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Last Updated Wednesday November 22 2017 04:26 AM IST

Chandy or Chennithala? UDF faces an identity crisis

Sujith Nair
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Chandy or Chennithala? UDF faces an identity crisis Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala. Onmanorama/File photo

K. Muraleedharan’s long-time wish was granted when he was inducted in a top-level coordination committee of the opposition United Democratic Front three months ago. The former president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee has to thank opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala for paving the way for his entry into the decision making body.

Chennithala, however, was wrong if he was expecting a favor in return. Muraleedharan went about saying that the opposition was not doing a great job under Chennithala. The opposition leader could not be blamed if he thought Muraleedharan was batting for former chief minister Oommen Chandy.

The Congress-led coalition has to get its act together before the 2019 general election. The ruling Left Democratic Front is definitely a step ahead under the undisputed leadership of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The BJP is yet to recover from a slew of scams but the party is still a force to reckon with.

During Chandy’s tenure as chief minister, opposition leader V.S. Achuthanandan had to limit his fights within the Legislative Assembly because his own party had almost isolated him. The CPM did fight the Congress-led government tooth and nail in the streets but without consulting the veteran leader.

Things are a bit different in the UDF. The opposition leader is supposed to lead all efforts against the government. That explains Chennithala’s difficult situation when Muraleedharan and RSP’s A.A. Azeez say that the opposition is not up to the mark. The accusations becomes personal.

Chennithala is in good terms with KPCC president M.M. Hassan. He has a pool of young talent to draw from in the assembly. Yet the opposition’s struggles against the government both inside the assembly and outside lack the punch.

Chennithala’s first challenge came in the form of Azeez’s comments. The RSP state secretary’s comments raised questions about the opposition leader’s liaison with Congress allies. N.K. Premachandran and Shibu Baby John tried to firefight, reassuring Chennithala that the party did not have any issues with him. Azeez might have been trapped by reporters who forced him to compare Chennithala with Chandy, they said.

The second-largest party in the front, the Muslim League, seeks to brush aside the controversy as unnecessary. The party thinks the Congress leadership is in a better position to rate Chennithala’s performance.

The Muslim League is more concerned about the impending by-election to the Vengara assembly constituency vacated by P.K. Kunhalikkutty when he was elected as a Member of Parliament. The party is happy that Chandy, Chennithala and Hasssan turned up at the Congress party’s constituency meet last week.

Janata Dal (United) thinks it unfair to compare Chandy, a two-term chief minister, and Chennithala, who was chosen to helm the opposition for the first time. CMP’s C.P. John is a confidant of Chandy but even he would not want to tarnish Chennithala. The Forward Bloc has reasons to be loyal to Chennithala, who welcomed the marginal party into the front without a second thought.

All the allies are eager to know who the Congress would pick as its president in Kerala. Chandy is secretly wishing for an organizational election. At the same time, he remains non-committal on his elevation to the top of the party. He maintains that he would not take up any posts. Hassan may be seen as an ideal candidate, being loyal to Chandy and A.K. Antony and at the same time keeping a good rapport with Chennithala. However, most of the allies want a more dynamic leader like Chandy to lead the dominant party.

Many names are floating around but it is hard to shortlist names for the next KPCC president. The party high command is still searching for a candidate who can raise the confidence level of the party in the state and steer the front through a difficult time.

Chennithala can breathe easy for the time being. No amount of covert snipes can unseat him as the leader of the opposition. The opposition leader and the KPCC president, however, will have a tough time to cling to their positions if the front can’t make any headway in the general election two years away.

A section of UDF leaders are already asking for the re-induction of the K M Mani-led Kerala Congress into the front. Will Mani be able to persuade his son Jose K Mani to go back to the UDF despite overtures from the LDF?

If the Kerala Congress decides to support the Muslim League candidate in Vengara as it stood by Kunhalikkutty in the Malappuram Lok Sabha by-election, there may be chances of a patch-up after all.

Read: Latest Columns | What it takes to clean Modi's Ganga

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