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Mani pitching for slot of regional party

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K.M. Mani says merger will strengthen UDF.
K.M. Mani says merger will strengthen UDF.

Girish Menon

Says party will wrest its rightful place in the United Democratic Front

Thiruvananthapuram: The merger of the two Kerala Congress parties, which was formalised at a joint convention in Kottayam on Thursday, has reunited K.M. Mani and P.J. Joseph after a gap of more than 30 years. Except for an interlude in 1984 when they joined hands, the two leaders had been on opposite poles of the Kerala Congress brand of politics in Central Travancore, retaining their currency by being part of either of the coalition.

The two leaders have a long history of political animosity even when they were part of the Congress-led coalition in the 1980s as separate parties and after Mr. Joseph joined the Left Democratic Front (LDF) “disowning the Church and the laity” in 1990. There were several attempts to bring the two leaders together, but their ambitions to dominate Central Travancore prevented a unity. No one expected their unity moves to succeed and when this was disclosed half-way through, it came as a surprise to everyone, especially the Congress leadership.

Mr. Mani stood steadfast in the merger disregarding the reservations the Congress leadership had about co-opting a political leader against whom it had staged many agitations.

Now that the merger had become a reality, it would be interesting to watch the direction that the Kerala Congress would take. Mr. Mani has not left anyone guessing about his intentions.

An analysis of his speech at the joint convention and a series of discussions with him over the last few days clearly indicate that he is pitching for a slot as a regional party with a possible role in the country's coalition politics. In his speech, he referred to the intolerance of political parties towards State parties. He also emphasised the federal structure of the Indian State and the role that regional parties have come to play.

Regional force

To understand his line of thinking, one has to go back to the mid-1970s when the Kerala Congress led by Mr. Mani became a part of the ruling coalition led by the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Congress. According to Mr. Mani, he was invited to be part of the coalition by Indira Gandhi recognising his party as a regional force. The Congress party, after treating State parties as untouchables, was prepared to take him in, that too when the National Emergency was in force. Even though the Kerala Congress split several times, the party he led had proved its political presence time and again. Mr. Mani maintains that his party has always been a steadfast partner of the Congress-led coalition in the State in all its ups and downs and alienating mainstream regional forces would not be in the larger interests of the Congress and the United Democratic Front.

Sensing the strong anti-Marxist sentiments of his political base, Mr. Mani, in his speech, cleverly steered clear from attacking the Congress or its leaders and instead trained his guns on the Communist Party of India (Marxist) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. Mr. Mani continued to hold the view that the merger would strengthen the UDF by bringing in those sections that had gravitated to the LDF. He has made it clear that he would continue to remain in the UDF and wrest his party's rightful place in the coalition.

The real fight will come up when the issue of seat-sharing for the Assembly comes up. The local bodies' elections will give an opportunity to the Kerala Congress and the Congress to electorally validate their respective claims.

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