Why did Congress in Kerala almost dump its own trade union soon after general strike

Article image Haritha

On Wednesday, V D Satheesan dropped a political bomb, rather deliberately. The leader of the opposition in Kerala Assembly said the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) was not a feeder organisation of his party, the Congress. Satheesan made the remark, which raised many eyebrows in political circles, even as the INTUC was participating in a protest march to a TV channel in Thiruvananthapuram in solidarity with CPM leader Elamaram Kareem, whom an anchor of the channel had criticised in harsh words during a prime debate.

A day before the march, INTUC's all-powerful state leader R Chandrasekharan addressed a meeting as part of the two-day general strike called by a collective of trade unions and expressed solidarity with “comrade Elamaram Kareem”.

Chandrasekharan was one of the panellists who attended the debate on the alleged excesses committed by the agitators on the first day of the strike and was completely aware of what the anchor said and what it meant. Still, he chose to amplify the CPM's charge that the anchor was making threatening remarks against Kareem and “inciting riot”.

Satheesan made the statement, which sounded like a total abandonment of the party's labourers' wing, while speaking to media against the excesses committed by the protesters in the name of the general strike. He was also critical of the trade unions' decision to conduct a protest march to a news channel just because it made some scathing criticism against a leader. He termed it 'intolerance'.

KSRTC in limbo due to physically challenged: Kareem
Elamaram Kareem. Manorama

“Unfortunately, the tool-down strike this time turned into a bandh and hartal. Our stance is against protests that breach a person's fundamental rights and freedom ensured by the Constitution. No one should be forced to participate in a tool-down strike,” Satheesan said. When asked about the presence of Congress-backed INTUC in these protests, he said, “INTUC is not a feeder organisation of the Congress. But it's a union of people who stand with the Congress. In future, we will ask the union to be more careful. I have tried to contact its president Chandrasekharan, but I didn't get him over phone. If the call got through, I would have told him the same things that I told you just now.”

The fact is INTUC is a frontal organisation of the Congress. On the Indian National Congress' website, INTUC is listed as a frontal organisation along with Seva Dal, Indian Youth Congress, All India Mahila Congress and National Students Union of India.

Interestingly, pro-Left profiles on social media were quick to offer Satheesan some lesson in INTUC's history. They apparently sensed a chance to cash in on the disappointment Satheesan's comment they expected to cause among the INTUC cadre. Chandrasekharan was hailed as a “Congressman who speaks the politics (of workers)” by random Left profiles.

Why did Satheesan, otherwise known for making measured statements, make such a seemingly thoughtless statement about his own party's trade union?

“It was a deliberate attempt to pacify the Congress supporters who have been unhappy with the atrocities committed in the name of the strike, and INTUC leadership's endorsement of it,” a source close to Satheesan said.

It was also a message to Chandrasekharan who extended undue support to the CPM, the source said.

Asked if it wouldn't be suicidal to irk the party's own trade union, which comprises a large section of its voters, the source expressed confidence. “Such fears are unwarranted. They all know why such a remark had to be made,” the party source said.

Surprisingly, Satheesan's remark did not invite much reaction from within the party. Even the leaders who have a bitter relationship with him after his elevation as the opposition leader, replacing Ramesh Chennithala after the Congress' drubbing in the assembly elections last year, didn't comment. 

The silence within the party ranks and INTUC leadership seems to have diffused the bomb dropped by Satheesan. It remains to be seen if it will go off and harm him sometime in the future.

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