In Kerala, every Cong leader eyeing 'I' space

 Separate group meetings have been convened in most constituencies with the knowledge of or instructions from top leaders including Kerala PCC president Ramesh Chennithala and opposition leader Oommen Chandy.

Earlier, there were four factions headed by K Karunakaran, A K Antony, Chennithala and Vayalar Ravi. However, changes have occurred in the first two groups in the past three years. There is a three-pronged tussle to inherit the legacy of Karunakaran’s ‘I’ group, which has been lying headless with the octogenarian leader not in the pink of health and his son K Muralidharan serving a suspension. A considerably depleted ‘I’ group has still been meeting under the stewardship of KK’s daughter Padmaja Venugopal who claims to have inherited her father’s legacy.
Muralidharan is however in no mood to abdicate his position as ‘heir-apparent’ and has ridiculed all attempts to seize the leadership of the ‘I’ group.  “My father has been taken hostage by power-mongers, but it will not remain for long,’’ he exuded confidence. Adding a new dimension to the developments, Chennithala’s supporters claim to have filled the ‘I’ space by uniting the disgruntled elements in the Karunakaran group.

In the past one month, group meetings have been convened by Chandy, Chennithala and Ravi loyalists to discuss the strategy to approach the Youth Congress elections. A grand ‘I’ alliance under Chennithala and Ravi has reportedly been formed to rein in Chandy. Ravi has even been projected as a prospective chief ministerial candidate by this alliance. While the PCC chief has refused to confirm this, Ravi has been more forthright. “Who says there is no group activity? Back home, everybody has got groups,” Ravi, who’s the Union minister for overseas affairs said in Delhi.
An immediate test of strength for all the groups will be the Youth Congress elections in September as a prelude to holding the PCC elections. The dominant Chandy faction favours holding elections by ballot while the remaining three factions led by Chennithala want nomination by consensus. Consensus apparently means that all the groups get to split various posts among themselves instead of facing a democratic procedure.

Those who argue for consensus claim that an election will be bitterly fought on the basis of groups which might even spill over to the streets and worsen things. Their argument is based on the fear that the Chandy faction which dominates the organisation following the weakening of the Karunakaran group may sweep the polls. What has been dampening the hopes of the consensus seekers is the no-nonsense approach of AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi who is trying to restore democracy in the YC.

A Youth Congress delegation led by outgoing president and Chennithala supporter M Liju met the AICC leadership recently to demand that youth be given more opportunities in party posts and as people’s representatives. They wanted senior leaders “who keep winning elections every time” to be rested. The Chandy faction views this demand as an effort to run down its leaders many of whom are quite senior and have their own loyal fiefdoms. Chandy who is likely to be chief minister in the event of the UDF returning to power has represented his Assembly constituency Puthupalli 10 times.

The renewed bout of factional fighting has gladdened Muralidharan who was suspended for six years in 2005 for indiscipline. One of the alleged ‘crimes’ committed by the father-son duo was that their rampant group activities had brought the party to disrepute. Muralidharan has been knocking at the doors of the Kerala PCC for the last two years and meeting AICC leaders to seeking readmission.
Even his father’s one-time foe A K Antony and friends had taken a soft corner for him. However, the KPCC at the behest of Chennithala and Chandy is in no mood to take him back. According to reports, Padmaja has pledged her support to Oommen Chandy in a bid to keep her brother out.

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