Tough job awaits Congress in Kerala

Tough job awaits Congress in Kerala

Running the combine within and outside the assembly will be a delicate job for Congress leaders, including Chief Ministerial probable Oommen Chandy who will have to put up with pressures from partners while offering a "stable, pro-people and development-oriented rule" as promised to voters.

The presence of CPI(M)-led LDF as a strong and vigilant opposition will be a compelling factor for the UDF to be doubly cautious in its every move in the coming days.

Though the Congress and its partners have exuded confidence that they would run the government cohesively, political observers here feel that problems might crop up right from the ministry-formation process.

According to observers, Congress's tally of 38 seats, which stood far short of expectations, could be exploited by partners like the Kerala Congress (Mani faction) to drive a hard bargain during ministry-formation.

The difference of votes between the two coalitions is slightly above 1.50 lakh. By preliminary estimates, the UDF secured 45.61 per cent and LDF 44.9 per cent of the polled votes. BJP, whose hopes of opening account in the assembly were dashed once again, secured 6.06 per cent, which is two per cent higher than its vote share in the 2006 polls.

For the Congress, keeping the right class, caste and religious composition while choosing its members could be a difficult task as two of its key allies--Kerala Congress (M) and Indian Union Muslim League-are minority-dominated parties.

Besides, smaller parties like Kerala Congress (Jacob), Kerala Congress (B) and RSP (B), which have one one seat each, will also have to be rewarded with ministerial berth as the support of every single MLA is crucial for the survival of the ministry.

Accepting the defeat, the CPI(M) has made it clear that the LDF would sit in opposition and would not encourage any party to cross from the rival side.

But, going by the state's political history, this would not mean that the opposition would allow the UDF to run the government smoothly for long with such a wafer-thin majority.

As the opposition, most probably under the leadership of outgoing Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan, the LDF is certain to closely watch the government without letting go of any chance to "oppose and expose" the rival.

A striking feature of the verdict this time is that while the Congress's performance was dismal all over the state, the UDF could scrape through on the good showing put up by IUML and KC (M) in their respective strongholds.

Though there seems no immediate threat to prospects of Oommen Chandy emerging as the Chief Minister, the verdict could throw up new power centres in the party in the long run.

Congress-watchers in the state feel that weakening of the Chandy-Ramesh Chennithala (KPCC chief) axis in the Congress could lead to leaders like V M Sudheeran and K Muraleedharan to emerge stronger.

As the second largest partner, IUML emerged with flying colours in its bastions in north Kerala, including the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district, bagging 20 of the 24 seats it contested.

The Christian-dominated KC(M) also did well in the central districts like Kottayam winning nine of the 15 seats it contested.Ths scenario would embolden these parties to ask for key portfolios.

On the contrary, LDF, which won 68 seats, has done well and one of the factors attributed to its performance by observers is widespread reservation over the dominance of community-oriented parties in the UDF. CPIM as lead partner emerged the single largest party winning 45 seats.

There were allegations that the merger of Kerala Congress Joseph and Mani factions last year had the blessings of the sections of the powerful Catholic church in the state.
According to observers, this could have resulted in consolidation of majority community votes in favour of the LDF in many parts of the state.

The IUML, which suffered heavy losses in 2006, made a spectacular comeback despite the party top leader P K Kunhalikutty coming once again under the cloud of the infamous 'icecream parlour sex scam.'

The party could also beat back the challenges posed by Muslim radical outfits like SDPI and Jamaat-e-Islami pledging support to the LDF.

SDPI, political arm of the National Democratic Front (NDF), whose activists are allegedly behind the case of chopping off the hand of a college lecturer last year, had put up its candidates mostly in Malabar region with the aim of containing the IUML's influence.