Riddled with factionalism, the Congress party in Kerala has postponed the announcement of candidates till Sunday after failing to reach a consensus for the Assembly polls scheduled for April 6. The party was expected to release the list of candidates on Friday in Delhi. However, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president (KPCC) president Mullappally Ramachandran said that the party will announce the final list only on Sunday as consensus still eludes in 10 seats.
The party, which is still reeling from the exit of veteran leader P C Chacko suffered another blow after former KPCC general secretary Vijayan Thomas joined Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday even as top leaders were holding meetings in the capital.
The state leaders including Mullappally Ramachandran, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala and former chief minister Oommen Chandy have been holding parleys with the party high command since last Sunday in the national capital with regard to the candidates. The infighting within party ranks has come out in the open as Congress’ ‘A’ and ‘I’ factions have been rooting for their own candidates.
The Congress will be contesting in 91 constituencies out of the 140 Assembly seats. Even after marathon discussions with the high command, the party failed to release a conclusive list on Friday.
According to sources, the state leaders have also held many rounds of talks with AICC leaders Rahul Gandhi, H K Patil, Sonia Gandhi and Tariq Anwar to reach a consensus. Emerging from the meeting with the central leadership, Ramachandran said that though there is unanimity on 81 candidates, discussions will continue on the other 10 seats.
“We have arrived at a consensus in 81 seats. There is no opinion of differences within the ranks. This shows the democratic nature of our party. Will announce the final list on Sunday after finalizing candidates for the other 10 seats,” said Ramachandran.
The party is also under pressure for releasing its candidate list as its main rival ruling CPI (M) has already announced the candidate list early this week and the campaigning is underway. The delay in the Congress list was attributed to confusion in seats such as Nemom, Kollam, Kundara, Adoor, Tripunithura, Kalpetta among others. As senior leaders Chandy and Chennithala have been haggling for their choice of candidates, sources said that AICC leader KC Venugopal has been rooting for fielding new and young faces.
As high-level meetings were underway in the capital, report of rebellion from local branches have also come as a headache for the party. On Friday, many District Congress Committee (DCC) presidents and local leaders have held protest rallies and threatened to quit the party if their choice of candidates were not considered.
After quitting the party, PC Chacko has alleged the party is controlled by group leaders of A and I, and no discussion has been held within the election committee on the selection of candidates. Chacko was critical of Ommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala without sparing High Command’s role in it. Observers say that the Congress will have to do more introspection as Chacko received support from senior leaders V M Sudheeran and former Rajya Sabha vice-chairman PJ Kurien too.
Among the 10 undecided seats, Nemom constituency in Thiruvanathapuram has emerged as the contentious point as the Congress High command pitching for a strong candidate for this seat. The constituency came into the spotlight after BJP opened its account in the state by winning its first MLA in 2016. The seat is prestigious for all three fronts —UDF, LDF, and the NDA as a fierce battle are on the cards.
It is to be noted that the Congress-led UDF won the Nemom seat by 60,000 votes in 2006 and it came in third place in the 2011 Assembly election. In 2011, the seat was won by LDF candidate V Sivankutty. In the 2016 Assembly election, the UDF fielded its ally, Janata Dal, in Nemom and it secured only 13,000 votes, registering a significant fall from its earlier tallies.
However, its rival CPM alleges that the tacit understanding between Congress and the BJP has helped the BJP to open an account in the state.
It seems that the Congress central leadership is looking to do away with the allegations by fielding a high-profile candidate in Nemom. Till Friday evening, names of senior leaders such Shashi Tharoor, Oommen Chandy, Ramesh Chennithala or V Muraleedharan has been floated around for Nemom.
However, by late evening, Ramachandran ruled out considering sitting MPs for Nemom seat and thus the names of Tharoor and Muraleedharan were out from the probable list.
Though the High command strongly pitched or Oommen Chandy to contest from Nemom, Chandy brushed aside rumors saying that he will be contesting from Puthupally, a constituency he has been holding for 10 years. The suspense will be over by Sunday says, Ramachandran.
"For Nemom constituency, we will be fielding a strong candidate," he said.
Meanwhile, the BJP is expected to announce its candidates' list on Saturday and the state leaders including K Surendran and E Sreedharan are already in Delhi to finalize the list with its central leaders.
Sources also said that the Congress High Command is worried about the defections from the state ranks to the BJP ahead of the election. Some leaders have also expressed apprehensions that more will join BJP after the candidate list is released.
In Malampuzha seat also, the state Congress leadership is facing allegations of forming a secret pact with the BJP. Local Congress workers and leaders hit the streets on Saturday morning protesting against the UDF's move to allot the seat to it's lesser known ally Janata Dal.