The politics of central Kerala is set for major realignment after the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Monday expelled the faction of the Kerala Congress (M) led by Jose K Mani. The faction led-by PJ Joseph remains within the UDF.
For several months now, the two factions led by Joseph and Mani have been at each other’s throats over the post of the president of the Kottayam district panchayat. When Jose faction’s candidate Sebastian Kulathunkal was elected as president of the local body in July last year, the agreement was that the post would be shared between the two factions. However, when the UDF asked the Jose faction’s candidate to step down in view of the agreement, he refused, stating his own set of demands including confirmation on the number of seats his faction would contest in the 2021 Assembly elections. With Joseph ready to bring a no-confidence motion in the panchayat council, the UDF was forced to take the hard decision by expelling the Jose faction citing violation of coalition rules.
Roshy Augustine, an MLA belonging to the Jose faction, responded emotionally to the decision. “We are deeply upset by the decision of the UDF. What mistake have we committed? When have we gone against the coalition? We resigned from the Kanjirappilly panchayat and Changanasseri municipality posts as per coalition directions. We have always stood by the coalition. But the people who have cheated the coalition are allowed to stay. Why?”
Jose K Mani, in a press conference, told reporters, “This concerns the very self-respect of the party. We are not ready to compromise on our self-respect. There has been selective justice in this decision and selective justice is injustice. The UDF leadership has not been ready to talk and discuss the suggestions we put across.”
The Jose faction will hold its state committee with available leaders on Tuesday to take stock of the situation and take future decisions on its political strategy.
The troubles between the Jose and Joseph factions began shortly after the death of KM Mani, the state’s former finance minister and founding chairman of the Kerala Congress (M), in April last year. While Jose is the son of Mani, Joseph has been a longtime senior leader of the party. Both men have presented themselves as the rightful heir to the legacy of Mani. The tussles exacerbated when the Kerala Congress (M) lost from its stronghold of Pala in a by-election last year. A stinging defeat in the constituency, which had been held by Mani for 52 years since inception, was seen as a personal setback for Jose.
The expulsion of the Jose faction from UDF comes just four months ahead of the local body elections, widely seen as a semi-final before the 2021 Assembly polls. The Jose faction has the support of two MLAs in the Assembly. Jose himself is a Rajya Sabha MP while his colleague Thomas Chazhikkadan is a Lok Sabha MP representing the faction.
There are reports that the Jose faction may move to the CPM-led LDF.