Two meetings of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) have strongly opposed the Indian Union Muslim League's demand for a fifth berth in the Oommen Chandy Cabinet.
There appeared to be a near unanimity in opinion with regard to the IUML's demand, which, speakers at the meeting, felt was unjustified. The all-round opposition clearly showed the Congress party's apprehensions about the political fallout of the IUML's demand. Interestingly, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala did not reply to the strong sentiments expressed at both the meetings. And they confined their response to a one-line assurance that the sentiments of the party would be conveyed to the Congress high command.
Speakers, one after another, criticised the IUML, which, they said, had ‘five Ministers' already, including E. Ahmed in the United Progressive Alliance Ministry at the Centre. Congress MP M.I. Shanavas contended that Congress leaders belonging to the Muslim community got the short shrift on account of accommodating the IUML. For the last 40 years, no Congress leader belonging to the Muslim community had been appointed to important positions such as Governor, Union Minister, or High Commissioner. Out of 25 corporations and boards that the party got, only two belonged to the Muslim community. There was no representation for Congress leaders from the community in the Public Service Commission.
KPCC spokesperson M.M. Hassan and Congress MLA C.P. Mohammed seconded Mr. Shanavas's statements. Mr. Hassan went one step further to state that the Congress never had to drop nominees from the Christian community because of the presence of Kerala Congress factions.
Electricity Minister Aryadan Mohammed also criticised the IUML for its obstinacy.
Ajay Tharayil said the backward classes had lost out in the current political situation. The Communist Party of India had made four ministers belonging to the Ezhava community and nothing untoward had happened to that party politically, he said while emphasising a point.
To reinforce its strong sentiments, the party leadership fielded mostly its Muslim leaders to debate the pros and cons of the IUML's demand. While a majority of the leaders spoke on the impact the IUML's demand would have on Hindu voters, Mr. Shanavas surprised every one by springing his arguments about the short shrift that Congress leaders belonging to the Muslim community was getting.
Despite the rather harsh words used by Congress leaders at the meetings, Mr. Chennithala was cautious in his public statements pronounced at the press conference. He declined to comment any further on the deliberations that took place in the meetings. At the end of the day, Congress leaders grudgingly conceded that the party high command would have to give in to the IUML's demand. At best, the strong sentiments would serve to block future pressure tactics of the IUML for more concessions, they believe.
There were opposition to the party leadership's move to field R. Selvaraj from Neyyattinkara. V.M. Sudheeran, speaking at the Political Affairs Committee meeting, deplored the practice of giving accommodation to leaders who quit the CPI(M) and joined the Congress. K. Muraleedharan also expressed his reservations about fielding the former CPI(M) MLA from the seat. However, the general consensus was that priority should be given to wresting the seat from the LDF. Even though the KPCC president said that the candidate selection would take place after the by-election is notified, it is almost certain that Mr. Selvaraj would get the UDF ticket.