Congress lives up to its infighting tradition (Kerala Newsletter)

Thiruvananthapuram, June 8 (IANS) The factional feud in the Kerala unit of the Congress party is legendary and continues unabated, giving the party high command in New Delhi the jitters.

The row between Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and state party chief Ramesh Chennithala remains unresolved and is the latest bone of contention in the party’s state unit.

The crisis surfaced last month when many political observers speculated that with Chennithala having to step down after having served for eight long years, he would be inducted into the state cabinet, either as deputy chief minister or as home minister.

Chandy and his aides planned to give Chennithala the deputy chief minister’s post, with the revenue and forest portfolios. But trouble started when the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second-largest constituent of the ruling coalition, accustomed to its nominees in the deputy chief minister’s post, claimed it.

The other option before Chandy was to offer Chennithala the home portfolio. However, the chief minister’s close aides would have none of this and made their displeasure plain.

The matter hit a roadblock and Chandy travelled to Delhi earlier this week to consult the party high command. The matter, however, remains unresolved.

“Is there a government here? All one hears about is differences of opinion. Chennithala could have become a minister at the start of this government’s tenure (in 2011). The Congress party has very little time to solve the burning issues of the state,” Vellapally Natesan, the powerful Hindu Ezhava community leader who heads the Sree Narayana movement, told IANS.

What is commendable in all this is the discretion that both Chandy and Chennithala have exercised – neither has spoken publicly on this issue, though TV reporters grab every chance they get to urge them to speak on-camera.

Even the body language of the two leaders is noted and the media transforms this into juicy stories.

“If you (the media) are not interested in the credibility of your news reports, please do not ask me for comments on this issue. Because after you put out a report, you want to attribute it to me. I will not fall for that,” said a peeved Chandy.

The Chennithala faction is now staring at despair. Will their leader get a cabinet berth and a favourable portfolio? Their only hope is intervention from Delhi, though no one is unaware that portfolio distribution is the prerogative of the chief minister.

“It is sad that the Congress party here never learns from previous mistakes. I’m surprised that with the Lok Sabha polls due shortly, this impasse is not yet settled. The party could well see a repeat of 2004 (when the Congress-led UDF could just win only one of the state’s 20 Lok Sabha seats) because you can’t take the people for granted,” said a visibly upset Congress leader, seeking anonymity.

As the state assembly begins its next session Monday, the issue could provide fodder for the opposition.

(Sanu George can be contacted at [email protected])

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