K.M. Mani’s maneuvers in the election of the Kottayam district panchayat president have dashed any hope of the Kerala Congress’s reentry into the United Democratic Front.
Former chief minister Oommen Chandy was shocked to see his once trusted associate joining hands with archrival CPM to wrest the post of the district panchayat president from the Congress. Sensing danger, Chandy tried to call up Mani on Tuesday but the Kerala Congress leader stayed out of range. Mani later talked to Muslim League leader P.K. Kunhalikuty but rejected requests for cooperation from his former partners.
Chandy feels he has been ditched. He wasted no time in lambasting Mani along with opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala. The combined condemnation of Mani’s flip flop was intended to convey a strong message of finality.
Though Mani had walked out of the alliance earlier, the Congress and the Kerala Congress still retained their ties at all levels. The parties wanted to keep intact their alliance across the local self-government bodies. Mani’s active campaigning for UDF candidate P.K. Kunhalikutty in the Malappuram Lok Sabha byelection revived hopes of the leader’s return to the alliance.
Tuesday’s decision to go along with the CPM, however, changes the equation forever. Mani will not be entertained in the Congress-led alliance anymore.
The CPM and the Kerala Congress are waiting for a chance to get along. Local leaders of the CPM in Kottayam could not have decided to support Mani’s man as the district panchayat president without the knowledge and consent of the state leadership. The CPM wanted to put the last nail in the frail understanding between the Kerala Congress and the Congress.
The CPM has a lot of explaining to do when it changes its line in favor of Mani. The images of the party legislators’ antics against the then finance minister Mani in the Legislative Assembly are still fresh in public memory. Party veteran V S Achuthanandan and alliance partner CPI have already spoken out against any tie-up with Mani, whose suspected involvement in corruption scams was effectively raised by the LDF in a relentless campaign against the Chandy government.
The CPM leadership is yet to issue a formal comment on the new-found bonhomie.
Mani and his loyalists try to present the strategic shift in Kottayam as a tactics to benefit the party even when it is not a part of the two dominant alliances. It was the CPM which offered its support, they reason with critics of the switching of loyalty.
However, the Kerala Congress has clearly gone back on its agreement with the Congress. The two parties which fought the panchayat election in alliance had decided to share the top post in the district panchayat. Congress nominee Joshy Philip was to quit midway to make way for the Kerala Congress nominee. When Philip had to quit earlier that the agreed upon date, Congress leader Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan ensured the Kerala Congress support after talking with Jose K. Mani, Mani’s son.
All representatives of both parties signed an agreement to stick to the original agreement and let the Congress enjoy the post of the district panchayat president for another year. Congress nominee Sunny Pambady even went to Mani’s house at Pala to seek his blessings.
The Congress was in for a shock when the Kerala Congress desisted from issuing a whip to its members on Tuesday. The decision was surprising even to the Kerala Congress leaders.
A meeting of the party legislators in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday wanted to honor the agreement. Though Mani had not attended the meeting, he himself had directed the legislators to meet up. The MLAs are not very amused by the leadership’s decision to take a sudden U-turn, judging by Mons Joseph’s reaction.