A faction of the Kerala Congress (Mani), led by party founder K M Mani’s son Jose K Mani, became a partner of the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) on Thursday, a week after it had broken away from the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). The swift decision to take in the faction led by Jose, a Rajya Sabha MP, was taken in view of upcoming local body elections.
All this also continues a decades-long trend of the Kerala Congress splitting, the new groups splitting again, and merging. Each such event has given rise to local satraps in Central Kerala, where the party’s many factions wield their influence.
All the KC groups
The Kerala Congress was founded in 1964 from a split in the Congress. Following a scandal in 1963, Chief Minister R Sankar removed Home Minister P T Chacko, who died in 1964. Fifteen of Chacko’s colleagues led by K M George toppled Sankar in a no-confidence motion. George and R Balakrishna Pillai formed Kerala Congress with the backing of Mannath Padmanabhan, giving the upper caste Hindu Nair community a foothold in the primarily Catholic party.
The first cracks in Kerala Congress developed over leadership in 1977, following George’s death. Pillai parted ways with Mani, launched KC(B), and moved to the Left. In 1979, Mani pulled away with P J Joseph to form KC (Mani). Mani joined the LDF government in 1980, but toppled it in 1982, shifting to UDF. By then, Joseph was with the Congress. Later (1982-87), the Mani, Pillai and Joseph groups would all be in the UDF. In fact, in 1985, all three merged back into Kerala Congres, but in two years Joseph and Mani would split again. Pillai remained with Joseph until 1989, when he revived KC(B). In 1989, Joseph left the UDF; in 1991, he teamed up with LDF.
The next split was in KC(M), when Mani loyalist T M Jacob formed KC (Jacob) in 1993. In the 1990s, P C Thomas, son of the late Chacko, emerged as a prominent figure in the Mani camp, but differences arose as Mani sought to promote his son. Thomas, then a Lok Sabha MP, was ousted from the party in 2001; he formed Indian Federal Democratic Party (IFDP) and went on to become a minister in the NDA.
In 2003, P C George split with Joseph and formed KC (Secular). Two years later, Thomas merged his IFDP with KC (Joseph). By then, George had wound up KC (Secular) and returned to Mani’s KC(M).
The Mani and Joseph groups merged in 2010, after Joseph ending his two-decade links with the LDF. But, within the Joseph camp, P C Thomas was against the merger and formed KC (Anti-merger) with Scaria Thomas, and continued with LDF. Later, they respectively formed KC (Thomas) and K C (Scaria Thomas). P C Thomas eventually moved to NDA, and Scaria Thomas to LDF.
In 2016, former MP Francis George, son of the late K M George, floated KC (Democratic), and joined LDF. Meanwhile, P C George parted ways with Mani and formed Kerala Janapaksham (Secular). Following K M Mani’s death, Francis returned to the Joseph camp, while a few others kept KC(D) alive within LDF. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
Christian party & dynasts
Except for a few leaders from the Nair community, all KC factions have been dominated by Christian leaders, particularly Catholics, their vote bank being farmers of Kottayam, Idukki, Ernakulam and Pathanamthitta. Splits have restricted the factions within the boundaries of their constituencies, which in turn has limited their political interests to nursing and retaining the seats. This helps some KC leaders weather any political turmoil during any election.
Dynasty rule is evident in all KC groups except the Joseph faction; most splits have happened over denial of seats or posts to prominent leaders or their protégés.
Jose K Mani’s bid to take control of the party after his father’s death last year led to a revolt, and now a split. In 2001, P C Thomas was ousted from the Mani group after he questioned the promotion of Jose, who became an MP in 2009 while his father remained an MLA. After Mani’s death, there was a bid to give the bypoll ticket to Jose’s wife Nisha.
KC(B) has been reduced to a father-son affair after Balakrishna Pillai handed over the reins to son K B Ganesh Kumar. After the death of T M Jacob in 2011, his son Anoop has taken over KC (Jacob). After the death K Narayana Kurup, who represented the Hindu Nair section, his son N Jayaraj took over and is now a legislator with the Jose faction. K M George’s son Francis too had floated KC (Democratic), but has now returned to the Joseph group.
The split & after
In the dispute between the Joseph and Jose groups, both sides have claimed support of the KC(M) rank and file, but, Joseph is the more popular and influential leader. After Jose raised his revolt, the Joseph side has seen more senior leaders such as Francis George, Johny Nelloor and Joseph M Puthussery joining the UDF. The first test of their clout would be how many seats their respective nominees get from UDF and LDF in the civic body elections.
Jose has been often blamed for lack of political acumen, although he is planning to ride his father’s popularity. Pala, the seat nurtured by K M Mani for decades, is significant for both LDF and UDF. The incumbent MLA, Mani C Kappan, of LDF partner NCP, has said he would not surrender it. To secure his future, Jose faces the challenge of not only getting the ticket but also winning the seat. The CPM’s decision would be crucial and could possibly go in favour of Jose, considering the stakes involved.
By roping in the Jose faction, the CPM hopes to win more seats from Central Kerala and retain power in 2021, bucking the trend of alternate governments. Crucial to this would be Jose’s ability to bring the KC vote bank to LDF, considering that its voters are traditionally pro-UDF.
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