How Congress lost a stronghold after denying ticket to MA Kuttappan

MA Kuttappan. Photo: Manorama

Kochi: Dr M A Kuttappan, the Congress leader who passed away here on Wednesday aged 76, fought his final election in 2001. He won the poll: his fourth electoral win and the second in a row, and went on to become a minister in the A K Antony cabinet. He lost the cabinet berth in 2004 when Antony resigned, taking responsibility for the party’s rout in the Lok Sabha elections that year. Oommen Chandy, who replaced Antony, went for a total reshuffle. When the state went to the next assembly election two years later, Kuttappan was among the few sitting Congress MLAs who did not get another chance to contest. However, Kuttappan, a Dalit leader who had long ago quit his medical profession for his love for Congress, did not at the time know that his long party career was going to meet with an abrupt end and a political oblivion was awaiting him. He kept trying for a comeback but in vain. Njarakkal, the seat which was denied to him, later delimited as Vypeen, refused to go with the Congress ever since.

P V Sreenijin, then a Youth Congress leader and now a CPM MLA, contested from Njarakkal, reserved for candidates from scheduled castes, instead of Kuttappan in 2006 and lost the constituency which had elected Congress MLAs thrice in a row until then. Sreenijin lost to CPM’s M K Purushothaman who was defeated by Kuttappan in the previous poll. That was the last election held to the Njarackal assembly constituency in Ernakulam district. It became Vypeen, an unreserved constituency, from the next poll in 2011; the CPM has won the seat in all the three assembly elections since then – S Sarma in 2011 and 2016 and K N Unnikrishnan in 2021. Sarma defeated Congress’ Ajay Tharayil and K R Subhash while young leader Deepak Joy lost the electoral fight to Unnikrishnan. Kuttappan, all the while, kept trying to get back into electoral politics but the Congress leadership did not share his enthusiasm. He suffered a stroke in 2013, but he recuperated and kept his political hopes alive. By the time the candidates were picked for the 2016 polls, a source said, he became convinced, rather uncomfortably, that there was no chance left for him. It was a decade since his political downfall had started. He lived through another seven years of oblivion.

What happened in 2006
Congress sources Onmanorama spoke to about Kuttappan gave different and even contradicting accounts of what led to the denial of ticket to him in 2006. They all, however, agreed that Kuttappan was a leader who spoke his mind.

“Kuttappan was an efficient leader who was committed to the Congress politics. He was also highly active inside the assembly,” a senior leader who was with him in the assembly during 1980s said. “He was also someone who openly stated his agreements and disagreements within and outside the party,” the leader said, suggesting that the outspoken nature must have cost him his career in the party.

Another leader, who was in a decisive position in the state Congress in 2006, said it was due to opposition from local leadership that Kuttappan was denied ticket that year. The leader, however, sounded confessing when he said, “in hindsight I think the decision was wrong.”

Dominic Presentation, a former minister and a prominent Congress leader from Ernakulam district, was more specific. “Some of the mandalam presidents were not in good terms with Kuttappan. They opposed Kuttapan's candidature from Njarakkal. However, I think he may have won from there again, because the people of the constituency liked him,” he said.

The leaders, however, evaded the question whether Kuttappan was sidelined to accommodate Sreenijin, the son-in-law of former Chief Justice of India, K G Balakrishnan. A Congress MLA from Ernakulam, however, without going into the details, said, “there must have been pressure from Delhi (party central leadership) also to accommodate Sreenijin.”

Sreenijin resigned from Congress in 2011 in the face of a Vigilance inquiry into allegations of disproportionate assets. He joined the CPM later and won from Kunnathunad, reserved for scheduled castes, in 2021.

Journalist Anand Kochukudy who closely knows Kuttappan’s family said the continued denial of election ticket had taken a toll on the Congress leader’s well-being.

“Throughout elections since 2006, he was hopeful of getting another chance to contest. Even after the stroke he suffered in 2013, he recuperated soon and remained physically fit. However, after 2016 when he was completely sidelined, he fell into severe depression. He was often not ready to meet visitors,” Kochukudy said.

Kuttappan had staked claim for a Rajya Sabha seat in 2012. In a letter to the then Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president, Ramesh Chennihala, he had flagged what he believed to be the trend of sidelining people from the scheduled caste communities when it comes to Rajya Sabha elections because there is no reservation to the upper house of the Parliament.

In his political career that began in 1978, Kuttappan was elected to the assembly four times, all from reserved segments. Apart from Njarakkal, he had won from Wandoor and Chelakkara. He contested unsuccessfully from Pandalam. Kuttappan had served as minister for welfare of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and backward classes in the Antony ministry.

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