Factionalism has a field day, as high command is busy with poll

CHENNAI Nov. 1. The Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president, S. Balakrishnan, is trying to bring the curtains down on the controversy over the show-cause notices he issued to two MLAs.

But there is no let-up in the factional feud in the State Congress and the high command seems to be in no hurry to discipline the functionaries here.

Sources in the All-India Congress Committee, when contacted, said, ``We have received some reports on the goings-on and will wait for a full picture before initiating any action.'' The high command was fully engaged in preparations for the Assembly elections being held in November-December and could not be expected to take up fire-fighting operations in other States now.

Perhaps, the TNCC leaders are also conscious of the fact that the AICC set-up is preoccupied with the prestigious elections and may have little time to think of groupism in Tamil Nadu, where the party has no stake right now. And, the factions here were only waiting for a pretext to launch an offensive.

According to TNCC office-bearers, who claim to be ``neutral'' in the showdown between the Vasan and Elangovan groups, the current crisis can be traced to the lack of response from the high command to a campaign for changing the State leadership. ``All through September, both sides were expecting a change of leadership. One group was given to understand that G. K. Vasan, now AICC secretary, would be named TNCC president. But his opponents were also assured that the dual leadership would not be disturbed right now - at least until after the Assembly elections are over in the north'', says a senior TNCC functionary.

This, it is said, emboldened the present leadership to get tough with the Vasan-supporters, who lost heart and decided to adopt a tough posture. The Mani Shankar Aiyar episode came as a ``cementing issue'' for the party, but the momentum did not last long. (Mr. Aiyar was attacked near Karaikal by a group, allegedly belonging to the AIADMK, as he was returning from a meeting addressed by the Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, at Nagapattinam on October 13.)

E.V.K.S. Elangovan, TNCC working president, and his supporters are convinced that the Vasan group is maintaining its equations with the ruling AIADMK and view this as a ``matter of party discipline'' - meaning the Congress should have nothing to do with the AIADMK, whose leadership has made the AICC president, Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin a major issue. Their hope is that the AICC will not frown on any action taken against partymen who adopt a pro-AIADMK line at this juncture.

So, when advertisements in the local media, welcoming Ms. Jayalalithaa during her Thanjavur visit last Monday, carried the photographs of the two Congress MLAs, M. Ramkumar and S. V. Thirugnanasambandham, the TNCC leadership issued them a show-cause notice. This action has irked not just Mr. Vasan but also the legislature party leader, S.R. Balasubramaniam - both from the erstwhile Tamil Maanila Congress, which merged with the Congress.

Mr. Elangovan takes the high moral ground, insisting that discipline be maintained. If the MLAs offer a ``satisfactory explanation'', the issue can be treated as ``closed''.

A peculiar aspect in the current drama is that, the show-cause was issued by the TNCC president, S. Balakrishnan, who also came from the TMC but who does not seem to be very close to Mr. Vasan now. He was appointed State chief only to maintain the balance between the previous TNCC and the TMC, but he has apparently decided to work with Mr. Elangovan in the larger interests of the party, after having been pulled up by the high command for persistent dissonance in the State unit.

Both sides are now looking to the high command to resolve yet another crisis. But they may have to wait until after the Assembly elections are over.

The Congress is likely to take some key decisions for the parliamentary election based on its performance in the coming Assembly elections. Based on that, there may be a movement towards or away from the party. And if it does well, there may be net gains and possible mergers in Tamil Nadu, leading to a fresh political alignment. One section believes that the Congress Jananayaga Peravai, led by P. Chidambaram, may even merge with the parent party by then.

Until then, the factional leaders in the State may have a field day, settling personal scores, say highly placed Congress sources.

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