WITH THE KARUNAKARAN faction of the Kerala unit of the Congress holding three public meetings in defiance of the high command, options are running out for those trying to bring about a compromise that would end the exceptional levels of dissidence and revolt in the party. As the former Chief Minister, K. Karunakaran, flouts one directive after another of the All India Congress Committee, the political cost of maintaining unity in the party is steadily climbing. Anything short of disciplinary action against the 13 Members of the Legislative Assembly who attended the last of the three rallies will surely send wrong signals down the line. Although the Minister for Welfare of Backward and Scheduled Communities, A.P. Anil Kumar, a Karunakaran loyalist, is not pressing his resignation the worries of the United Democratic Front Government headed by Oommen Chandy are not over. While Mr. Chandy advocates a tough line against the dissidents, he knows that the success of any move to purge the party of dissidence will depend on his chipping away at the support base of Mr. Karunakaran. Mr. Anil Kumar has shown an inclination to steer clear of the factional war, but the situation that prompted his resignation still remains. Mr. Anil Kumar had offered to step down in the face of criticism by some of Mr. Chandy's supporters who faulted him for not attending the meeting of the Congress Legislature Party called to remove the party's deputy leader in the Assembly, M.P. Gangadharan, for participating in one of the rallies.

For the past few weeks, the Karunakaran faction has been pursuing a strange course of action: currying favour with the high command while running down the Oommen Chandy regime. But the high command, having realised that factionalism took a heavy toll in the last Lok Sabha election in Kerala, with the party scoring a duck, now appears unwilling to put up with indiscipline any longer. Although Mr. Karunakaran demonstrated his clout by getting the 13 MLAs to attend the Kochi rally on March 21, this does not seem to have strengthened his case with the high command. Mr. Karunakaran had a meeting with the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, but he got no endorsement for his campaign against the Chandy Government. Evidently, the high command has given up trying to patch up differences within the State unit by meeting Mr. Karunakaran half way every time he threatened to break ranks. As the outcome of the last Lok Sabha election showed, compromise at every turn does little to enhance the party's image and electoral prospects.

If the high command decides to get real in cracking down, not all of Mr. Karunakaran's loyalists are likely to remain in his camp. It was after much persuasion that the dissidents got the 13 MLAs to attend the Kochi rally. After the high command declared that the rally was unauthorised, a couple of Mr. Karunakaran's known supporters chose not to attend. Apparently, even those who took part were wary of disciplinary action, but decided to attend in the hope that the high command would not dare to proceed against all of them. This reasoning might not have escaped the high command's notice. Any hesitation in initiating disciplinary action will only encourage the dissident group to stick together and defy the AICC. Other than agreeing to hold organisational polls, there is very little the high command can offer the Karunakaran faction without undermining its own stock.

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