TAMIL NADU

Deal with Kunhalikutty on your own, Chandy told

NEW DELHI, DEC. 6. After the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) practically cocked a snook at it by refusing to drop its beleaguered Minister in the State Cabinet, P. K. Kunhalikutty, the Congress Central leadership appears to have decided to pull back for the moment and let its State unit deal with the controversy.

Congress sources today maintained that the party's Central leadership would not intervene. The Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) has been asked to deal with the controversy arising out of the continuance of Mr. Kunhalikutty in the Cabinet after the key witness in the eight-year-old ice-cream parlour sex racket case recently accused him of sexually exploiting her.

Strategy backfires

With its threat to intervene if the IUML failed to address what is "essentially an internal matter of the party'' having backfired, the Congress Central leadership has decided to take a backseat. Last week, the Congress in-charge of Kerala, Ahmed Patel, had said that the high command would intervene if the controversy over Mr. Kunhalikutty's continuance in the Cabinet was not addressed soon.

But IUML's subsequent decision not to give in to the demand for his resignation has made the Congress Central leadership re-think its strategy.

This was apparently communicated to the Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, during his meetings with the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, and Mr. Patel. As always refusing to divulge details about what transpired in his meetings with the party's central leadership, the Chief Minister denied he had been summoned to the Capital. "I have come to finalise details of the Prime Minister and the Congress president's forthcoming visits to Kerala.''

Manmohan's visit

As per the schedule drawn up today, the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, will reach Kerala on the night of December 31 and stay in the State till the morning of January 3.

During his stay, he will lay the foundation stone of the International Container Transshipment Terminal at Vallarpadam in Kochi.

Since Dr. Singh has a packed schedule, it has been decided that he will not attend any of the very many college jubilee functions he has been invited to.

Sonia's schedule

As for Ms. Gandhi, she is scheduled to be in the State on December 30. During her stay, she will inaugurate the new building of the KPCC and dedicate the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Technology to the nation.

Though construction of the new KPCC building had been completed when she was in the State in August, the inaugural function had been postponed then due to infighting within the party and fears of an untoward incident taking place in her presence.

Sidestepping questions on whether the entire Cabinet - including Mr. Kunhalikutty - would be in attendance when the Prime Minister visits the State, Mr. Chandy refused to comment on the change in the high command's stance.

The Congress, it seems, has decided to replicate in Kerala its strategy at the national level on the "tainted ministers'' in the United Progressive Alliance Government at the Centre where it has left the issue to be battled out by the parties concerned and the Opposition.

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