Thiruvananthapuram: The Thodupuzha Assembly seat is going to be a bone of contention between the Congress and the Kerala Congress(M). This became certain at the end of the day, with leaders of both parties making it very clear that the matter was non-negotiable, at a joint United Democratic Front (UDF) Legislature Party meeting held in the morning and a coalition leaders' meeting later in the day.

Nevertheless, the UDF leaders decided to put on track the straining relationship between the two parties by openly terming the recent demonstrations and violent actions, mainly in Thodupuzha and Ernakulam, as unfortunate. Mr. Mani, on his part, explained the circumstances that led to his controversial statement in New Delhi regarding the Thodupuzha Assembly seat and his remarks against jailed Kerala Congress(B) leader R. Balakrishna Pillai. The attempt of the leaders was to douse the fire, with the Congress taking the lead by prohibiting open statements and demonstrations.

The UDF leaders later made a joint appearance at a press conference, conveying the message that unity had been restored. Addressing the press conference, Mr. Chandy said the UDF would fight the elections united. All confusion that prevailed as a result of the Thodupuzha and Ernakulam incidents had been cleared. “We have sorted out all issues and these types of incidents will not take place anymore,” he said. Earlier, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala had clearly stated that the Congress did not want to vitiate the situation any further.

The UDF leaders might have pulled the plug on open dissidence. The best bargain for the day was to set aside the bickering ahead of the formal seat-sharing discussion, which might only bring the coalition negative points. The UDF leaders were unanimous in their opinion that the front needed to project a united image.

Irrespective of the UDF leaders' stated positions, it has become almost certain that the Thodupuzha seat would be the litmus test to the coalition's claim of unity. The statements of the leaders of both parties at the closed-door meetings clearly suggest that the truce will be temporary. The Congress leaders made it clear that the Thodupuzha seat cannot be spared for P.J. Joseph, even while accepting Mr. Mani's right to make such a claim. Mr. Mani, on his part, maintained that the Thodupuzha seat was a sitting seat and he had the responsibility of protecting his party's interests.

The first formal discussion on seat-sharing is to begin on February 24 and is expected to gather steam soon after the Assembly session is over. The notification for the Assembly election is expected to be issued by March 1. UDF leaders maintain that they will be able to wind up the seat-sharing talks as smoothly as they did during the local body elections. But with Mr. Joseph and Thodupuzha as two major issues, there are several leaders who predict roadblocks ahead for the UDF.