Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s Cabinet reshuffle plans by inducting Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Ramesh Chennithala have collapsed, with the latter making it abundantly clear that he would not be joining the Chandy team.
The main point of dispute continued to be the number two slot, an ‘honourable accommodation’ Mr. Chennithala sought when he accepted the Congress high command’s direction to join the Cabinet — either the Deputy Chief Minister’s post or the Home and Vigilance portfolios.
However, when the whole exercise seemed to turning futile during the resumed talks on Friday, Mr. Chennithala dramatically announced his decision not to join the Cabinet, soon after a half-an-hour meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. He said he would continue as KPCC president, for which he had got the approval of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. He later made a hard-hitting statement that he did not want the party to make any compromise or future commitments in the name of inducting him into the Cabinet. He would rather uphold the interests of the party and reflect the sentiments of party workers. He was happy that the party chief had accepted his stand.
Mr. Chennithala’s announcement caught the Chief Minister’s camp unawares, and Mr. Chandy did not conceal his surprise. He remarked that he was not able to gauge the circumstances under which Mr. Chennithala announced his decision at a time when talks were still on about the Cabinet reshuffle. However, since the high command’s decision was final, he would abide by it, he said. Sources close to the Chief Minister told The Hindu that Mr. Chandy had registered his dissatisfaction over the manner in which Mr. Chennithala had handled the issue.
Mr. Chandy had made it clear earlier in the day that he would not be in a position to hand over the Home and Vigilance portfolios. It was then decided that the Chief Minister would take the responsibility of liaising with the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leadership to get its approval for the Deputy Chief Minister post. As the events of the day showed, the Chief Minister apparently ran into a roadblock on this. The IUML leaders P.K. Kunhalikutty and E.T. Mohammed Basheer sought to put the record straight by stating that the Congress had not discussed the issue with their party, which should not be blamed for the failure of the Cabinet revamp process.
The entire reshuffle exercise had been originally mooted to help the Congress party address a few issues related to maintaining the communal balance in administration in a Cabinet predominant with representatives of minority communities. At one point of time, Mr. Chennithala had indicated that he did not want to join Mr. Chandy’s team because of the lack of confidence in him as was clear from the Chief Minister’s reluctance to hand him over the Home portfolio.
The collapse of the Cabinet reshuffle process would prove to be a big setback for the Chief Minister on this score. Friday’s development also infuses an element of frostiness in the factional politics in the State.