Kochi: Kerala politics is simmering once again as the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) convenor Benny Behanan Tuesday announced the suspension of the Jose K. Mani faction of the Kerala Congress (M) from the front.
The move was triggered by Jose’s decision not to vacate the Kottayam district panchayat president’s chair for a candidate of the P.J. Joseph faction in the Kerala Congress (M). The deal had been brokered by the UDF as a sort of truce between the two warring factions.
Jose K. Mani is the son of K.M. Mani, the founder of the Kerala Congress (M) and a chief architect of the UDF. K.M. Mani passed away last year.
Speaking to ThePrint, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said, “We have no ill will towards Jose Mani. But there can be no compromise on all UDF members being on the same page, politically.
“Jose, like anyone else will have to abide by the UDF decisions. Speaking in contrary voices will negatively impact the interests of the UDF, which was only too apparent in Pala Assembly polls. What the UDF has taken is a temporary call to ensure we all speak the same language. We are meeting again tomorrow.”
But Jose Mani termed it as an ouster, even of his father. The writing also seems to be clearly on the wall against any such rethink from his faction, which decided after a steering committee meeting Tuesday that there would be no going back.
In a scathing attack on the UDF, Jose Mani claimed the legacy of K.M. Mani, and told the media, “The UDF has forgotten 38 years of service Mani sir rendered to the front and has sided with P.J. Joseph, forgetting the real legacy of my father. Many in the UDF wanted to turn KC (M) into KC (J). I was painted as arrogant and outspoken. We are planning to proceed with reinforcing our party and getting ready for the local body elections. As of now, we have been thrown out by the UDF, our ties severed from the front. We will take the apt decision at the right time.”
Door opens for LDF to make move on Mani faction
The move will considerably realign electoral equations in the state.
Waiting in the wings is the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) but it would prefer to leave the Jose faction to make the move.
The reason: Jose right now has 10 Assembly seats allocated by the UDF, most of them in the central Travancore belt, and he may claim as many from the LDF. The challenge for Jose would be in convincing a predominantly UDF vote bank to go with the LDF, through leveraging the Mani legacy to the hilt.
That is easier said than done as there have been question marks on the influence of Jose Mani faction of the KC(M) since the demise of its founder. Last year, the party lost the bypoll in the Pala assembly seat, which was held by K.M. Mani for over five decades.
There is also some speculation about Jose taking the route to instant gratification by joining the NDA in exchange for a central ministerial berth, but sources close to him nixed the possibility as they felt it would finish him off in the state.
At the same time it is no secret that Jose has been waiting for the right opportunity to shift allegiance, something his father, the late K.M. Mani almost did before getting entrapped in the bar bribe case.
It is not as if the state’s political spectrum has been caught unawares. The signals came through loud and clear when he decided to stake claim to the Kuttanad Assembly seat, following the demise of Thomas Chandy late last year. That move came to nought when it was decided not to hold a by-poll with Assembly elections scheduled in May 2021.
Coming close on the heels of Jose getting a Rajya Sabha nomination from the UDF, the suspension may prove advantageous for Mani’s son as he holds a few aces.
Right time for change
The apt decision may come sooner than later as it would be in the Jose faction’s interest to cross over before the local body elections scheduled for late October. Because, that would be held as litmus by those in the LDF who believe the Jose faction holds lesser value than the Joseph faction.
CPI Kerala State Committee secretary Kanam Rajendran said that in as many words, when he told the media earlier in the day that it is not for the LDF to function as a ventilator for the Jose faction. He said political decisions should be based on ideology and that was the difference between the LDF and UDF. It is no secret that CPI has always been opposed to any alliance with the Mani faction, especially after the bar bribery scam.
Curiously, at a time when there is so much about the crossing over of the Jose Mani faction to the LDF, many seem to have forgotten that the Manis were very much a part of the LDF for a good two decades from 1990 to 2010.
Also, during the 1980-82 period, when the A.K. Antony faction crossed sides to the Left front in protest against Indira Gandhi and was part of the E.K. Nayanar government, K. M. Mani was the Minister of Finance and Law.
Now, there is reason to believe Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan thinks the entry of the Jose faction could prove beneficial to the LDF.
“The LDF has not discussed this matter so far. There is no doubt the Kerala Congress getting split is a momentous decision in the political context,” said LDF convener A Vijayaraghavan. “Now the Jose faction has said it has no love lost for the UDF. As this will further weaken the Opposition front, the LDF cannot say it is of no interest to us.”
Once again, it could well be another splintering of the Kerala Congress, whose fortunes have only grown each time it split, to decide up to an extent the way electoral politics in Kerala will get shaped, come Assembly polls 2021.