The Jose K Mani faction of the party was welcomed by the ruling LDF while the UDF embraced the rival PJ Joseph faction earlier in June.

With Kerala Congress Ms tie-up with the LDF who stands to gainPC/Jose K Mani FB Page
news Politics Sunday, October 18, 2020 - 20:37

Left MLAs thronged the Legislative Assembly on March 13, 2015, the day the budget for the fiscal was to be presented. The United Democratic Front (UDF) government was in power. Finance Minister KM Mani was to present the budget. The Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) had planned to block him from entering the House as he was facing bribery charges in the bar license scandal. The Assembly squad formed a barricade for Mani. He presented the budget standing in the middle of the squad amidst UDF MLAs.

The scuffle persisted throughout the session. Mani later read out the budget details at the Assembly media room. The Left uproar over the bar scam was huge. Mani had to resign. In the next Assembly elections, his margin in his fortress Pala had shrunk to 4,703.

                  Assembly bedlam in 2015 

Fast forward to 2020 and the Left has welcomed KM Mani’s party, the Kerala Congress (M), as its ally. On Wednesday, Mani’s son Jose K Mani announced the decision that the faction led by him will join the LDF. This is the first time since 1982 that the KC (M) is part of the Left alliance. But the major political move happened in the absence of KC (M) patriarch KM Mani.

Mani died in April 2019.  His son and Rajya Sabha MP Jose is at the helm of the party. Mani’s death aggravated the internal fight within the KC (M). The Kerala Congress has undergone one more split between the factions led by Jose and that by former minister PJ Joseph. In June, the UDF embraced Joseph’s faction while ousting Jose.

LDF’s political gain

The Left has extended a red carpet for a party that it had once branded corrupt. Critics have called it out as a deviation from the Left’s moral viewpoint. But for a front that aims to continue in office, it can be defended as a pragmatic move to come back to power, with the Assembly elections due early next year.

The KC (M) has dominance in 32 Assembly seats in Central Travancore, a region where the Left does not have strong roots. With Jose’s faction on their side, the LDF will aim to win at least half the seats, and even that would be a huge gain. Of the five KC (M) MLAs, the Jose faction has two – Roshy Augustine (Idukki) and N Jayaraj (Kanjirappally). PJ Joseph represents Thodupuzha while his hard-core supporter Monce Joseph is the MLA from Kaduthuruthy. CF Thomas, the Changanassery MLA who was part of the Joseph group, died in September.

                  Jose K Mani with PJ Joseph 

How CPI(M) workers accept the KC (M) candidates in constituencies hitherto contested by the Left party will also be crucial in the elections. But the alliance will in no way prove catastrophic for the Left as the KC (M) does not have a presence anywhere else in the state.  In Idukki district, it has been 15 years since a Congress candidate won an Assembly election while in Kottayam the Left, working with the Jose faction, aims to add to its strength. In Alappuzha, only Kuttanad is part of Central Travancore. Kuttanad is a sitting seat of the LDF ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Gain for Jose K Mani?

Jose, too, must be hoping for the Left to continue in office. He will likely negotiate a ministerial berth for himself to assert his presence in the state’s politics if the LDF is re-elected. While he lacks the leadership qualities of his father, the organisational and cadre strength of the CPI(M) will be a gain for him during campaigning.

If the LDF loses the elections, Jose would be at the receiving end. But considering the pragmatic political style of the KC (M) of which KM Mani was the master, his son’s political equations could well change with the changing political environment.

The influence of the church

KC (M) was born, grown and rooted in Kottayam and has almost equal influence in the neighbouring Idukki too. It has made its presence felt in the Kuttanad constituency in the neighbouring district of Alappuzha and some parts of Ernakulam district like Kothamangalam. These three districts constitute the Central Travancore region, where the Roman Catholic Church is prominent. Under the Roman Catholic Church come the Syro Malabar, Knayaya and Malankara churches.

The LDF’s move is seen as one aimed at wooing the minority Christian votes, a considerable share of which is based in Central Travancore. Joining hands with a political outfit that predominantly represents the Christian community in the region would help the LDF to woo voters. But the question remains whether the Church, which has previously been supportive of only the UDF, would change its stance along with Jose K Mani. Also, KM Mani had been the political face of the church in the region. It has to be seen whether the church would accept Jose as wholeheartedly as they did his father.

The LDF has, however, managed to win the trust of the Orthodox faction by implementing the court order in its favour, in the long-standing feud between the Jacobite and the Orthodox churches. Also at least some in the church, like the former Bishop of Kanjirappally Mar Mathew Arackal, have been favouring the LDF. In the meantime, the recent stormy controversies surrounding Bishop Mar George Alencherry in the alleged land scam in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese have shaken the church. The scam was exposed by those who stand for reforms within the church. It would help the LDF if some of the ‘rebels’ favour Jose. The Jose faction presents a ‘young’ team compared to the one led by 78-year-old Joseph. While the church in Kerala has always been known for its anti-Communist stand, it needs to be seen whether the changing political equations would have any impact on its stand.

Not a fresh attempt

Reports of a KC (M) – LDF alliance have been in the air for a while, the background for which was set in 2014. KC (M) was part of the ruling UDF at that time. The CPI(M) had allegdely offered KM Mani the Chief Minister post, saying that it would back the government formed by him. The offer was that Mani would be in the CM post for a maximum of one year and face election after that. The offer was alluring for Mani, whose ultimate political aim was the plum post.

But former Chief Minister and veteran CPI(M) leader VS Achuthanandan objected to it. VS was the Opposition leader at that time while Congress leader Oommen Chandy was the Chief Minister. Kanam Rajendran, leader of CPI, the second largest constituent of the LDF, had also raised objections.

Then emerged the bar license scam. It was alleged that Mani took bribes from bar owners to reopen the closed bars in the state. The ruling UDF booked Mani in the case, which was widely viewed as a move to block the entry of Mani to the LDF.

Mani was part of the Left government, the first EK Nayanar government that lasted for a year from 1980-81. Mani held the portfolios of Finance and Law in the Nayanar government too. In 1982, the KC (M) became part of the UDF. In 2016 August, Mani broke its four- decade- long ties with the Congress for “a section in Congress had tried to weaken KC(M) and its leaders' and had been keeping a distance from both coalitions. But he declared support for the UDF in the Chengannur bye-elections held in May 2018 and returned to the UDF in June 2018.

Now VS is absent from active politics and even the CPI has backed the CPI(M)’s decision to welcome KC (M) into the LDF fold. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and CPI(M) state Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who had always been open to the alliance, paved the way for the entry of the Jose faction, while the UDF hasn’t been very keen on Jose.

At the core is the Pala seat

KM Mani used to say that Pala was his wife. He represented Pala for 13 terms consecutively in 52 years. Mani’s dominance was challenged for the first time in the 2016 elections in which his majority was reduced to 4,703 votes. In the bye-polls held after KM Mani’s death in September 2019, Mani C Kappan of the NCP wrested the seat from the UDF. The victory margin was just 2,943 votes, but it was a spectacular win for the LDF.

Jose joining the LDF has ignited discussions over who would get the Pala ticket in the upcoming Assembly elections. Mani C Kappan has reacted that if Pala was Mani’s wife, for him it’s his heart. But the LDF is likely to give the seat to the KC (M), in which case it would be interesting to see Kappan’s stand. Kappan’s move has to get approval from NCP national chief Sharad Pawar. However, considering the rapport between Pawar and Kappan, the latter would get a nod whatever his decision. It is speculated that Kappan, if denied the Pala seat, may even join the UDF. He held talks with Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala a couple of days ago, though Chennithala denied that they discussed anything political.