In what could change the contours of Kerala politics, particularly in the Christian-dominated central Travancore belt, a faction of the Kerala Congress (M) has crossed over to the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) after a gap of 38 years.
Kerala Congress had mostly aligned with the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) and has been a key constituent of the front, in the formation of which its leader, the late KM Mani, had played a crucial role.
The faction that has now joined the LDF is the one led by Mani’s son and Rajya Sabha MP, Jose K Mani. In terms of political calibre, however, Jose has not been a worthy son. When KM Mani died last year, Jose K Mani declared himself as the new chairman, which the faction led by former minister PJ Joseph refused to accept.
Since then the two factions have been fighting it out within the UDF as two uneasy partners, often creating trouble for the front leadership, which is in the charge of Congress. The fight reached a climax in the byelection to Palai seat held by KM Mani ever since its inception in 1965 without interruption, resulting in the seat landing up with the LDF kitty.
For the first time, the constituency went to the bypoll without the presence of a candidate on the party’s official symbol of two leaves, as PJ Joseph, the working chairman, held the authority to allot the party symbol, but Jose K Mani refused to approach him with such a request.
The loss came as a big setback to Jose, who continued to fight with Joseph, leading to the violation of an agreement within the UDF that a local body chief belonging to the former’s faction was supposed to vacate his seat in favour of a person belonging to the rival faction.
This forced the UDF leadership to announce the expulsion of the Jose K Mani faction, but it continued its back channel contacts to keep the estranged group within the fold. But Jose had secretly opened a front with the LDF, negotiating a crossover.
The CPI-M, heading the LDF, has been keen to have a share of the Christian vote bank and believes with Jose K Mani joining its ranks, that objective would be achieved. The LDF, particularly Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, feels it will brighten the chance of a comeback to power, which has never happened in Kerala’s coalition politics.
While Jose K Mani announced his switching sides is unconditional, it is understood the faction has assurances about a dozen seats in the upcoming assembly election. These are believed to include Palai, the traditional seat of party founder KM Mani, which NCP, a constituent of the LDF, had snatched from the Kerala Congress.