Congress groupism back with a bang

The opportunity to indulge their passion for group politics presented itself when Speaker G Karthikeyan sprang a surprise by publicly announcing his decision to quit the post and return to active politics. What prompted Karthikeyan to quit the post was the fact that the Congress lost more than 6,000 votes in his constituency, Aruvikkara in the recent Lok Sabha elections. 

The development proved the last straw for Karthikeyan who was reluctant to become the Speaker. In fact, he would have become the KPCC president – both Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and former KPCC chief Ramesh Chennithala had recommended his name for the KPCC chief’s post – but for the veto by the 
Congress High Command which preferred V M Sudheeran for the post. A concerned Karthikeyan seems to have decided that any further delay in returning to active politics would make him politically irrelevant in the state Congress politics.

Whatever the motive, Karthikeyan’s decision has sent the party into a tizzy. Its immediate upshot has been the revival of group politics, which had remained comparatively dormant since Sudheeran became the KPCC president.

It is the Vishala ‘I’ group led by Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala which is most unhappy about Karthikeyan’s move.  The group is wary of the chief minister’s wish to induct Karthikeyan into the state Cabinet. It fears that a cabinet reshuffle to accommodate Karthikeyan would result in major portfolios like Revenue and Health being taken away from ‘I’ group ministers.  

The I group’s displeasure  came through a statement made by UDF convener P P Thankachan, a prominent I group leader, who said the party was not obliged to take Karthikeyan into the ministry.
However, other Congress leaders like former Kannur MP K Sudhakaran have said that Karthikeyan should be given a ministerial berth. A senior leader like him, who has won five consecutive assembly elections and held posts like the president of the KSU and Youth Congress, cannot be allowed to remain a mere MLA, he contends. A number of Congress leaders agree with Sudhakaran’s contention.

No wonder, Ramesh Chennithala has decided to go to Delhi to convince the High Command of the undesirability of a Cabinet reshuffle at this juncture. Karthikeyan’s move has, however, come like a god-send for Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who is extremely keen on a Cabinet reshuffle. In fact, Chandy had secured the High Command’s consent for the same with a condition:  he should do it after evolving a consensus within the state unit of the Congress. It is obvious that the consummate politician that he is, Chandy wants to fell two mangoes with a single stone. A Cabinet shake-up would enable the crafty Chandy to cut the I group, which now enjoys an edge over the A group headed by him, in the matter of plum portfolios, to size. Also, the ministry rejig by including a few fresh faces would help Chandy to effect an image makeover, enabling the party to put up a better show in the Assembly elections, due in 2016.

The chief minister has added a new dimension to the crisis by meeting Nair Service Society (NSS) president G Sukumaran Nair a few days back. The purpose of the visit, it is clear, is to get the powerful NSS chief’s consent to the cabinet rejig move. It may be mentioned that the NSS-Congress relationship which had soured following the CM’s minority appeasement policy, has improved of late.

Meanwhile, Karthikeyan, who has ruled out a rethink on his resignation, has upset KPCC chief Sudheeran as well. Sudheeran, who has left for US on a private visit – he will be back only on 29 July – had requested Karthikeyan not to take any hasty decision in his absence. The Speaker has, however, chosen to ignore the advice and gone ahead with his resignation decision. KPCC vice-president M M Hassan has also made no secret of his displeasure over Karthikeyan’s decision.

With both the CM and the home minister deciding to visit Delhi soon, the scene now shifts to the national capital. Chandy is determined to effect the cabinet reshuffle while Ramesh is equally firm on preventing it. How the crisis will play out will be determined by the stand the High Command takes in the sensitive matter, which could have a crucial bearing on the future of the Congress leaders’ favourite pastime: group politics.
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