By Sanu V.George
The Congress party in Kerala has always been a divided house, with each of the senior leaders trying to outdo the other. But ever since K.C. Venugopal became the blue-eyed boy of former national president Rahul Gandhi, faction managers in the state are busy rethinking strategies to checkmate the growth of Venugopal.
With the Assembly elections likely to be held in May next year and the state having the convention of the opposition winning the election, the Congress is sure to follow the tradition. Hence, the party faction managers are leaving nothing to chance to let Venugopal take the cake and become the Chief Minister in case the Congress-led UDF wins the polls.
The two-time former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who could be rated as the last Congress leader with a pan Kerala grip, and leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala lead their factions in the party.
While the Chandy-Chennithala factions have been engaged in strengthening their own factions ahead of the May polls, the sudden ascendancy of Venugopal appears to have given the rival factions a lot to worry about. None of the two factions knows how 57-year-old Venugopal became the favourite of the Gandhis.
In 2017, Venugopal was appointed the Congress general secretary in-charge of organisation and eyebrows were raised after he decided not to contest the Alappuzha Lok Sabha seat in 2019, which he won in 2009 and 2014.
But Rahul Gandhi had other plans and Venugopal was fielded from Rajasthan to the Upper House in June this year. With this the rival Chandy and Chennithala factions appeared to have read the writing on the wall.
Said a party source, “There is the regular washing of dirty linen in the public, which the Congress party is now known for in Kerala. When it comes to the selection of candidates and the need to elect the Congress legislature party leader in case the Congress-led UDF wins the majority in the Assembly polls, then the party high command will step in. It is here where Venugopal stands a chance to become the dark horse in the race to be the next Congress Chief Minister.”
Chandy has gone on record to say that ‘Chennithala is doing a good job as the Leader of Opposition and the party never names their chief minister candidate, as it is the newly elected Congress legislature party along with the concurrence of the high command, that the leader is selected’.
This statement of Chandy clearly indicates that, though, after the rout at the 2016 Assembly polls, which he led as the outgoing Chief Minister, he never staked a claim for any post in the party but now he has thrown his hat for the post of the chief minister.
Chennithala, however, feels that in concurrence with the history, much like K.Karunakaran, A.K. Antony and Chandy, who were the leaders of the opposition in the Assembly went on to become the chief ministers, the post therefore is naturally his.
With the local body polls all set to be held next month, the performance of the Congress-led UDF could well be the starting point for both Chandy and Chennithala. Any wrong move can spoil the peace in the Congress, which would be like the death knell for both of them and if things turn for the worse, Venugopal would make his entry.
So, both the factions are trying to put up a united front and showing that there are no differences.
Sources in the Congress party say that if there is any bickering on the question of CM, then a formula could be worked. Chandy could be the CM for two years and then he can make way for Chennithala.
If the Congress fails to regain power, it could be difficult for the party as the BJP is trying everything to become a force, though in the present Assembly it has only one seat in the 140-member Kerala Assembly.