Thiruvananthapuram, Oct 27: Infighting in the Kerala Congress (Mani), the third largest ally of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government, is the latest bother for Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.
Kerala Congress (Mani), led by Finance Minister K.M. Mani, has nine legislators in the 140-member assembly.
Over the past few years, the party has seen two mergers, first when Kerala Congress (Secular), led by government chief whip P.C. George merged his party with that of Mani ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
Before the 2011 assembly polls, a huge majority of the Kerala Congress (Joseph) under P.J. Joseph, then an ally of the Left Democratic Front (LDF), also joined Mani’s party.
Significantly, George before forming his own party was booted out from Joseph’s party and after the two came under Kerala Congress (Mani), time and again there have been skirmishes.
Trouble began when six-time legislator George, known for his razor-sharp tongue, went public that there was no reason for his party to get a second Lok Sabha seat.
In the UDF, of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the division over the past several years has seen the Congress get 17, the Indian Union Muslim League two and Mani’s party one.
In the LDF, Joseph’s party was allocated the Idukki Lok Sabha seat. They feel that since they are in the UDF now, that seat should go to them. They would like to field Francis George, who won the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, but lost to P.T. Thomas of the Congress in the 2009 polls.
“At the national level, the Congress wants each and every seat and how is it possible to give away a seat of theirs to Francis George, who lost to Thomas of the Congress in 2009 from Idukki,” asked George.
George’s statement left the Joseph faction fuming and as a result, a party meeting of Kerala Congress (Mani) had to be called off last Wednesday.
To pacify the Joseph faction, party chairman Mani had to issue a statement and ask George not to make personal insinuations.
“A mere statement won’t suffice. We have made it clear that a full-fledged meeting of our leaders (erstwhile Joseph faction) with Mani take place and George has to be reined in. We are not going to be bulldozed any more by George and his substandard comments,” said a top leader close to Joseph.
Mani has his hands full since if Joseph’s demand for a seat and pulling up George does not happen, then the Chandy government itself could come under threat as the government has just 73 seats in the 140-member assembly.
Among Mani’s nine legislators, three are from the erstwhile Joseph faction. With the Chandy government surviving on a majority of just three seats and given Joseph’s track record of crossing over to the opposition, like he did ahead of the 2011 assembly polls, there is a problem for the chief minister.
Congress spokesperson M.M. Hassan has said that if George cannot keep quiet, then he will have to be booted out from the post of chief whip.
The coming days will see if the turbulence in Mani’s party will settle down and whether outspoken George can be contained.