KOCHI: Of late, no chief minister in Kerala other than the reigning Oommen Chandy had gone through travails of the kind any CM heading a coalition has countered. No government in the state has steered its course to its last year in office with a slender majority of two MLAs in the beginning and currently three in the 140-member Assembly.
Strife has been a constant factor, both within the Congress and the coalition, which has been riddled with scams, sex scandals and dissident activity. The latest embarrassment Chandy faced was the surfacing of a ‘letter’, purported to have been written by Chandy’s Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala to the Congress High Command, placing the blame on the CM for favouring the majority vote at the expense of the minorities.
Chennithala, who has no love lost with Chandy, later denied that he had ever written the letter. Even then, the contents of the letter in question which has appeared in the media puts both the chief minister and KPCC president V M Sudheeran in a quandary. Most of all it reveals the simmering ego clashes and power struggles within the struggling Congress party at a time the BJP has made considerable inroads into the electoral rolls of the southern state.
The charge against Chandy, as mentioned in the letter, is that the majority communities are distancing from the Congress and UDF government as the dispensation headed by him is viewed as a minorities dominated one. The same vociferous charge which the BJP and RSS was championing ever since the UDF government came to power, but used only sparingly by the Left.
With the strong backing of the minority communities driven IUML and Kerala Congress (M), Chandy easily rode to power as the consensus Chief Minister, though the ‘A’ faction represented by him had only the support of 19 Congress MLA’s in the 39 member Congress Legislature party. Though Chennithala, on the strength of legislators of the ‘I’ faction aligned with him, had tried to stake claim with the aim of gaining at least a fixed term of chief ministership in the second half of the government, the High Command intervened then and he continued as a MLA and KPCC president. The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is a dominant partner in the coalition, and has twisted the chief minister’s arm on many occasions, including the appointment of ministers.
The recent charges that Chandy sought sexual favours in the `6 crore solar panel scam came as a bolt from the blue and the bar scam left Congress with a divided house. But a wary and wily Chandy has set an altogether different innings as chief minister, obvious through a paradigm shift in the development initiatives and mega infrastructure projects like Kochi Metro, Smart City project and the Kannur project, in addition to the thrust given to various welfare programmes. Successive win in all the by polls held to the Assembly made Chandy invincible for both the Opposition and critics in the Congress.
With the general elections to the Assembly just five months away, despite the Kochi Metro set for a partial run and test flights to touch Kannur airport before that, the political heat from within may leave the UDF caged. Chandy, in all probability, is going to be the second Congress chief minister who has put a full five year term, the other one being the late K Karunakaran, in office. He has withered all political storms in his path and kept rising. Even then, he may find himself in a siege in his last days.
Scroll of Contempt
Kochi: The backdrop of Chennithala’s alleged letter, or at least its contents even if the letter is claimed to be non-existent or forged, is very important. The reverses suffered by the UDF in the recent local bodies polls have been attributed to Chandy’s ‘tainted figure’ and leading a government mired in ‘scams and authoritarianism’. Though the fact remains that the Congress led front had scored well in the local polls only once in the history of the state, in 2010 polls, the minority appeasement charge has found some weightage, given the reality that the BJP and allied forces are whipping up religious sentiments in the state. Chandy is criticised for pampering the IUML and KC(M), a charge which he denied.