Two changes to the United Democratic Front (UDF) were introduced without much fanfare in the latest meeting of the opposition alliance. Long-term Left ally Forward Bloc was inducted into the Congress-led alliance. P.V. Abdul Wahab and M.K. Muneer were chosen to represent the Muslim League in the front, in place of the late E Ahamed and New Delhi-bound P.K. Kunhalikutty.
UDF convener P.P. Thankachan informed the reporters of the decisions at the fag end of the press meet as something trivial. However, the decisions change the structure of the front in multiple ways.
For one thing, Muneer would move to the front bench as the deputy leader of the opposition when the Legislative Assembly session starts Tuesday. Kunhalikutty will no longer be the face of the UDF, at least inside the house.
Gone are the days when the trio of Oommen Chandy, Kunhalikutty and K.M. Mani worked together as the three pillars of the alliance. Mani has quit the front and Kunhalikutty has shifted his area of work to the national capital. Chandy remains a power center in the Congress and the UDF but he is increasingly being eclipsed by younger leaders.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, Muneer and Kerala Congress (Jacob) leader Anoop Jacob have already risen to be the effectual helmsmen of the opposition front. The Congress is struggling with cries from within for a generational change. The front it leads, however, has already witnessed that transformation, judging by the recent developments.
Leaders of all opposition parties wanted Kunhalikutty to be active in Kerala politics even after he was chosen as a Member of Parliament from Malappuram. Even Chandy requested the Muslim League leadership to spare Kunhalikutty when the Vengara MLA was chosen to be the successor of Ahamed.
Chandy knows very well that his government lasted five years despite a razor-thin majority because of a team work involving Kunhalikutty, Mani and Chennithala. He does not want to lose Kunhalikutty after Mani. The Muslim League has taken note of the request. Kunhalikutty, the national general secretary of the Muslim League, will open an office in Thiruvananthapuram. He would be in the state capital for at least two days a week and would attend all meetings of the UDF.
Then why did Thankachan say that Wahab and Muneer would replace Ahamed and Kunhalikkutty? That was just a formality. Wahab had already replaced Ahamed in the top decision-making body of the UDF even when the senior leader was out of action because of ill health. Muneer’s entrance was part of a compromise formula that allowed three representatives for the Muslim League as the Congress wanted to induct former KPCC presidents K Muraleedharan and V.M. Sudheeran to the body.
A section of leaders in the Muslim League wanted V.K. Ebrahim Kunju to make it to the top body but the son of C.H. Muhammed Koya was acceptable to almost everyone.
The Forward Bloc is a happy lot. They have finally found some recognition in Kerala. The party tagged along with the Left in Kerala and Delhi for 34 years yet it was a non-entity in the scheme of things. The UDF, on the other hand, let the party into the fold within 11 months of coexistence.
The party’s Kerala unit was revived in 1983 by Kaipuzha Velappan Nair, a UTUC leader from Kollam who wanted a foothold after a split in the RSP. The then Forward Bloc national general secretary Chittaranjan Basu, who visited Kollam after the formation of the state unit, wrote to CPM general secretary EMS Namboodiripad and CPI general secretary C. Rajeswar Rao to induct Forward Bloc into the Left Democratic Front in Kerala.
The application had been pending ever since. The Forward Bloc sent countless reminders to the LDF. The only response the party received was ahead of the 2014 general election when party national secretary G. Devarajan threatened to enter the fray against CPM candidate M.A. Baby. The then CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan reminded Devarajan of the need for Left unity and offered to look into the Forward Bloc’s demands after the election.
Devarajan took the assurance at face value and held his guns.
Nothing happened after the election. The Forward Bloc was still out of the Left Democratic Front. The UDF was its savior.
Curiously, the UDF has no dearth of Left and socialist parties now. The Forward Bloc joins the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Janata Dal (U) and the CMP. Though these parties are nowhere near the Congress or Muslim League in their political clout, together they could usher in a change in the structure of the UDF. Four of the seven constituents of the front are Left parties.
The Forward Bloc was inducted as a member of the UDF committee but Thankachan played it down at the press conference as he did not want to irk long-time partner CMP, whose representative is only an invitee to the body.
Though the RSP and the Forward Bloc are part of the Left alliance at the national level along with the CPM and the CPI, they are part of the Congress-led alliance in Kerala. The power tussle between the CPM and the CPI in the aftermath of the Munnar controversy has left observers wondering – Is the CPI sitting on the fence?