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Newsmaker | Heads he wins, tails it loses: Defiant Thomas headed for CPM meet, Congress in a cleft stick

With K V Thomas seen as the high command's man, the state unit has apparently conveyed to the central leadership that it should decide how to punish this “insult” as well as “act of indiscipline”.

Action against Thomas, which would lead to either his exit from the party or further alienation, will also further weaken the Congress in Kerala. (Express file)

Beset by several problems, the Congress in Kerala has a new one: what to do with former Union minister K V Thomas.

On Thursday, defying a directive from the party high command, Thomas announced that he would attend a seminar on Centre-state relations, to be held on Saturday as part of the ongoing CPM Congress in Kannur. Thomas left it to the party to decide what it wants to do with him. But, while the Congress had earlier threatened action should Thomas accept the CPM invite, it is now dragging its feet, wary of the fallout. Party state president K Sudhakaran said they would wait till the seminar was over.

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With Thomas seen as the high command’s man, the state unit has apparently conveyed to the central leadership that it should decide how to punish this “insult” as well as “act of indiscipline”. However, for the Delhi leadership, which counts the Left parties as comrade in the cause of a national platform, action against Thomas over participation in a CPM event might be counterproductive.

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Yechury with delegates at the 23rd CPI(M) Party Congress. (PTI Photo)

On Thursday, announcing that he would go to the CPM seminar, Thomas attested to his good relations with “madam” (Sonia Gandhi), but also made clear his lukewarm ties with Rahul Gandhi. “Rahul hasn’t talked to a senior leader like me since December 2018,’’ he said.

For the Congress, action against Thomas could go wrong many different ways. On Wednesday, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said at the party Kannur meet that the Congress, among other parties, should “set its house in order” and hinted that it should drop its soft Hindutva approach. With the Kerala CPM likely to be more aggressive than its central leadership, the Congress fears action against Thomas would be projected by the Left as a move taken at the behest of the BJP.

Senior CPM leader M V Jayarajan suggested as much, saying the Congress reaction to its invite for leaders such as Thomas and Shashi Tharoor showed its inability to fight the Sangh Parivar agenda. Tharoor had earlier turned down the invite after the Congress objections.

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MP Rajmohan Unnithan, among the most vocal Congress leaders against Thomas, dismissed his justification that he would attend the seminar for protecting national interests. “All non-BJP parties want the Congress to take the lead in forming a secular platform at the national level. Only the CPM in Kerala is against Congress leadership of such an alliance. How can a Congress leader take part in an event of the CPM?’’ he said.

Action against Thomas, which would lead to either his exit from the party or further alienation, will also further weaken the Congress in Kerala.

Thomas has been alienated from the Congress leadership since he was denied a ticket in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In the subsequent reshuffle of the state unit, he was not considered for any key post. There were rumours of him being in talks with the BJP, which has been looking for Christian faces in Kerala.

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A Congress member since 1970, the former chemistry professor would be the second face among the Christian community in Kerala, traditionally a Congress vote bank, to leave the party if he does so. Thomas’s Latin Catholic community has considerable presence in his home turf Ernakulam. The Congress earlier lost P C Chacko after he quit when denied a ticket for last year’s Assembly elections.

A view of the entrance of the main venue hosting the 23rd Communist Party of India (Marxist) Party Congress from April 6 to 10, at EK Nayanar Academy in Kannur. (PTI)

Before that, another Christian leader, Oommen Chandy, was moved out of Kerala as part of the change of guard in the state unit. The CPM has also attacked the Congress over this, accused it of relegating minorities to the margins.

While the CPM has not revealed its plans for Thomas, it has earlier accommodated all Congress renegades. A ticket though might be difficult given the stand the CPM has taken over leaders above a certain age, despite an opening coming up in the form of a by-election to Thrikkakara Assembly seat.

A sure bet in state elections for the Congress, Thomas is a five-term MP and two-term MLA. He has served as minister for tourism and fisheries in Kerala, and was a union minister in the UPA II regime. At the time, he had played a crucial role in getting the food security Bill passed.

First published on: 07-04-2022 at 06:51:40 pm
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