Kerala Assembly elections: Congress needs a paradigm shift

It will be an uphill task for Congress in Kerala to win the Assembly elections this year. The party will have to reinvent and meet new challenges.

Congressmen will have to forget its group squabbles and seat sharing and come up with a new array of candidates who could win the elections. It is also time for a generation shift.

The Congress has taken a big risk by alienating Kerala Congress (M) so that it could try to dominate in the UDF strong-hold of Kottayam— a long-standing dream of Congress men from the district such as the Kottayam MLA, Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan. They thought that the death of Kerala Congress leader K. M. Mani gave them the opportunity. However, erosion of votes seen in the panchayat elections even in former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s constituency (Puthuppally) showed that the dream is a difficult one to realise, though Mr. Chandy and Mr. Radhakrishnan will be able to hold their fort. In the strongholds of Ernakulam district, the emergence of Twenty Twenty as a political party is throwing up a new challenge.

These would force the Congress to pay special attention to districts which are not their strongholds and cut losses in districts such as Pathanamthitta. In this scheme of things, Thiruvananthapuram district becomes one where the party has to fight some important battles especially against the BJP.

It has been suggested that top Congress leaders like Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala should contest from Thiruvananthapuram to wrest the Nemom seat from the BJP and the Vattiyoorkavu seat from the CPI (M). However, the leaders were not willing to move out of their pocket boroughs.  Obviously, they could fail in Thiruvananthapuram if BJP and CPI (M) come to a tactical understanding behind the scenes. Many are already concluding that the BJP is forcing Chief Minister Pinarai Vijayan for some adjustment, as a quid pro quo against Central agencies going slow on the probes on involvement of the Chief Minister’s Office and some Ministers and Speaker P. Sreeramakrishnan in gold smuggling and other scams. Now, the party is trying to persuade V. M. Sudheeran to contest from Vattiyoorkavu while the strategies for other constituencies are not yet clear.

The party has members of Parliament Rajmohan Unnithan and K. Sudhakaran to hold the fort in Kasaragod and Kannur districts respectively. But K. Muraleedharan, MP, has stated that he would campaign only in his constituency (Vadakara), pointing to ongoing infighting in the party.

Though the honesty and suave manners of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is no match for the divisive politics of Narendra Modi at the national level, the presence of the Wayanad MP can cast a spell in Kerala.  But this has to be matched with selection of inspiring young leaders to win strong-holds of the CPI (M). Names such as that of AICC spokesperson Shama Mohamed has come up in this regard. Congress will also have to think of fielding winnable candidates from outside the party also as the stock of the khadi-wielding politicians with no worthwhile job of their own (other than politics) is fast diminishing. But the scramble for seats among party men has always prevented Congress from scouting for talents outside.

Yet, the party is showing some signs of mending. It is drawing up a well-studied manifesto under the leadership of Shashi Tharoor and other qualified persons.  However, barring Mr. Tharoor, the social media presence of Congress and its outreach to the young are still poor compared to BJP and the CPI (M). Though Congress men are active here and there solo, there is no coordinated action to project policies or political views. In fact, many leaders are found wanting or afraid to take on BJP and even the CPI (M).  This is why it is important for the party have a new generation of leaders with no baggage from the past to carry.

Ramesh to wait in the wings

It should not come as a surprise to close observers of politics in Kerala that KPCC President Ramesh Chennithala has declined to join the Oommen Chandy government.

Mr. Chennithala knows well that he is to gain little by joining the ministry as this juncture either as deputy chief minister or home minister.

Ramesh Chennithala

Ramesh Chennithala

Deputy Chief Minister would mean little for Mr. Chennithala as it is very difficult to grow as a power centre in government when Mr. Chandy is in government. Mr. Chandy has more grass-root support than Mr. Chennithala and is a better political strategist than Mr. Chennithala. Home Ministership would only be a bed of thorns when the government is facing a series of accusations.

The government’s stock is likely to come down in the coming days and Mr. Chennithala too would have to go down with it if he joins the ministry. On the other hand, there is a real possibility that Mr. Chandy would be forced to step down after the Lok Sabha polls. Then Mr. Chennithala would face not much challenge in getting into the Chief Minister’s chair. (Mr. K. M. Mani has also tossed his hat in the ring. However, Sonia Gandhi is understood to have rejected his claim. That explains recent critical statements by Mr. Mani).

He stands to lose nothing by continuing till then as KPCC president. If the Chief Ministership does not come his way after the elections, he still can look for a minister ship at the Centre if Congress is returned to power.

Actually, the positions regarding Cabinet reshuffle had been taken much earlier by Mr. Chennithala and others. The issue was raked up again to divert attention from solar panel scam. As on the earlier occasion, none could agree on each other’s claims and demands. By Wednesday, Mr. Chandy had stated that there would be no major revamp. Today, all the parties are back to their positions stated earlier.