The Kerala Congress is at the center stage of Kerala politics yet again as cutouts of K M Mani and his son Jose K Mani jostle for space across Kottayam town. The party will hold its state-level convention at Kottyam on December 14-16.
The party with six MLAs unaffiliated to either the treasury benches or the opposition is being keenly watched ahead of the convention for any sign of the course it intends to take. Mani had brushed aside speculations that the party convention would give a clear indication for the party’s future plans. Yet observers are waiting for any hint from the convention and the meeting of delegates.
Though the party’s affiliations are still vague, no one seems to have any confusion about the ascent of the junior Mani to the top of the party. It may be too early to elevate him to the post of the chairman but the day is not far off. Mani will step down only for his son. The veteran has been paving the way for a smooth transition all this while.
The state committee is expected to finalize the new office bearers after ironing out differences in the district committee elections in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta.
Jose K Mani’s detractors question his ability to bind the party together like his father did. The youngster has been cementing his position in the party. He had replaced Kottayam district president E J Augusthy, a staunch loyalist of his father, with one of his own confidantes, Sunny Thekkedath. However, he can’t claim to enjoy the confidence of senior leaders and the camp associated with P J Joseph.
Mani energized his party workers when he called for a steering committee meeting of the party after Thomas Chandy resigned as the transport minister. He said the government had lost one more wicket, referring to the departure of the minister under a slew of allegations.
He dropped enough hints that the party was still in the opposition. That tough stand may be deceptive as Jose K Mani pins his hopes on the ruling Left Democratic Front. The sitting MP knows well that he may not be able to retain the seat after leaving the Congress-led United Democratic Front and joining forces with the CPM in Kottayam to oust Congress’s from power in the district panchayat.
On the other hand, support from the CPM could help him win a Lok Sabha election from Kottayam or an assembly election from Pala, the home turf of his father.
Mani has enough friends in the ruling dispensation. Speculation is rife that he could join the LDF and be a minister if he is exonerated in the corruption case that cost him his minister’s post in the previous government.
P J Joseph, C F Thomas and Mons Joseph MLAs, however, are not very keen on being a part of the LDF. N Jayaraj and Roshy Augustine would stand by Mani no matter what he decides. No one has any clarity though.
Mani is unlikely to go for any option that could put his son’s political career in jeopardy.
Congress game plan
The Muslim League, a constituent of the UDF, is trying hard to strike a compromise between the Congress and the Kerala Congress. The party does not want Mani to switch to the other camp. Mani is also in good terms with the Muslim League. He had offered his unconditional support to Muslim League candidates in the Vengara assembly election and the Malappuram Lok Sabha election.
Kerala Congress and Muslim League leaders have been working closely for years. They can’t part ways easily even without the binding force of a formal coalition. That has prompted the Muslim League leadership to think out of the box.
If Mani refrains from coming back to the UDF fold because he is not sure about his son’s chances in the front, Jose K Mani could be offered a Lok Sabha seat safer than Kottayam.
What if the Congress swaps Wayanad with Kottayam and let the junior Mani contest from Wayanad? The idea has already been mooted in the leadership of the UDF.
The UDF wants Mani to return. If that does not happen, the Congress might maneuver to slice the party and keep a section with it. If Joseph and his associates stick to the Congress, that could encourage other leaders such as Francis George.
The CPM is watching with hawk’s eyes. The party bosses think that Mani’s support would benefit them in Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and Idukki Lok Sabha seats.
An alliance is not easy to forge because the CPI is sure to take an uncompromising stand against aligning with Mani. The last thing the CPM leadership wants ahead of the crucial party elections is such a controversy.
Once the CPM and the CPI are done with their organizational polls, they are sure to revisit the issue. The question is, will Mani wait that long.