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Cong puts itself in a spot in Kerala

Politics of appeasement does not pay in the long run. The Congress in Kerala and the UDF government led by it in the state are learning this bitter lesson at a heavy cost. In fact, UDF politics has well and truly hotted up with the Nair Service Society (NSS), which represents the powerful Nair community in the state, threatening to bring down the Oommen Chandy Government if it does not reverse its policy of minority appeasement. An angry NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair has demanded that KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala should be given a ‘key position’ to ‘restore the majority-minority realities’ in the state.

What has provoked the ire of NSS is the ‘scuttling’ of the NSS’s pre-2011 assembly poll understanding with the central leadership of the Congress by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. The understanding was that Ramesh Chennithala, who belongs to the majority Nair community, should contest the elections and hold a key position in the Government.

The NSS leaders had told the central emissary Vilasrao Deshmukh, sent by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to enlist NSS support for the Congress-led UDF, that this was necessary to reverse the tendency of the minorities to dominate the government whenever the UDF came to power. That was how Ramesh decided to contest the elections. In fact, Ramesh’s name was suggested by the High Command itself.

But the NSS general secretary has accused Oommen Chandy of sabotaging this ‘agreement’. Chandy on his part has said that the decision not to join the Government was a personal decision made by Ramesh himself and that he cannot be blamed for that. But it is an open secret that Ramesh stayed away because he was not given either the Finance portfolio or Home. It was after Chandy said No that Ramesh decided to stay as the KPCC chief. Chandy compounded his offence by giving the home portfolio to his trusted lieutenant Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan. It was this which excited the wrath of the NSS leaders, who were livid at Chandy’s ‘treachery’.

What is noteworthy is that neither Oommen Chandy nor Ramesh Chennithala has contradicted or challenged Sukumaran Nair’s allegation. Both have scrupulously avoided criticising the NSS general secretary. This deafening silence of the duo has only reinforced the perception that there was indeed an understanding with the central leadership of the Congress. The extent of the Congress’s subservience to the NSS is clear from the fact that only second-rung leaders have deplored Sukumaaran Nair’s allegations and remarks. The pusillanimity and mealy-mouthedness displayed by the top Congress leaders have inflicted incalculable damage to the party’s secular credentials and exposed its policy of appeasement of community and religious organisations. It is also a fact that the NSS wields considerable influence, especially in south and central Kerala and can tilt the balance in a large number of constituencies. Equally significant was that Sukumaran Nair let off steam at a meeting attended, among others, by Congress leader and Union Minister Shashi Tharoor and V S Shivakumar, a state minister, who did not protest nor staged a walkout!

If the Congress finds itself in a sorry plight now, the party has only itself to blame. It has been literally caught between a rock and a hard place: the aggressive Indian Union Muslim League, an ally in the UDF Government, and NSS, which supported it in the assembly elections and which is now threatening to pull it down over the ‘wilful neglect’ of the interests of the majority Hindu community. It was the UDF Government’s unabashed minority appeasement policy and total surrender to the IUML which made the NSS and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), an organisation of the powerful Ezhava community, to bury the hatchet and come together.

Whatever the denouement of the Sukumaran Nair episode, one thing is clear. The Chandy Government’s policies have put the fabric of communal amity under strain as never before and made for a sharp polarisation of the minority and majority communities. This is a development which does not augur well at all for the Kerala polity, known for its impeccable secular credentials.

The predicament of the Congress and the UDF has lessons for the rival Left Democratic Front as well. True, community and religious organisations lie low whenever an LDF government is at the helm. But during the tenure of the previous LDF Government, some LDF leaders, especially CPI(M) leaders, had got into the habit of darkening the doors of Christian priests and NSS leaders, in an obvious attempt to seek their support for the LDF candidates.

This can only damage the LDF’s credentials as an unrelenting fighter against communal, religious and community organisations. The left should strictly stick to its policy of keeping these outfits at arm’s length. The front may end up a loser in the short term. But it will earn the eternal gratitude of Kerala’s generations to come in the long haul. (IPA)
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