Updated: March 16, 2021 12:32:18 pm
Senior Congress leader and former MP P C Chacko quit the party on Wednesday claiming allocation of seats was done only on the basis of groups in Kerala. The allegations of factionalism in the state Congress are not new, nor is Chacko the only one to make them.
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Most leaders, in whatever echelon of the party they may be, are considered part of either its ‘I’ or ‘A’ group. ‘I’ group is now led by Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Assembly Ramesh Chennithala and ‘A’ by former chief minister Oommen Chandy.
The two groups come into play in every election, from organisational to local body to Lok Sabha polls. Peace is brokered by dividing the seats neatly between the two, leaving those outside the factions high and dry. Sometimes, the obduracy to ensure a seat for a group loyalist is at the cost of electoral prospects; often, it results in the two factions working to defeat a candidate belonging to the other side. In the 2016 Assembly elections, for example, Chandy insisted on a seat for his loyalist K Babu, excise minister in the previous government, despite the allegations against him. Babu’s candidacy ended up putting corruption in the forefront of poll debates, which ultimately cost the Congress the election (including Babu’s seat).
Several scandals leading to the fall of Congress governments are blamed on this group rivalry. For example, the ISRO scandal of 1994, used by the original ‘A’ group’s A K Antony to target then Congress CM K Karunakaran (of the original ‘I’ faction), leading eventually to Karunakaran’s resignation. The bar bribery scandal of the previous UDF regime was seen has having emerged from the Chennithala group’s bid to unseat Chandy, then CM. Chennithala is alleged to have approached Kerala Congress (M) chairman K M Mani to help remove Chandy. When he refused, Mani soon found himself at the heart of bar bribery allegations.
A 40-year history
In 1972, Antony assumed charge as Kerala Congress chief. Soon after, the party started attacking Karunakaran, the former home minister. Antony incidentally had the backing of the Youth Congress, then led by P C Chacko.
In 1979, Antony and his followers joined the Congress (U) formed by Devaraj Urs, then Karnataka CM, after splitting from Indira Gandhi. However, later Antony left Urs and formed a Congress A in Kerala. In 1980, the Congress A joined a CPM-led government of which Chacko too was a part. Soon after, the name of the party was changed to the Indian Congress (S) with Sharad Pawar at the helm at the national level.
After the CPM lost power in 1981, Antony and supporters returned to the Congress, with Indira herself present to welcome them at a major function in December 1982. However, the differences between the ‘A’ group and ‘I’ group remained, with one crucial demarcation — the Karunakaran side had more Hindu leaders, while the Antony side was dominated by Christian leaders.
In 2001, when Antony became CM, Karunakaran countered by making his son K Muraleedharan the Congress state president. The intense rivalry eventually led to the Congress’s defeat in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Antony then resigned and moved to Delhi, with Chandy taking over the ‘A’ group. Then Karunakaran took a short break from the Congress, floating a DIC (K) in 2005, and Chennithala came to head ‘I’ group.
In Karunakaran’s absence, the ‘A’ group got stronger. But later, Muraleedharan returned to the Congress, and one-time Karunakaran loyalists banded together into a larger ‘I’ group.
Many local satraps emerged from this faction, including K Sudhakaran, K C Venugopal and Mullappally Ramachandran, who eventually found their feet without the ‘I’ group prop. The ‘A’ faction too has its share of satraps. For example, V M Sudheeran, once a staunch loyalist of Antony, who is now a vocal voice against factionalism.
The High Command
The senior leadership’s bid to mediate has, on most occasions, been only a ceasefire. The high command’s hands are tied due to the backing enjoyed by the two groups among the party and various communities. The lack of a strong central leadership that can crack the whip has contributed to the present predicament.
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