Leaders and ordinary party workers of the Congress in Kerala are watching eagerly as the list of candidates who will contest the April 6 assembly polls is being readied.
Over the years the Congress party has been deeply divided in three and at times four factions led by leaders like Oommen Chandy, Ramesh Chennithala and Vayalar Ravi. When it comes to the selection of candidates, it’s these faction leaders who have an edge and manage to get their candidates the party ticket.
But of late, ever since Rahul Gandhi became a deciding factor, things started to change and at times he has put his foot down and slashed a few names these leaders came up with.
A senior Congress leader on condition of anonymity said Gandhi of late has been able to assert his authority, which has not gone down well with the faction managers here, but all know that there is not much point in dissenting.
“Gandhi has the support of three-time former Chief Minister and Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who is in the good books of the Gandhis. Antony, for three decades till the late nineties, headed his own faction, which was led by Chandy. But since the turn of the century, he is not involved in any factional issues, but his opinion carries weight with the Gandhis. He literally acts as a watchdog, so none of the faction leaders gets away easily,” said the Congress leader.
Even though if one looks at the electoral history in Kerala, no government has been able to retain power and this time, if the trend prevails, then the Congress-led UDF should form the next government when the votes are counted on May 2.
But, though the UDF recorded a stunning victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections by winning 19 out of the 20 seats from the state, complacency set in amongst its leaders and grassroot workers.
“Despite Pinarayi Vijayan being caught in scams and scandals, for some reason they managed to hold on to the lead that they had in the previous local body polls in 2015, when the polls was held in December last year. That came as a shock to the UDF and Vijayan seized on that and has started the election campaign with the tagline, the Left is surely returning to power again and this has sent shivers down the spines of practically every Congress worker. In a way, this realisation will only help the UDF, as all of them will work very hard for the April 6 assembly polls,” added the leader.
The Congress party this time is expected to contest around 94 of the 140 assembly seats, leaving the rest to its allies and 22 sitting legislators have all been cleared.
Already the first round of fireworks began when angry Youth Congress workers in Kollam district raised the banner of revolt after word went around that the Chadayamanagalam assembly seat, always contested by the Congress party, might be given to the Indian Union Muslim League.
On Tuesday, senior Congress leader A.V. Gopinath at Palakkad expressed his ire that the present state and national leadership is ignoring leaders who have served the party for long.
“Even though I have not gone after anyone seeking a seat to contest, what has hurt me is the way some leaders are being sidelined. This should not happen and if need be, I might even contest, against the Congress. I don’t think anyone can take me for granted forever,” said Gopinath.
MP and working president of the state Congress party K. Sudhakaran reacted by saying that he heard about Gopinath’s unhappiness.
“We will definitely speak to him and hear him and do our best to placate him,” said Sudhakaran.
Murmurs have also started among the rank and file in the party that more fireworks can be expected as a large number of familiar faces who have had a long innings and have contested many times are in the list of candidates.
Those whose names have already invited displeasure include eight-time legislator K.C. Joseph, who is 75 and is seeking another term.
The others whose names have been circulating and who have already raised hackles include Thampanoor Ravi, Palode Ravi, Joseph Vazhakan, P.C. Chacko, P.J. Kurian, Pandalam Sudhakaran, Sakthan Nadar, Bindhu Krishna, Laly Vincent, Lathika Subhash, Padmaja Venugopal (daughter of K. Karunakaran) Soornad Rajasekheran, to name a few.
Fissures have surfaced in the Congress party in Pathanamthitta and posters have also appeared warning that things will be bad for the party if candidate selection is not done properly.
The Congress party, on account of fielding familiar names, has lost very badly in districts like Kollam, Thrissur, Kozhikode, Palakkad and Alappuzha which together account for close to 45 per cent of the total seats in Kerala.
Meanwhile Rahul Gandhi who made a quick trip to the state capital on Monday night enroute from Kanyakumari to Delhi held discussions with the top brass here.
“He has already been actively involved in discussing the list and following his meeting with the leaders on Tuesday morning the selection committee had a meeting. In the coming days, the top leaders would leave to Delhi, from where the final list will be released,” said another top leader, who did not wish to be identified.
And if anyone thinks that there will be no fireworks then it would be wishful thinking, confided another Congress leader.