The Kerala Congress (Mani), which sits as an independent block in the Kerala Assembly after it quit the Congress-led UDF last year, is being actively wooed by all three political fronts in the state.
It is led by its supreme leader K.M. Mani, who has completed 50 years as a legislator by winning every election since 1967 from Pala assembly constituency in Kottayam district. Last year, he decided to end the over three decade relation with the United Democratic Front, and walked out of it.
Now, the six party legislators sit as an independent block.
The CPI-M-led Left Democratic Front, the latest to woo the front, has entrusted the job to its ally and chairman of the Kerala Congress, led by Skariah Thomas.
A close aide of Thomas told IANS that last month the first meeting for testing the waters for wooing Mani was held at Kottayam.
"What took place at Kottayam was a calculated move, which has the blessings of a powerful Catholic bishop. Those who got together included a famers movement, leaders including Mani, Johnny Nelloore who represents Kerala Congress (Jacob), an ally of the UDF and others. What has been propagated was it was a meeting by leaders who got together to discuss the plight of the farmers," said the close aide who did not wish to be identified.
Stephen George, a former legislator and a Kerala Congress (Mani) member who took part in the Kottayam meeting, told the media on Monday that the discussion at the meeting centered around on what best could be done for the farmers.
While Kerala Congress (Jacob) lone legislator and former State Minister Anoop Jacob expressed ignorance about the Kottayam meeting, Nelloore told reporters on Monday that nothing beyond the interest of farmers was discussed and there was no need to give any political colour to it.
Last month, in a sudden move, State Congress president M.M. Hassan extended an olive branch to Mani by asking him to return to the UDF fold. But after a section of Congress leaders expressed their displeasure at Hassan's move, the Congress leader beat a hasty retreat and was made to eat his own words.
The BJP has been trying to strengthen the NDA by inviting new parties and the name of Mani has always been a point of speculation. New BJP state president Kummanem Rajasekheran, whenever asked about Mani has given the stock answer of "We are always open for new parties to join the NDA."
One reason why Mani is being wooed by all is because his is a party with significant strength in the Central districts of the state and has a sizeable following in two districts in north Kerala.
In the 2016 assembly polls his party as part of the UDF won six seats, out of the 15 they contested.
His party secured four per cent votes, making it the sixth largest party in terms of vote share in the state.
Currently his party has one member each in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Mani has for long been hoping for his son Jose K. Mani be made a minister. One of the reasons for his quitting the Congress-led UDF is that the second Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre failed to give his son a berth. According to those who know Mani well, the moment he gets a call from the BJP inviting his son to be a member of the Union Cabinet, his party will join the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
Following the bar scam case which surfaced in 2014 over allegations that Mani took bribes from bar owners, Mani had to quit as minister in 2015. The moment Mani gets a clean chit in the bar scam case, the CPI-M will be happy to open its doors to Mani, said the sources.
With all the three fronts warming up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Mani is a political force none of the three rival fronts can ignore.