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UDF: A front that is utterly disunited

A Front that is uniformly disunited. That is what the United Democratic Front (UDF) has become with factionalism running rampant not only in the Congress but also in the allies.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala has set tongues wagging with a political statement which has lent itself to different interpretations. Chennithala made the remark on the second day of his much-trumpeted ‘Kerala yatra’, which started from Kasargod district on 18 April. The yatra will end on 18 May in the Kerala capital. What has touched off political speculation is Ramesh’s pronouncement that significant political changes will take place at the end of the yatra.

The KPCC chief’s pithy remark has come against the backdrop of growing disenchantment with the style of functioning of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. Chandy is facing a barrage of criticism from his detractors within the party over the way he tackled many issues, including the Ganesh Kumar episode. Leading the anti-Chandy band is none other than Union Minister Vayalar Ravi. Another Union Minister, Mullappally Ramachandran has also aired his ire against the lackadaisical functioning of the Oommen Chandy Government.

Topping the list of Chandy-critics is none other than senior Congress leader and Union Defence Minister A K Antony. Antony was unsparing in his criticism of the UDF Government during his recent visit to his home state. The defence minister, whose word is considered final on Kerala affairs because of his proximity to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was particularly critical of the airing of Congress factionalism by party leaders during discussions on TV channels. Such open display of differences has done incalculable damage to the Congress’s image, Antony opined, adding that the time had come to put an end to the unhealthy practice.  Union Ministers Vayalar and Mullappally Ramachandran have also made no bones about their disillusionment with the lackadaisical performance of the Oommen Chandy government.

But Congress leaders do not seem to have imbibed the import of the Antony advice. State party leaders continue to indulge in internecine sniping in total disregard of Antony’s counsel of caution. Antony’s warning note acquires added significance in view of the fact that parliamentary elections are just one year away. The state unit of the Congress can ignore Antony’s call to see the writing on the wall only at its own peril.

Political analysts are, however, divided over the Ramesh remark. A section rules out any significant political change at the end of the Kerala yatra. All that is likely to happen is a few changes in the Oommen Chandy ministry to correct the pronounced pro-minorities tilt in the state cabinet – the result of Chandy’s policy of appeasement of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), according to the CM’s critics in the party.

However, there is another stream of thought which would have the people of Kerala believe that the yatra will, in all probability, usher in important changes and will have a salutary effect on UDF politics. They rule out a change of guard in the State Congress at this crucial juncture. But the possibility of a greater say to the group led by Ramesh Chennithala is very much on the cards, they concede. That exactly is the main objective of the yatra undertaken by Ramesh Chennithala, they aver.

If the Congress leaders are indulging their passion for factionalism, the party’s allies in the UDF are not presenting a picture of unity. For instance, the Kerala Congress(M) president K M Mani finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. Mani is under pressure to take action against P C George whose words and deeds as the chief whip of the Government has drawn the flak of a big section of the KC(M). Leading the attack against George whose abusive remarks against revered UDF leaders – living and dead – have created widespread revulsion and anger, is the faction within the party owing allegiance to P J Joseph. Speculation is rife that if Mani refuses to act against George, the pro-Joseph office-bearers of the KC(M) may quit their positions, precipitating a crisis.

Likewise, the Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samithy (JSS) is in a mood to quit the UDF. At the recently held party meeting, majority of the JSS’s district secretaries favoured the party parting ways with the UDF.

They are angry at the refusal to take action against chief whip P C George who used indecent language against JSS chief K R Gowri. JSS MLA K K Shaju, however, is said to be opposed to the party leaving the UDF. A final decision will be taken at a special convention of the party to be held in August. The CPI(M) leaders, including VS Achuthanandan,  have, welcomed Gowri’s decision to quit the UDF.

Last but not the least, the Communist Marxist Party (CMP), another ally of the Congress in the UDF, is also extremely unhappy over the Congress’s big brother attitude. An angry CMP president M V Raghavan has gone to the extent of saying that the need of the hour is to strengthen left unity as the CMP is basically a left party! Significantly, CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan himself met Raghavan recently.

The visit understandably touched off speculation. Though Vijayan tried to play down the import of the visit saying that he met Raghavan, after a gap of 12 years, only to enquire about his health, it has touched off speculation about the CMP also making its exit from the UDF. Vijayan’s visit has to be viewed against the background of the failure of KPCC chief Ramesh Chennithala to assuage the anger of Raghavan.

There is no denying that resentment within the UDF is mounting. True, outwardly, the UDF leaders are putting up a brave face, ruling out the possibility of the Front unravelling. But there is no mistaking the growing concern among the UDF constituents over the turmoil within the KC(M) and the JSS. (IPA)
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