The Congress on Saturday brought the curtains down on days of uncertainty by nominating V.D. Satheesan as the party’s legislative party leader in Kerala. At one stroke, it also forcefully articulated a theory of generational change in the Congress in Kerala.
Being the leader of the largest Opposition party in the Assembly, Mr. Satheesan will be recognised as Leader of the Opposition by the Speaker in due course.
The post-poll reorientation of the party is likely to reflect in the make-up of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) soon. More leadership changes are in the offing. For one, KPCC president Mullappally Ramachandran has also opted to quit owning responsibility for the Congress defeat.
Mr. Satheesan, a four-time legislator from Paravur, succeeds Ramesh Chennithala. Non-partisan support of a greater part of the 21-member Congress Legislative Party (CLP) buoyed Mr. Satheesan’s s chances. It helped him break the constraints of factional politics. The new crop of Congress MLAs who backed Mr. Satheesan wanted to imprint the party in Kerala with their perspective and character. They sought to push aside decades of group wranglings and create a new landscape of collective political purpose moored to real issues that dog the people.
Mr. Satheesan has signalled his focus on broader societal and economic concerns. The power of social issues would drive the party's narrative. Mr. Satheesan also has to live up to Mr. Chennithala's legacy of exposing official corruption. Mr. Satheesan has indicated that he favours decentralised decision making rather than unilaterally determining political strategy and policy.
Mr. Satheesan's selection as CLP leader has also signalled a realignment in Congress groups in Kerala. He has arguably diminished Mr. Chennithala's standing in the ‘I’ group and emerged as its future leader. At the same time, Mr. Satheesan has also ensured the support of ‘A’ group legislators despite former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's alleged support for Mr. Chennithala.
A Congress insider said Mr. Satheesan's nomination had the imprimatur of Rahul Gandhi. The Congress high command had stressed that Congress workers require to coalesce around the party's political programme and not competing groups.
A Congress insider said Mr. Satheesan's nomination was no reflection on Mr. Chennithala's showing as Leader of the Opposition. His stepping down as CLP leader was a matter of precedent. Mr. Chandy had done the same after the United Democratic Front's (UDF) defeat in 2016.