The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) is all set to become leaner with the Kerala Congress (J) more or less reaching an understanding with the rival Kerala Congress (M) for merger and entry into the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
The Kerala Congress (J) would take a formal decision only on Saturday, but party chief and Public Works Minister P.J. Joseph abstained from the weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesday sending out a clear signal about the impending exit of the party from the ruling alliance. When contacted by reporters at his residence at Thodupuzha, Mr. Joseph cited indisposition as the reason for his absence from the Cabinet meeting. When queried about the merger move, he stated that a final decision would be taken at the party State committee meeting scheduled on Saturday.
The exit from the LDF is also likely to result in a split in the Kerala Congress (J) with several leaders including V. Surendran Pillai, MLA, and former Member of Parliament P.C. Thomas opposing the move. They are likely to boycott Saturday's meeting and declare their decision to stay put in the LDF. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) leadership is also stated to be not keen on persuading Mr. Joseph to stay back in the alliance. Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan indicated as much on Wednesday saying that the ruling alliance had no plans to forcibly retain anyone in the LDF.
The Kerala Congress (J) leadership has been trying to return to the UDF for quite some time now. It had made serious efforts in this direction in 2001, but had to give up the move following leakage of reports about the secret parleys through the media. The merger moves gained in strength over the last few months following reported intervention by the Church top brass who wanted the two dominant Kerala Congress factions to sink their differences and stay together in the UDF fold.
The merger move has sent shockwaves in the Congress. Youth Congress activists took out a march against Mr. Joseph at Thodupuzha on Wednesday evening. Kerala Congress (M) activists replied in the same measure by taking out a march against the Congress district leadership.