Professor KV Thomas, “Thomas Maash (teacher)” to supporters, is the most prominent face of Kerala’s Latin Christians, a major Congress vote bank in the state. Thomas is the only sitting MP who did not make it to the list of 12 candidates announced by the Congress for Kerala on Saturday.
The veteran leader, 72, who has won the Ernakulam Lok Sabha seat five times (1984, 1989, 1991, 2009, 2014) lost the ticket for the prestigious central Kerala constituency to Hibi Eden, a former NSUI president and son of the late Congress leader George Eden, who won from Ernakulam in 1998 and 1999.
Thomas, who has also been a Kerala MLA and Minister, and was the Minister of State for Agriculture, Food and Public Distribution, and Consumer Affairs in Manmohan Singh’s UPA-II government, expressed shock and pain at his party’s decision and did not rule out joining the BJP in protest.
Thomas owes his rise in state politics to the late Congress veteran K Karunakaran. In the post-Karunakaran period, however, he has not identified himself with any group in the heavily faction-ridden state unit. He was a member of the A K Antony-led state government during 2001-04 but was dropped from the Cabinet after Antony was replaced by Oommen Chandy.
Not being part of any group had almost cost Thomas the ticket in 2009; it was only the intervention of Congress president Sonia Gandhi that ensured he got the chance to contest. After the UPA returned to power, he was made a Minister despite reservations expressed by senior leaders from the state.
Thomas had the blessings of Sonia Gandhi, and he was given the key portfolio of Food and Public Distribution through which her ambitious National Food Security Act was to be implemented. Even his junior ministerial post in the Ministry of Agriculture was seen as the Congress leadership’s attempt to keep an eye on NCP leader Sharad Pawar, who was the Cabinet Minister for Agriculture.
In 2014 too, the state leadership of the Congress tried to field Hibi Eden — but Sonia came to Thomas’s rescue yet again. In the 16th Lok Sabha, in which the Congress had only 44 MPs, Thomas was chosen to head the Public Accounts Committee.
This time, finally, the state Congress unit has had its way — it was unanimous in arguing that Thomas should be dropped from the list of candidates. What impact can this have?
Although Ernakulam is considered a Congress fortress, a miffed Thomas, a five-term MP, can spoil the game for the party. The CPI(M) has fielded the former Rajya Sabha MP P Rajeev, who has earned a name for himself as an effective parliamentarian on the basis of his 2009-15 term in the Upper House.
Rajeev being a strong opponent, the Congress candidate, Hibi, will need Thomas’s support at the seat. Hibi, too, is Latin Christian, but he does not have as much support in the community as Thomas.
Thomas, who had already started his campaign, has aired his disappointment publicly. With the BJP eyeing a poaching opportunity, Sonia has used her trusted senior leadership to urge Thomas to not take “hasty decisions”, and promised him rehabilitation.