In August when former Congress President Rahul Gandhi paid his routine but not so frequent visits to his Parliament constituency Wayanad, the response from the party brass in Kerala could be best described as lukewarm.This was in sharp contrast with the crowds of supporters who would normally throng Wayanad to receive the scion of the Gandhi family. For every visit that Rahul Gandhi has made from the time he contested from the seat in the northern district of Kerala, the norm has been that the top brass of the party would be present to welcome him- including former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, former Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala, former President of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee Mullappally Ramachandran and almost 14 district committee presidents. The enthusiasm to welcome Rahul this time around also reflects the mood of the party in the state.
Oommen Chandy, one of the top contenders for the CM post in the 2021 Kerala Assembly elections, does not hold any plum post in the party- neither does Ramesh Chennithala nor Mullappally Ramachandran. VD Satheesan was chosen to replace Ramesh Chennithala as the opposition leader in the assembly after the Pinarayi Vijayan government came back to power. K Sudhakaran replaced Mullapally as KPCC president in June. While Oommen Chandy and Chennithala are legislators from Puthuppally and Haripad constituencies, Mullapally is not even an MLA. The Congress, as the media calls it, has clearly undergone a generational change from the Oommen Chandy-Chennithala era. Satheesan and Sudhakaran have become the new power centres.
The changes, however, did not stop with Satheesan and Sudhakaran being assigned to their new posts. The announcement of new district Congress Committee presidents has led to an open fight in the party. If the fight in the past had always been between the ‘I’ group led by Chennithala and the Chandy headed ‘A’ group, the infighting this time has seen a major change, with both these leaders opposing the DCC presidents list unitedly. Infighting in the Congress in Kerala is however not new. It started decades ago between former Chief Ministers AK Antony and K Karunakaran who headed the A and the I groups respectively. This feud was later passed on to Chandy and Chennithala.
The unity between the bête noires began even after the Assembly elections results in May in which the Congress was confined to 21 seats in the 140 member Kerala Assembly. While the poll debacle almost marked the end of an ambitious career of many leaders in the Congress like Chandy and Mullappally given their age, Chandy and Chennithala perhaps realised that to survive the onslaught of the new leadership, it was necessary to stick together.
VD Satheesan and Sudhakaran's hold over the party became more apparent as the new DCC Presidents were largely their loyalists. Both Chennithala and Oommen Chandy were quick to react that there were no discussions prior to finalising the list.
"There was no proper discussion, the list could have been better if there was one. It was made apparent that there were discussions," Oommen Chandy told the media. Sudhakaran, given his otherwise outspoken nature, was rather contained in his response; and said that Oommen Chandy's reaction was extremely sad and that a proper discussion had been held before finalising the list. Satheesan, however, didn't seem guarded, but came down heavily on his senior party colleagues. "Did these leaders (Oommen Chandy and Chennithala) have a discussion with AK Antony and K Karunakaran when they took over the reins of the party from them?" Satheesan asked. He went on to say that if the 14 DCC president posts were to be distributed among those recommended by these two leaders then what was the point of him and Sudhakaran holding the posts. "It used to be the practice but not anymore", Satheesan said.
The fight this time has not been confined to the top brass, but has come down to middle level leaders too. PS Prasanth, Secretary of the Congress wrote to Rahul Gandhi, taking a stand against All India Congress Committee General Secretary KC Venugopal, who apparently decided the DCC presidents list. "Since he took charge, we could witness the destruction of the party in states including Goa, Karnataka, MP, Rajasthan, Punjab and Chhattisgarh. Congress workers in Kerala are doubtful whether he is colluding with the BJP to make the Congress collapse," his letter said. Prasanth on Tuesday, August 31, resigned from the primary membership of the party.
On August 30 Monday, AV Gopinath, a KPCC member and party leader in Palakkad who was not chosen as DCC President quit the party after giving an emotional speech. K Sivadasan, a former legislator and KP Anil Kumar, former state general secretary, were suspended temporarily for expressing displeasure in public over the DCC presidents list.
The public fighting this time may prove more costly for the party and the task ahead becomes even tougher for Satheesan and Sudhakaran.