Beneath their starched white khadi shirts, the wrinkles are many. Come elections, they sit around the table behind closed doors to iron them out one by one. And then they somehow flash a broad smile for the cameras, and hug and wish each other the smile of Lady Luck. This time too, it was no different for the Congress in Kerala. The fighting factions—called the (A) and (I) groups—had dropped their weapons just before blood fell on the carpet. Come to think of it, these hard-nosed Congress leaders in Kerala, some dyed and some blatantly grey, are past-masters at deal-making and balancing weird equations. Machiavelli and Chanakya would have to collectively bow to their acumen.
Former CM Oommen Chandy, who leads the (A) group, knows these tricks and then some more, and the way he first swung the Wayanad seat for his man, T. Siddique, is just an example. And then he pulled out a vicious doosra when he announced that party chief Rahul Gandhi will himself descend from the North and contest from Wayanad, the forested district that forms a trijunction with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Till now, we are not sure if Rahul will come to Wayanad or not, or if there was a move at all in the first place. The man in the street will never come to know because he can never feel these things ‘by the hand’, to use the metaphor spun by Machiavelli a few centuries ago. The ‘hand’, of course, is capable of spinning both ways—judge only by the stand the party took on the Sabarimala controversy to keep its voters from swaying to the BJP. Will it work? Well, the Congress in Kerala has always been a party that “splits as it grows, and grows as it splits”. No matter how bitterly and awkwardly they fight, they land on all fours! Some of that durability and capacity to thrive amid crisis and conflict also characterises that other near-eponymous party whose name always confuses folks up north—the ‘Kerala Congress’, which used to claim a patent on the Syrian Christian vote. Last heard, Kerala Congress (M) supremo, K.M. Mani, had swung the party’s only seat, Kottayam, for his loyalist Thomas Chazhikkadan, leaving working president P.J. Joseph visibly upset. Senior UDF leaders were at work trying to calm PJ down.