in Kerala, we could work closely with each other, and with that we could contribute much to the student community and society as a whole. But then nothing is permanent in politics. Twenty years ago, we saw a shift in the course of events. He contested against me in Puthuppally. It was a wonder to many. Everyone believed with that episode my friendship with Cherian would end. But whenever I encounter a problem, I try to look at it from the point of view of the person on the other side too. I don't have any hatred towards Cherian, instead, I have realised that I made a mistake. An active politician like Cherian should have been given a winnable seat to contest. The mistake was not of Cherian, but of a system which I was also a part of," Chandy said.
In reply, Cherian delivered an emotional speech during which he repeatedly called Chandy his 'guardian'. He recollected his early days in politics and the immense support given to him by Chandy. He said during the past 20 years Chandy never made any remark against him even as he kept attacking the Congress leader. "In fact, it was I who made a mistake with my hasty decision, but Oommen Chandy is so kind to own up it as his mistake. Chandy has literally been my guardian throughout my days in Congress and I want that guardianship to be there throughout my life," he said.
Chandy's statement reflects the Congress's sentiment. In the past few days, several Congress leaders had made comments welcoming Cherian back to the party. In an interview with Manoramaonline, former KPCC president V M Sudheeran had said he had not even felt Cherian had ever left the Congress.
Cherian's return, if it happens soon, is a confidence booster to the Congress, which has been facing a series of desertions following the recent restructuring of the state unit.
Throughout the late eighties and nineties and till he left the Congress in 2001, Cherian had a prime place in the party. Too close to A K Antony and Oommen Chandy, Cherian, with his intellectual acumen and organisational skills, used to be a promising Congress leader. He was largely responsible for the image building of Antony as an idealist and simple political leader, sources said.
Cherian played a big role in creating the 'Brand Antony' in Congress politics , much to the dislike of K Karunakaran, who headed the rival 'I' faction. Antony was the chief minister of Kerala thrice -- 1977, 1995, and in 2001.
Cherian started his political career through the Congress' student wing and was the president of the Kerala Students Union ( KSU) in 1980. He later became a top leader in the Youth Congress and also in the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee.
He tested his electoral luck first in 1991 when he contested the Assembly polls from Kottayam constituency, but lost to CPM stalwart T K Ramakrishnan.
Ten years later, in 2001 Cherian hoped to get a chance to contest the assembly polls from a winnable constituency, known as a 'safe seat' in political parlance, but it did not happen. He had demanded that he be given a safe seat in Thiruvananthapuram. But when the party did not accede to his demand, despite his close ties with Antony and Chandy, he decided to quit the party. The CPM was quick to sense a political opportunity and fielded him against Chandy in Puthuppally, the seat the Congress leader has been holding since 1970.
Though the electoral experiment failed, the CPM accommodated him at the party-backed channel Kairali TV. He used to anchor a social commentary programme in the channel. In 2006, Cherian again unsuccessfully contested the assembly polls as a Left-backed candidate against Joseph M Puthussery from Kallooppara constituency. When the Left front won the election and formed the government that year, he was given the plum post of chairman of the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation.
Again in the 2011 polls, he was given another Assembly seat – Vattiyoorkavu -- but lost to K Muraleedharan, and he returned to the Kairali TV. That was his last electoral contest.
In 2016, when the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front government assumed power, Cherian was given a cabinet rank in one of his pet projects.
Since then there had been talk that Cherian would be given a Rajya Sabha seat. When vacancies to the Upper House of the Parliament came up in March this year, with the CPM sure to win two of them, it was almost certain that Cherian would get one of them.
However, Vijayan at the last minute picked his closest aide John Brittas ( managing director of Kairali TV) and V Sivadasan, who was handling Vijayan's social media, as the Rajya Sabha candidates, much to the disappointment of Cherian.
After retaining power in the elections in April this year, the Pinarayi Vijayan government offered Cherian the post of vice-chairman of the Kerala Khadi Board, which he turned down saying he was busy penning a book. Cherian has already penned several books on history and politics.
Cherian made his displeasure with the CPM and Vijayan clear recently when he slammed the government over the handling of the floods.
When Kerala was hit with massive rains and floods, Cherian wrote on Facebook that, "those in power were betraying the trust of the people by singing elegies and shedding tears at rehabilitation camps after not doing enough to provide solace to their problems.”