Ahead of the assembly polls, the Congress party in Kerala faces an acute identity crisis.

Why is Thrissur often the flashpoint of Congress factional politics
Voices Wednesday, April 06, 2016 - 11:02

By Vaisakh E Hari

In the run-up to the assembly elections scheduled to be held on May 16, the Congress party in Kerala faces an acute identity crisis with group equations going haywire in the pre-election scenario. 

Take the case of Thrissur district -a nerve centre in the party’s factional politics and often the flashpoint of the A and I-groups’ factional strife which even resulted in the murders of three youth Congress leaders in the past couple of years. 

A large chunk of the names proposed by veteran group leaders in the district –according to reliable sources- were dropped from the list of proposed candidates with several loyalists of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) VM Sudheeran finding their way into it.

Though inter-group-tug-of-wars have always been a common occurrence in the district, there is a sense of increasing disenchantment among the party cadres since the official list of candidates was released on Monday.

Satheeshan Pacheni who was once a die-hard ‘A’ group supporter of CM Oommen Chandy’s faction defected to the ‘I’ group, reportedly in search of greener pastures. Sudheeran’s idealistic stance slowly seems to be yielding results especially in Thrissur long held to be an ‘I’ group stronghold as well as the hometown of late CM K Karunakaran.

Thrissur fiasco

A three-member KPCC panel comprising Chandy, Sudheeran and state home minister Ramesh Chennithala was constituted to select candidates for the upcoming polls. Attempting to redeem the party from the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Left in the local body polls last November, all the district leaders did make an effort to offer lip service to maintaining unity within the party lines.

Not only had the Left managed to make a massive dent in a district which had eluded them for long, they also accused the Congress of leaking votes to the BJP who raked in substantial gains in many constituencies here.

KP Dhanapalan, a non-Thrissur native, was given the Kodungallur seat. DCC President and prominent A-group leader O Abdurahman Kutty was given Manaloor at the expense of fellow A-group leader and veteran PA Madhavan, though Abdurahman himself preferred Kunnamkulam which was handed over to CP John of CMP, sowing seeds of dissension within the A-group.

The DCC President had even gone to the extent of writing to the KPCC leadership, asking them to consider candidate options from within the district.

The Catholic church had also apparently threatened to withdraw support if sitting MLA Therambil Ramakrishnan was allowed to compete from Thrissur. Therambil -not surprisingly- did not make it to the final list.

Thrissur ‘I’ group supremo and state cooperation minister CN Balakrishnan reeling under the Consumer-Fed Graft case and the furore over his alleged involvement in the murder of ‘A’ group leader Haneefa at Chavakkad had no option but to pull out of the contest.

The I-group leaders had staked their claim to six seats with an eye on the vacant Kaippamangalam and Nattika constituencies too.  However all the names suggested by Balakrishnan for the Vadakkanchery, Puthukkad and Ollur constituencies were excluded.

Revealing rifts within the I-group itself, Sundaran Kunnathully -known to be close to Sudheeran- was selected from Puthukkad. Ollur sitting MLA MP Vincent too made the list much to Balakrishnan’s chargin. Anil Akkara –another Sudheeran aide- was chosen to compete from the minister’s own constituency of Vadakkanchery, thereby adding insult to injury.

There are around 85 DCC office bearers in the district of which at least 15 office bearers are reportedly close to the KPCC president. PC Chacko during his MP tenure- had served the biggest blow to the powerful I-group by snatching away the DCC leadership from it and appointing Abdurahman Kutty of the A-group as the DCC President.

This had served to deepen the existing schisms within the party ranks. The deaths of Madhu Eacharath and Lalji Kollannur in factional strife followed by the murder of A-group activist Haneefa in the coastal town of Chavakkad in 2015 further worsened the scenario.

Now party veterans PA Madhavan of the A-group and CN Balakrishnan of the I-group are eyeing the plum post of the DCC president in Thrissur. “Since the ‘I’ group is currently up-in-arms, the Thrissur DCC may be given to the Minister to placate them  with the A-group being asked to consider a swap with Palakkad DCC. Nothing can be said at this juncture,” say district party sources.   

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