The list of contenders to succeed VM Sudheeran is long, in keeping with the Congress’s legacy. With VM Sudheeran stepping down as the head of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee on Friday, political circles have been abuzz with discussions on the likely successor.
Former chief minister Oommen Chandy’s name stands highest on the list. However, Chandy recently reaffirmed his stand of not taking up any official posts. But party MLAs suggest that he may not have a choice in the matter if he is picked by the party High Command. “Nobody can disobey the High Command. But there hasn’t been any discussion inside the party related to this. The High Command is busy dealing with the issues of Manipur and Goa,” MLA TN Prathapan told TNM.
The challenge before the High Command is picking a candidate who matches Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s criteria, which have, in the recent past, have been caste (backward) and age (youth). Sudheeran was the eldest PCC head, being 64 years old when he assumed office. The High Command also opts for those who don’t represent particular factions and are loyal to it.
“But if Chandy agrees to take up the task, the High Command won’t go for a second choice. No criteria would be applicable for him as he is the tallest leader, who has an influence over the masses. Another possibility is that Chandy would support K Muraleedharan to fight against his rival Ramesh Chennithala. Not a part of any group, Muraleedharan has the substance to oppose Ramesh,” a party member who did not want to be named, said.
There is no doubt that the veteran is looking to restore his authority in the party. A fighter, Chandy would make best use of the opportunity to regain lost strength. The prominent A group led by Chandy doesn’t hold any key posts at present. I group leader Ramesh Chennithala is the Opposition Leader, while VM Sudheeran was KPCC president. However, alternative names from the A group for the post of KPCC chief are not easy to find as second-rung leaders like KC Joseph or Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan lack the charisma to claim the post.
KPCC Vice President VD Satheesan of the I group is a strong contender, but will be opposed by the A group. The state unit of the Congress has had a history of being led by one Hindu and one Christian leader at a time. That legacy of K Karunakaran and AK Antony has been carried on by Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala. The High Command has also nurtured this balance as upper caste Hindus and Christians form the main vote bank of the Congress. To continue this equation, it now has to pick the KPCC head from among the other Christian leaders in the party, if Chandy disagrees.
The likely choice then would be MLA PT Thomas. Thomas was a supporter of the A group. However, after he managed to get a seat in the 2016 Assembly elections with the blessings of VM Sudheeran, he was ousted from the group. This, along with his loyalty to the High Command, may make him the right choice.
Kodikunnil Suresh and Mullappally Ramachandran are two other leaders who can meet Rahul Gandhi’s criterion of caste. Though former minister of state Ramachandran is not active in politics now, that doesn’t necessarily disqualify him, as Sudheeran was also elected to the post of KPCC president after a ten-year hiatus from active politics. For 54-year-old Suresh age is also a favourable factor.
Some reports also suggest the names of I group leaders K Sudhakaran and PC Vishnunath among the probables. But K Sudhakaran’s image as an outspoken leader would act against him, while A group-man PC Vishnunath is seen as lacking the strength to command top leaders.