East Eleri merger threatens to create another chasm in Congress

  • KPCC chief says the party is welcoming those returning to its fold
  • But workers are miffed with rebel leader James Panthamakkal after he attempted a hostile takeover of the party's cooperative bank on Nov 15
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Congress district president P K Faisal (middle) with James Panthamakkal (right) addressing a press conference in Kasaragod on Friday

Kasaragod: Congress state president K Sudhakaran said the party will go ahead with inducting the rebels of East Eleri grama panchayat back into the party on Sunday, ignoring the strong objections from party leaders.

The "merger" -- as Sudhakaran prefers to call the return -- of the Democratic Development Front (DDF) with the Congress is likely to create a new chasm in the party. "The workers who toiled hard for the party when the rebels left the Congress will now be dismissed as dissenters. That's our plight. We are all tense," said a state Congress leader from the panchayat. "But that's what the KPCC president wants. That's what the DCC president wants," the leader said.

Sudhakaran told Onmanorama that the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) was only standing by the decisions taken by the District Congress Committee (DDC). "DCC leaders held talks with Panthamakkal. They struck an agreement and informed me of their decision. The talks were not initiated by the KPCC," he said.

Having said that, the party state president said Panthamakkal and the people with him were Congress workers. "They are returning to the party and we are welcoming them. That's all there is," he said.

But the Congress leaders and workers from East Eleri are miffed with Panthamakkal for "backstabbing the party" after the Congress agreed to all his demands.

As part of the merger deal, Congress agreed to give the DDF four of the 13 seats on the board of directors of party-controlled East Eleri Service Cooperative Bank. In return, Panthamakkal agreed to step down as the president of East Eleri grama panchayat and give the post to a Congress member.

The Congress kept its word. But after the bank election, Panthamakkal struck a deal with three other Congress directors of the bank and tried to corner the bank president's post. 

KPCC member from East Eleri Shanthamma Philip called it a "treacherous" attempt to take over the bank. The same day, East Eleri Congress mandalam president George Karimadam put out a message on social media saying that the proposed merger of the DDF with the Congress has been put on hold.

On Thursday, Karimadam called a meeting of all Congress leaders from the panchayat.

It was attended by presidents of Congress unit committees (25 houses in a ward make a unit), booth presidents, ward presidents, six of the seven Congress panchayat members, the two block members, the Youth Congress mandalam president, Mahila Congress president of the panchayat, and leaders of Congress frontal organisations.

"In all, 93 leaders attended the meeting. All of them signed a petition saying Panthamakkal should not be allowed to return to Congress," said a party leader, who requested anonymity after the Congress state president decided to go ahead with the merger.

The leader said they did not want the merger to be cancelled. "I only requested the merger to be put off to another date. The wounds of the betrayal will be still fresh on Sunday. But the party did not agree to it either," the leader said.

Sudhakaran said he sent party leaders to Kasaragod to bring around those opposing the merger. "All will be fine by Sunday," he said.

Friday morning, District Congress president P K Faisal held a press conference in Kasaragod town. Rebel leader and panchayat president James Panthamakkal was by his side.

Faisal said the merger was happening at the direction of the KPCC president. Around 6,000 persons would return to the Congress at the "grand merger event" to be held at Chittarikkal in East Eleri panchayat on Sunday. K Sudhakaran and party leaders from Kannur and Kasaragod would be attending the function.

However, a president of a neighbouring grama panchayat said Panthamakkal was returning by riding roughshod over the Congress workers and leaders who stayed back. "He did not even yield to even a small request from the DCC president. Surely, this merger will create another split in the party. Or at least silence the majority in the party," he said. "And one more thing. Panthamakkal will not be able to bring more than 2,500 persons with him," the panchayat president said.

Panthamakkal said the people with him were Congress workers and wanted to return to the party. "That's why this merger is happening," he said and added that he would step down as the panchayat president if the party asked him to do so.

The panchayat president also said that he had the plan to build an amusement park in the panchayat and would need the support of all the people. It is a Rs 25-crore project. He said East Eleri's service cooperative bank can take the lead in making the "dream project" a reality. It will generate jobs and revenue for the bank and the panchayat. That's another reason for him returning to the party and taking an interest in the bank, he said.

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