Bengaluru: For a while now, the Congress in Kerala has been facing successive setbacks. The latest, however, comes not from outside but from within the party as the leaders are indulging in slanging matches. The result? The whole opposition seems to be coming apart, according to party insiders and analysts.
The simmering dissent within the state unit of the party hierarchy reached a crescendo this week and has already led to the resignation of the party spokesperson Rajmohan Unnithan on Tuesday.
The resignation came in the wake of a war of words between Unnithan and former Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president K. Muraleedharan, who made a blunt attack on the party’s state leadership on Monday.
During an event commemorating his father and late Congress stalwart K. Karunakaran, Muraleedharan spoke about how the Left Front seems to be both the ruling and the opposition party in Kerala.
In his view, the Congress leaders are interested in competing against each another to show their face on channels and issue statements rather than team up as a strong and united opposition against the government.
This triggered a series of debates within the Congress-led coalition United Democratic Front, with some leaders of coalition partners such as the Muslim League and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) coming out backing the notion of a weak opposition.
On Wednesday, the crisis snowballed into an all-out war among the various factions and their leaders. A scuffle broke outside Kollam district office of the party after Unnithan reached there on Wednesday. His car was hit with eggs as protestors demanded an apology from him for his remarks, television reports said.
Meanwhile, in Thiruvanthapuram, both KPCC president V. M. Sudheeran and vice- president V. D. Satheesan, appealed to leaders during public functions to stop fighting against each other, news channels reported.
Satheesan was seen pleading with folded hands while he requested the leaders not to spoil the image of the party by engaging in mudslinging.
In Delhi, A. K. Antony told television reporters that he is pained by the current developments and will look into it.
The undercurrent of factionalism within this debate is hard to miss.
The charge against the weak leadership comes at a time when the so-called “I group” within the Congress has emerged as a stronger faction organizationally under its leader Ramesh Chennithala, who is also the opposition leader in Kerala.
A recent reorganization of district Congress committees in the state, initiated by the party “high command”, apparently gave an edge for the ‘I’ group over the rival faction ‘A’ group led by former chief minister Oommen Chandy. Muraleedharan is supposed to have the backing of Chandy’s rival faction, and the ‘I’ group sees this as the peaking of the revolt against the leadership under Chennithala, as per a senior Congress leader Mint spoke to over phone, requesting not to be named.
Notably, right after Unnithan, who has a bitter history with Muraleedharan owing to his failure to not obtain a ticket to contest in 2004 parliamentary election, condemned Muraleedharan’s criticism, K. C. Joseph, former minister and supposedly close to Chandy, wrote a letter to . Sudheeran favouring Muraleedharan. Muraleedharan himself made a sharp response to Unnithan on Tuesday, saying “cooks need not speak when family members talk”. “If anyone barks, it will be treated with utter contempt. I am sticking to what I had said about the opposition on Friday,” he was quoted as saying in a Deccan Chronicle report on Wednesday.
The resignation of Unnithan, who led the firefighting for the party when it got embroiled in corruption scandals two years ago, came in the wake of the party taking a soft approach to Muraleedharan despite these personal remarks hurled against him, according to the Congress leader mentioned above.
Both Unnithan and Muraleedharan were unavailable to get an immediate response. However, as per television reports, Chennithala has brushed aside these developments as signs of internal revolt against him as the opposition leader. “We are taking the criticism positively,” he said.
Already, the Congress-led opposition’s clout is considerably reduced both inside and outside the assembly in Kerala. While it got reduced to 47 from the previous 72 seats in the 140-member assembly after elections in May, its third largest ally, Kerala Congress-Mani group, quit the coalition in August.
“The whole opposition is coming apart,” said B.R.P. Bhaskar, a veteran journalist and political commentator. The latest developments, where everybody seems to be against everybody else, could be a sign of the disrupting the stability that the Congress achieved as a party and coalition leader in Kerala, which was built around former leaders like Karunakarun and Antony and with the common allegiance to the Delhi durbar,” he said.