After their half baked efforts to jump in on the controversy around Sabarimala, the Congress has now decided that their poll plank is going to be governance.

Congress in Kerala has finally got its story straight for the polls and is bringing out the big guns
news Politics Thursday, January 24, 2019 - 18:59

It’s a Congress staple in Kerala: they start their campaigning late every election, just not too late. This time around as well, the Congress has only decided to jump in on the poll wagon with less than 100 days to go for the election; on Wednesday, the Congress-led UDF laid siege to the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, to protest against the misrule of the LDF government, accusing them of bringing the governance in the state to a standstill, and by covering it up by using the Sabarimala ‘flare up’.

While the Congress itself has been against the entry of women into Sabarimala – following the September 28, 2018 verdict of the Supreme Court allowing women of all ages entry into the Ayyappa temple – they used the opportunity on Tuesday to attack the Left (Democratic Front) and the Right (Sabarimala Karma Samithi and the BJP). Ramesh Chennithala, the leader of opposition in Kerala, slammed the Samithi for organising mass protests, and also slammed Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan for ‘1000 days of misgovernance’.

“The UDF will emerge more powerful as the elections are close. The siege was a move to declare that UDF is on election mode. It’s the usual style of the coalition – not to work round the clock, but to work when it is the most needed,” a source close to the Congress said.

With this, the Congress seems to have realised that their (non) strategy around Sabarimala has not really worked in the state. The party has been flayed by many for opposing the entry of women in the menstruating age group in the temple – including critics inside the party. The BJP can claim to have gotten support from upper caste Hindus with the protests, and the ruling LDF can claim to have gotten the support of women and liberals with the Women’s Wall on January 1. Changing track to target the LDF directly over governance, therefore, is a better move, say political analysts.

But this is not the only weapon in their arsenal. In what can perhaps be seen as a move to demonstrate that they are confident of a win in the General elections, KPCC President Mullappally Ramachandran said that former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy should contest Lok Sabha elections. On Thursday, Oommen Chandy himself announced that he will contest elections if the High Command so wishes. Chandy is at present the Legislator representing Puthuppally in Kottayam in the Kerala Assembly – a seat he has held since 1970.

This move is clearly a morale boost for Congress workers in the state. Oommen Chandy is a mass leader, and his ability to pull in the crowds cannot be challenged by any of his contemporaries in the party.

If Oommen Chandy goes to Delhi – in the event of a Congress or Congress-alliance government – he is almost assured to get a Cabinet berth. For Keralites, this will mean they have a strong representative in the central government.

“With indications that Oommen Chandy will fight the elections, the Congress has sent out the message that we are very serious about this election,” a source close to the party tells TNM, “The party president Rahul Gandhi is set for the big battle and does not want to give a second chance to the BJP. If Oommen Chandy is on the battlefield, this would enthuse workers a lot.”

Meanwhile, KC Venugopal, the incumbent MP from Alappuzha is also likely to contest from the same seat. Venugopal is currently the most powerful leader in the party at the national level from the state. Incidentally, he was appointed the All India Congress Committee General Secretary (Organisation) on Wednesday – another indication that the party is taking Kerala seriously. Venugopal will also be projected as a ministerial candidate.

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