The Congress high command’s decision to maintain status quo in the current equations in the party in the State comes as a setback to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy as it ends his attempts to balance issues related to majority and minority communities through his proposed Cabinet reshuffle.
Mr. Chandy will continue to lead the United Democratic Front (UDF) government and Mr. Chennithala the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee. But the revamp fiasco has created several fissures in the relations between leaders within the Congress and in the United Democratic Front. The Indian Union Muslim League and the Kerala Congress (M) maintain that the Congress alone is to be blamed for the failure of the Delhi talks. Responding to questions soon after returning home, Mr. Chandy said the government and the party would function unitedly till the Lok Sabha election. He said the party high command’s decision was to maintain the status quo till the elections.
It is learnt from sources here and in Delhi that Mr. Chandy was totally out of sync with the line of thinking of the party high command. The manner in which issues related to getting the UDF partners involved in the reshuffle were handled appears to be one of the reasons that prompted the party high command to do a volte face on the Cabinet reshuffle, after having gone to the extent of amending its policy against the creation of a deputy chief minister post, if necessary, for Kerala subject to conditions.
The idea of a deputy chief minister’s post for the Congress had been shot down by the Indian Union Muslim League, the second largest party in the UDF, the first time it was mooted. The IUML never allowed the issue to be debated officially at any level, yet the Chief Minister was hopeful of bringing the coalition partner around.
Mr. Chandy did not take the hint when Congress president Sonia Gandhi did not extend an invitation to the IUML and the Kerala Congress (M) for talks, prompting them to cancel their tickets to Delhi. The high command representatives wanted Mr. Chandy and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala to sort out the issues among themselves. Mr. Chandy, it appears, was not willing to use the option of handing over the Home portfolio to Mr. Chennithala, but instead preferred to reopen the deputy CM’s issue, something which was not possible without paying a price.
Mr. Chennithala’s statement that he did not want his party to compromise its position or give a future commitment in the name of his induction into the Cabinet should be read against this background.
From the manner in which the decision on the status quo was taken, it is clear that Congress president Sonia Gandhi did not accept the idea of coalition partners interfering in the internal affairs of the Congress. The developments also prove that the road is unlikely to be smooth for Mr. Chandy.