After a few years, factionalism and infighting have returned to haunt the Tamil Nadu Congress with some of its leaders calling for the ouster of the state party chief K S Alagiri, who has been credited with leading the party to a remarkable showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the 2021 state Assembly polls.
The All India Congress Committee (AICC) leadership had appointed Alagiri as the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) president ahead of the 2019 general elections.
The latest trigger for resentment in a TNCC section against Alagiri was the November 15 incident, when a scuffle broke out between members of two Congress factions at the state party headquarters in Chennai over the appointment of certain block-level functionaries in Tirunelveli district. The police had to intervene to bring the situation under control, even as several Congress workers were injured in the incident.
It was alleged that the supporters of Nanguneri MLA Ruby R Manoharan had created this ruckus to protest against the above organisational appointments made by the TNCC president. Manoharan’s supporters brought from Tirunvelveli had also tried to stop Alagiri’s vehicle, which was resisted by the
latter’s supporters, resulting in the clash.
The fracas erupted while a meeting, attended by senior party leaders, was in progress to discuss the strategies for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Taking serious cognisance of the November 15 episode, the TNCC issued a show-cause notice to Manoharan, following which its disciplinary committee decided to suspend him. Subsequently, however, the party high command stayed his suspension on the ground that the disciplinary inquiry procedure in the case had not been properly followed.
TNCC sources said a state party faction has been up in arms against Alagiri, and has even got the support of a few leaders in Delhi. “We were all worried when Alagiri was appointed as the TNCC chief… The last four years under his leadership have, however, been fruitful. The results of the last two polls confirmed his worth,” said a senior TNCC leader. “I wouldn’t call him a saint, I cannot even give him a clean chit in matters such as corruption. But he was able to perform as a seasoned leader in everything from running the party without much controversies to negotiating and bargaining seats in DMK alliance,” the leader said.
The Congress has been part of the ruling DMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the party had won eight of the nine seats it contested. In the 2021 Assembly polls, the party bagged 18 out of 25 seats it contested.
The November 15 violence, another senior state Congress leader charged, was “planned to make things look even worse”. “In broad daylight, in the presence of senior leaders, a party MLA brought 300 supporters in luxury buses and caused an embarrassing scene and scuffle. Like always, the MLA responsible for the violence has used connections in Delhi to have the suspension lifted. You need a godfather in Delhi to make it through this party,” the leader charged, adding Alagiri was now facing the heat as he had been abandoned by “his godfather after he took charge of the TNCC”.
Some TNCC leaders have already asked the AICC leadership to replace Alagiri. According to sources, the party leadership has responded to them without disclosing any plans on the matter. “Some of the most important positions in the AICC have not yet been filled. A new leader in charge for Tamil Nadu is to be appointed. And the high command cannot go by the interest of individual leaders in a state where 39 MPs are on our side,” said a senior Congress leader familiar with such communications between the state party leaders and the high command.
Taking a cautious stance over the issue, K Selvaperunthagai, the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader, told The Indian Express that a change in the TNCC leadership was necessary. He denied that he had demanded Alagiri’s ouster and that he had any “personal grievances” against him.
“Before the chaos at party office broke out on November 15, Alagiri had used some unparliamentary words in a meeting that I and AICC TN in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao were all in. A TNCC chief should not be using such language. Then he walked out and slapped two, including a leader and a cadre. All of these factors had led to calls for new leadership,” Selvaperunthagai said.
“His (Alagiri’s) tenure is over. I haven’t called for his removal, and I haven’t even brought up the issue with high command too, but it’s been four years. For over a year now, the Tamil Nadu party has been hoping for a new leader,” the CLP leader added.
With the new Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge now appearing to put the AICC in order, there are indications that the TNCC revamp and Alagiri’s replacement may take some more time.