STATE OF PLAY Comment

Task cut out for Congress in Kerala

V.M. Sudheeran.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Some members of the Congress’s old guard in Kerala are up in arms against the ongoing reorganisation of the party in the State. The drubbing the party received in the Assembly elections this year forced a leadership change which did not go down well with senior leaders such as former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and former Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala. The new Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president, K. Sudhakaran, and the Leader of the Opposition, V.D. Satheesan, came under fire from leader V.M. Sudheeran for not consulting veteran leaders ‘adequately’ while finalising the list of district Congress presidents. During this turbulence, disciplinary action was initiated against leaders who made disparaging public statements against the selection.

Reorganisation efforts

When the party went to the polls, its weaknesses included its unwieldy, top-heavy structure. The shake-up saw a nearly 500-member State Committee give way to a ‘manageable’ 56-member body. The new leadership is now gearing up to select district committee members — not more than 51 in bigger districts and up to 31 in smaller ones — by mid-December.

Task cut out for Congress in Kerala
 

That the KPCC reshuffle has almost rendered the 21-member political affairs committee (PAC) appointed by the All-India Congress Committee in 2016 redundant or relegated it to an advisory role has riled senior leaders who want the PAC to be in the saddle. That, however, would be counterproductive given that there could be run-ins with the new State committee.

To rebuild the party at the grassroots, the Congress is now mobilising unit committees below the booth level. The plan is to have at least one lakh such committees. A structured programme to train volunteers is already being implemented at various levels, with the thrust on “the organisational history, secular tradition and democratic outlook”. Also on the cards is a ‘political school’, to be set up first in Thiruvananthapuram, to strengthen the ideological base and political vision of leaders.

Winning back support

The Congress’s commitment to secularism was called into question when the party proposed to bring legislation criminalising women’s entry into Sabarimala. A rethink in the party about that campaign is apparent considering the Congress’s refusal to fall for a similar communally charged propaganda by the BJP against restaurants serving ‘halal’ food and citing ‘halal’ markings on a few parcels of jaggery purchased by Sabarimala temple authorities in 2019 to prepare aravana prasadam.

 

Another big task for the party’s State leadership is to win back the communities that have drifted away. It was the rising prominence of the Muslim League in the 2011 Chandy government that created bad blood within the Congress-led UDF and gave heartburn to the strongest faction of the Kerala Congress, influential among the Catholic Christians. With the Kerala Congress (Mani) now aligned with the Left and sections of the church trying to curry favour with the BJP, it is an uphill task for the Congress to regain the trust of large sections of Christian voters.

Meanwhile, the most vexing question is whether the organisational reshuffle is just another desultory exercise considering that the organisational elections are set to take place in a year or so. Detractors of the reshuffle point to the ongoing membership drive, slated to end on March 31, 2022, if not extended. There would be a freeze on nomination of party officials once the drive is over and elections are declared. Should the party wait until then to set its house in order is a million-dollar question. The present reorganisation process may offer no silver bullet, but it can give the party a sense of direction.

anandan.s@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 8:44:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/task-cut-out-for-congress-in-kerala/article37669471.ece

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