KOTTAYAM: “The Kerala Congress has always enjoyed a specific brand of supporters, who do not want to fall in line behind any other political parties, including the Congress,” KM Mani once famously said, citing the reason for not merging with the Congress, despite the opportunity coming twice in the late 1970s. It would have been an altogether different path for both Mani and KC(M), had he availed the opportunity. But for Mani, his politics began and ended with the KC(M). The Kerala Congress was his strength, and at the same time, his weakness too.
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In the 55-years-long history of the Kerala Congress, Mani emerged to be the irrefutable leader, who ensured a secure slot for the otherwise slender outfit in the Christian-dominated Central Travancore political space.
Even though it faced several splits in its five-decades-long journey, the Kerala Congress’ legacy remained safe in the hands of Mani ever since he formed the party in 1979.
Now, with the passing away of Mani - one of the most unparalleled tacticians Kerala politics has ever seen - who stood his ground and remained unfazed even in grave crisis, has created a vacuum in the leadership. In the absence of Mani, uncertainty looms over the KC(M) as a major struggle is likely to wrest the party’s control.
Political observers say the first crisis in the party will be centred around the new chairman, a post that had fallen vacant with the demise of Mani. “Since working chairman PJ Joseph is next in line, naturally he would have the first claim for chairmanship. But Jose K Mani and team cannot even think of losing the key post, which is crucial in any decision making. At present, Jose holds the majority in various party forums and can easily become the chairman,” said Antony Raju of Kerala Congress (Democratic).
With Pala soon to head for a by-election, the new chairman will have a significant role in deciding the candidate for the election. However, there is no doubt PJ Joseph, who initiated a revolt within the party over the Lok Sabha candidature, will launch an all-out effort to get the reins of the party in the absence of Mani.
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“This will definitely create a serious crisis in the party. While Joseph has the support of senior leaders of both Joseph and Mani factions, Jose is quite detached from almost all the senior leaders. Meanwhile, Jose has an upper hand in the state and district committees. Hence, the situation will be more complex,” said a leader close to KC(M).
At the same time, a decision on the new chairman will be kept on hold till the Lok Sabha election is over as the KC(M) and the UDF do not want to create any disturbances in the party during election time.
Any changes in the equations within the KC(M) will have ripple effects in the UDF politics in Central Travancore, especially in the Congress.
The KC(M) and Congress workers share a strained relationship here for a while as a section in the Congress believes the presence of KC (M) has taken over the opportunities. With the demise of Mani, the Congress is likely to make an attempt to bring things under its control, which may put the KC(M) in further trouble.