The stakes are high for Kerala Congress (M)

The party has lost the Kottayam seat and its Rajya Sabha seat is set to expire

Updated - June 10, 2024 01:56 am IST

Published - June 10, 2024 12:15 am IST

Kerala Congress (M) chairman Jose K. Mani.

Kerala Congress (M) chairman Jose K. Mani. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Kerala Congress (Joseph) has won the Kottayam Lok Sabha seat. The victory comes as a lifeline for the party which has been dealing with internal strife and defections by high-profile leaders, and fighting fiercely to reclaim its influence in Central Travancore.

The party’s candidate, K. Francis George, secured a comfortable lead of over 87,000 votes. This win not only fortifies the Kerala Congress (Joseph) ’s base in Kottayam but also gives it the official status of a State party — a recognition it has been chasing since its split from Kerala Congress (Mani). The party head, P.J. Joseph, is now hoping to reclaim the iconic symbol of the bicycle, which was frozen amid past disputes. Resolving these legal tangles is crucial for the party to revive its identity.

A big loss

Meanwhile, as Kerala Congress (M) reels from its defeat in the Kottayam Lok Sabha seat, speculations are rife about its future within the Left Democratic Front (LDF). Retaining Kottayam was not just a matter of pride but essential for its political clout. Since its abrupt switch to the LDF four years ago, the party has been a cornerstone in the Left’s strategy to infiltrate the United Democratic Front (UDF)‘s strongholds of Central Travancore.

Also read | CPI(M) strives to find solution as CPI, KC(M) insist on Rajya Sabha seat

This time, the inherent anti-Left character of the region and the anti-incumbency wave proved enough for the Congress-led coalition to notch up impressive victories in three seats in the region: Kottayam, Pathanamthitta, and Idukki.

Although the LDF has claimed to have retained its core vote base in the constituency, the fact that it could ensure a lead margin in just one of the seven Assembly segments in Kottayam has come as a shock. The emphasis on the plight of rubber growers — the core political agenda of Kerala Congress (M) — has failed to disturb the character of the constituency even slightly, including in pockets where the regional party traditionally wielded some command.

The loss has ignited fierce debates in the party about the Kerala Congress (M)’s future within the LDF, especially amid the perceived anti-incumbency sentiment among its Catholic base. Consequently, some people in the party believe that continuing in the LDF may not bode well for their future and view the defeat as an opportunity to consider leaving the coalition.

An opportunity

The UDF, on its part, has sensed this vulnerability and sees an opportunity to reclaim a crucial ally and strengthen its position in Central Travancore. However, uncertain about the UDF’s capacity to challenge the LDF in the upcoming 2026 Assembly elections, Kerala Congress (M) appears to be in a dilemma. If it considers returning to the UDF fold, the party will still find asserting its ‘natural claim’ over the Kottayam Lok Sabha seat a daunting task. However, party chairman Jose K. Mani has refuted the idea of switching sides.

Talks within the LDF about Rajya Sabha have hit a roadblock. The seat held by Kerala Congress (M) is set to expire on July 1. As the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Communist Party of India are fighting to keep their seats, negotiations have intensified to placate Kerala Congress (M) with alternative positions, such as the chairman post of the administrative reforms commission. But the regional party remains unyielding. Its defeat in Kottayam, the lone seat it contested, has made the Rajya Sabha seat vital for its political survival in Central Travancore. This seat is also significant for the party since it is held by Jose K. Mani. Losing it could destabilise internal party dynamics, whereas its allocation to the CPI could enhance its status as the coalition’s second-largest party.

For the LDF, this unexpected defeat casts doubts on its strategy to sway Catholic and rubber-growing regions leftward through the Kerala Congress (M). The coalition insists that the loss is part of a broader political wave and not a sign of internal weakness. However, how far this reasoning has percolated down to the party cadre remains to be seen.

As they navigate the rubber heartlands’ complex landscape, Kerala Congress (M) and Kerala Congress (Joseph) face mounting challenges. Agricultural distress, wildlife attacks, and the growing influence of political Islam fuel the discontent of the Catholic Church, prompting direct intervention. With the Sangh Parivar ready to exploit these fractures, the stakes have never been higher for them.

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