Antony, Kunhalikutty clash at UDF meet

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, JUNE 1. The Chief Minister, A.K. Antony, and the IUML leader and Industries Minister, P.K. Kunhalikutty, clashed at the UDF meeting held today to discuss the causes for the ruling coalition's defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.

The UDF leaders faced some difficult moments assuaging the frayed tempers that threatened to get out of hand during the forenoon session. Mr. Antony did some plain speaking, refusing to buy the argument that his police policy had contributed to the total rout of the UDF in the elections. He pointed to the lapses of the Education and Industries Departments, held by the IUML. He made it clear that he did not propose to put up with the IUML's overbearing attitude.

Mr. Kunhalikutty said his party was not interested in continuing in the coalition if the Congress maintained "such a high-handed attitude." Mr. Antony said there was no point in putting the blame on one person; none of the UDF leaders could absolve themselves of the responsibility.

Some Congress leaders pointed out that the charges of "payment seats" and dynasty politics would not stick on their party as the same was true in the case of other constituent parties. They pointed out to the charges against the IUML, which had given a Rajya Sabha nomination to P.V. Abdul Wahab.

Later, IUML leaders sought to clarify that Mr. Kunhalikutty had not criticised the police policy, but had only faulted the dissidence in the Congress, the lack of unity in the UDF and the poor performance of the Government as being responsible for the Lok Sabha defeat. Senior UDF leaders intervened to bring about a semblance of order.

The UDF convener, Oommen Chandy, spoke to the IUML leaders to bring them around. In the afternoon, Mr. Kunhalikutty and Mr. Antony met to sort out their problems. This was followed by a brief meeting in the Chief Minister's room at the Kovalam Guest House with all the IUML Ministers, the Revenue Minister, K.M. Mani, the Finance Minister, K. Sankaranarayanan, Mr. Chandy, and the KPCC acting president, P.P. Thankachan, taking part in a show of camaraderie.

Mr. Chandy said that all issues had been sorted out.

The Chief Minister's outburst, though emotionally charged, was apparently well-planned. The outburst itself was uncharacteristic of Mr. Antony, who usually keeps his counsel even in the face of extreme provocations.