March 31, 2020
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Kerala Conundrums

Of A Leader Without A Pause And A Few Rebels With A Cause

Karunakaran is cool, Antony is livid. And the rebels are restive. Stay tuned to a Congress free-for-all...

Of A Leader Without A Pause And A Few Rebels With A Cause

Is K. Karunakaran moving closer to Cliff House — his favourite residence as the chief minister of Kerala — or is he standing on the edge of a cliff? Those close to him are the least willing to hazard a guess.

But what was he doing in New Delhi when elections in his state have reached a feverish pitch?

The old warhorse of the Congress in Kerala should have been in his state lending moral support to his partymen, who after a month-long factional battle that has pulled them behind the LDF are very much in need of him. Instead, "a meeting with Sonia would bolster the mood in the Congress camp," is how Karunakaran explained his arrival in the Capital on Tuesday morning.

"I am here to meet Sonia and withdraw my resignation from the Congress Working Committee," he told this correspondent. Karunakaran had quit the post of a permanent invitee member in the CWC on April 7 after an "unfair" distribution of seats by the party high command had "displeased" him.

On Tuesday he had to be first content with the usual Sonia snub. She did not have time to see him. He returned to meet her late at night and withdrew his resignation. "Some principles were involved and those were discussed. Whatever decisions would be taken will strengthen the Congress," he said of his meeting with Sonia. Karunakaran said that he would be joining the campaign on his return to Kerala.

It is the real purpose behind this visit that baffles everyone. "He could have withdrawn his resignation anytime later or he could have sent his letter from Kerala," say sources inside the Congress.

Back in Kerala his comeback early this month has put old rival A.K. Antony in such a stupor that he is yet to begin campaigning in Chertala, the constituency he is contesting from. The Leader has also reminded the party high command in Delhi that he is no pushover and that they can ill-afford to ignore him like they did with others in the Congress who were getting old.

The Congress I group (Karunakaran’s) – A group (Antony’s) wrangle over seat-sharing in Kerala had a lot more to it than meets the eye. What many have missed to see is the big step that Karunakaran has taken towards the chief minister’s chair. And nobody knows it better than Antony himself. Even though ‘St Antony of The Beaches’ has begun sermonizing on the advantages of the UDF-BJP-PDP electoral alliance, it has had little impact on the political equations within the Congress. "We will not say no to votes offered unconditionally by anyone who wants to put an end to the LDF rule." This is how Antony has been beginning his election speeches these past few days. For the record BJP has not fielded any candidate in Chertala. Neither has the PDP, the extremist Muslim group led by Abdul Nassar Madani, who is now lodged in the Coimbatore jail.

That Karunakaran would use all the rebels at his disposal to teach Antony a lesson in not only his constituency but a few choice others too is a foregone conclusion. Unlike Antony, Karunakaran has immense confidence in his supporters. Because Karunakaran has little history of having deserted or denounced those close to him. You won’t find a V.M. Sudheeran or a Cherian Philip in the Karunakaran camp. If you ask what about Ramesh Chennithala, the answer is another question. When was Chennithala ever on the Leader’s side even when he groomed the young one’s political career and showed him the way to the Parliament?

Karunakaran knew that anyone who followed him so blindly cannot be trusted. The ones to be trusted are the ones like him.Even during the recent meetings to sort out the seats at Kerala House in Delhi, Chennithala could be seen smiling by the side of Antony. However, Antony, till the last day, did not reciprocate the gestures of the little man from Kottayam. An unpetrubed Chennithala, like a true student of Karunakaran, played his part much too well.

On the eve of the discussion he made a trip from his 5, Talkatora Road residence at 9 p.m. to 10, Janpath. He met Soniaji and returned to sleep the night off peacefully. The next day when there was a very heated and animated discussion at Kerala House Chennithala was absent. He was, instead, slipping into his afternoon siesta. On that day, a Friday, he could do that. When the Congress high command announced the seats Chennithala had nine.

And this, with hindsight, could turn out to be Anthony’s loss and not Karunakaran’s. Because Chennithala, as the past has shown, has a mind of his own. And the fact of the matter, as in the case of his erstwhile Leader, is that only Chennithala knows why Chennithala does certain things and when.

The second time when the high command sat down to pacify an angry Karunakaran it did not take anything away from Chennithala. Neither did the Vayalar group lose any from the five allotted to it. It was Antony who had to make way. Thus in the end both (I) group and (A) group ended with 37 seats each.

On April 14, Vishu day — the annual festival that heralds the Kerala new year, Karunakaran must have prayed hard and for long at the Lord Krishna temple in Guruvayoor. For this is his one last chance to stay afloat in politics whether in Kerala or at the centre. He has been out of the limelight for sometime now (save for the Palmolein scam) due to ill-health and Muralidharan — the same son who is now the KPCC president thanks to none other than Antony himself.

Karunakaran may not remember how Antony made his exit at a crucial time when the Kerala PCC leaders had gathered at the Kerala House to decide on their party candidate from Kozhikode. The vote that Antony did not give wrested the issue in Murali’s favour. Murali became an MP and the party vice-president. Karunakaran believes in keeping his memory clean especially when it comes to concessions made by his foes.

"I have taken oath as the Chief Minister four times, don't you think it is enough? Even then, whatever the party says I will follow but that does not mean I am keen'', he said at his 9, Krishna Menon Marg residence in the capital. There lies the catch and the caveat. For Antony and co.

Whether it is the twist in the middle of the tale, or the macabre manner in which it began (a seat for Karunakaran’s daughter Padmaja), or the reversal at the end, Antony surely finds himself in the backseat.

This Easter, Kerala celebrated two resurrections. One of them was Karunakaran’s — the longevity of which will be known soon after the elections are over in Kerala.

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