A day after the Election Commission awarded the ‘two leaves’ symbol to the Jose faction of Kerala Congress (M), a jubilant Jose K Mani sought to project himself as the successor of his father’s political legacy and stake claim to the future leadership of the party.
On Tuesday, armed with the EC majority verdict (2:1), at a press conference in Kottayam, Jose said: “The EC verdict is a massive setback for all forces who have been trying to weaken the KC(M) and the political legacy of Mani sir. It has made it abundantly clear which (faction) is the real KC(M). In the past, when we referred to ourselves as the Kerala Congress (M), we were labelled as Jose faction. But from this minute onward, there is only one KC(M),”
Since the death of his father and party chairman KM Mani in April last year, the 55-year-old has had to face a series of setbacks, the most shocking of which was the bypoll defeat in Pala, a constituency his father had nurtured for nearly six decades.
The EC ruling is certainly a morale booster for Jose whose attempts to take control of the party, which has a considerable influence among Christian voters in central Kerala, have over the past year clashed with the leadership ambitions of senior party leader P J Joseph.
Since Mani’s death, the rivalry between the two factions has resulted in deep fault-lines within the party, causing ally Congress to fear that it would have an adverse effect on the coalition it is set to lead in the upcoming local body polls and the Assembly polls in May 2021.
At the press briefing, Jose started with welcoming back into the party fold those who had left his side over the past year. “Some people may have been misunderstood and gone over to the other side. I have no complaints against them. It is now clear which is the real Kerala Congress (M). We have got our symbol. The door of this household is open. They must return to our family.”
At the same time, he also struck a note of caution for dissenters. “There are many public representatives who have won elections on the ‘two leaves’ symbol. If they take a different path, we will take strong disqualification measures,” he said, in a swipe at the Joseph faction.
While the Jose faction has two MLAs, one Lok Sabha MP and a Rajya Sabha seat, the Joseph faction has three MLAs in the Assembly.
The EC verdict on the ‘two leaves’ symbol puts the Congress in a very tricky spot. Prior to the verdict, the party was preparing to expel the Jose faction out of the UDF on account of its non-cooperation on the floor of the Kerala Assembly during the recent no-confidence vote and the election to the lone Rajya Sabha seat. On both occasions, the two MLAs belonging to the Jose faction had abstained, thereby angering the Congress. But now with Jose getting the ‘two leaves’ symbol, the Congress is said to be having second thoughts.
For his part, Jose has maintained that the KC(M) stands independent — equidistant from all three coalitions led by the Left, Congress and the BJP. However, he signalled that he would take a decision on the party’s political direction ahead of the local body polls as it would be prudent for it to be attached to a coalition to reap the biggest dividends.
For Jose, both the LDF and the UDF come with their own sets of benefits and disadvantages. There have been no formal remarks yet, but backdoor negotiations are reported to be taking place with the leaders of the CPM to find an amicable arrangement of seats for both the local body and Assembly polls should the KC(M) enter the LDF. Though CPI, the second-largest party in the LDF, was initially against KC(M)’s induction, it has reportedly been placated by the CPM. As for the UDF, while seat distribution would not be a problem, Jose will have to constantly look over his shoulder for Joseph.
In any case, there is no doubt that the EC verdict certainly strengthens Jose’s hand as he spends the next one month bargaining hard with the two coalitions for a respectful place for his party.
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