Thiruvananthapuram: Cherian Philip, who quit the Congress in 2001 after being denied an Assembly seat, returned to the party on Friday. He met senior Congress leader A K Antony at his residence in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday ahead of officially joining the party.
Welcoming Philip to the party, the former defence minister said he is happy about Philip's decision to rejoin the Congress and hoped that this would strengthen the party.
Speaking to media, Antony said Philip would not take his place in the Rajya Sabha and he did not offer the seat in the Upper House to him. "Even Philip wouldn't have such a wish," he remarked.
Cherian, 67, had been associated with the CPM, though not as a formal member, 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.
Cherian's return is a sort of shot in the arm for 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 down-to-earth political leader.
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.
In CPM fold
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 (LDF) 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."