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Opposition in Kerala in Disarray After the Left’s Historic Election Win

Azhar Moideen |
The Congress in Kerala, which had been plagued by defections to the BJP before the assembly elections, is now ridden with infighting. The Muslim League is mired in one controversy after another. The Left’s historic election win has left the opposition in Kerala in complete disarray.

Representational Image. 

Congress leader KP Anilkumar, former President of the Kerala unit of the Youth Congress and General Secretary of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), announced his resignation from the party on Tuesday at a press meet in Thiruvananthapuram. Anilkumar, who later in the day visited the headquarters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and declared that he would now be working along with the CPI(M), has become the latest in a slew of senior Congress leaders in Kerala who have either left the party or defected. The announcement of Anilkumar’s resignation came two weeks after he was suspended from the Congress for publicly expressing his reservations with the party’s list of new District Congress Committee (DCC) presidents.

Meanwhile, the National Committee of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) on Monday announced in a press release that it was removing Fathima Thahiliya, from the post of National Vice President of the Muslim Students Federation for ‘grave indiscipline’. The decision to dismiss Thahiliya comes in the wake of a sexual harassment complaint filed by members of the state committee of Haritha, the women’s wing of the MSF, against the MSF leadership. The IUML had earlier dissolved the said committee for ‘repeated acts of indiscipline’. The controversy surrounding the allegations raised by the members of Haritha and the IUML’s crackdown on them also comes amidst the party being pinned back by allegations of corruption and money laundering.

The crisis of the opposition, United Democratic Front (UDF) is evident, merely months after the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) had won a historic mandate, retaining power by winning 99 out of 140 seats in the state assembly.

Factional Feuds and Infighting in Congress

The travails of the Congress in Kerala were apparent in the run-up to the elections to the state assembly in April. Its inability to fight the BJP effectively had disgruntled many Congress workers in the state and four-time Member of Parliament (MP) PC  became one of the first to resign in protest. Organizational weakness and factional feuds were also cited by many Congress leaders (including KPCC Secretaries) as the reason for their defection to the BJP. Kannur MP K Sudhakaran, who has since been appointed as the President of KPCC, had remarked at the time that Congress losing the elections would result in a strong section within the party going to the BJP.

Following the election loss and being confined to just 21 seats in the assembly, there was a reshuffle in party ranks and along with Sudhakaran, MLAs T Siddique, PT Thomas and MP Kodikunnil Suresh, took charge as Working Presidents. With 57 year-old VD Satheesan, appointed as the Leader of Opposition, this was seen as the national leadership’s attempt to bring in a ‘generational shift’ in the state, away from the factional feuds and public haggling over seat allotments that had become commonplace in the party under Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala. However, barely 100 days since, internal feuds have again broken out in public and the state leadership is in knots, trying to maintain morale among party workers.

On August 28, after protracted discussions within the state unit, the Congress released a list of new DCC presidents. Anilkumar and MLA Sivadasan Nair, who had questioned how the selection process had been carried out, were suspended later the same day for violation of party discipline. Chandy and Chennithala both hit out at the state leadership and criticized them for coming out with the list without proper discussion. KPCC member AV Gopinath tendered his resignation in protest after making an emotional speech. KPCC Secretary PS Prashanth wrote a letter to Rahul Gandhi accusing All India Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary, KC Venugopal, of orchestrating the attempts by Sudhakaran and Satheesan to give prominent positions to their confidants, noting that party workers suspected that Venugopal was acting in cahoots with the BJP. After being expelled from the party, he announced that he would work along with the CPI(M) and called them the only party with a secular stand capable of resisting the BJP-led communal forces.

Sudhkaran and Satheesan, who initially came down heavily on Chandy and Chennithala along with some other KPCC leaders, reversed track after sensing the sentiments of party workers and attempted to make amends through a closed-door meeting with them. However, the continued outflux of Congress leaders means that they have a huge task ahead. To make matters worse, the Kerala unit of the Indian National Youth Congress is also up in arms against the list of spokespersons for the youth wing from the state. The list, which has since been frozen, had contained the name of Arjun Radhakrishnan, son of senior leader Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan; an appointment which was seen as a quid pro quo for Radhakrishnan backing Sudhakaran.

Muslim League mired in controversy

10 members of the state committee of Haritha, the women’s wing of MSF, had approached the state leadership of the IUML, which is the biggest ally of the Congress in the UDF, following a state committee of the MSF on June 22. They had accused MSF State President PK Navas, and Malappuram District General Secretary V Abdul Vahab, of using vulgar language and passing derogatory comments with sexual undertones against them during the meeting. Disappointed with the IUML’s refusal to act on the complaints even after meeting with them individually, the Haritha leaders approached the state women’s commission on August 12 and a police complaint was filed.

The IUML responded by freezing the state committee of Haritha, with acting General Secretary PMA Salam terming the Haritha leaders’ move as ‘a serious breach of party discipline’. Disregarding the MSF national leadership’s report demanding action against Navas and widespread protests among Haritha members, the IUML disbanded the state committee of Haritha and appointed a new committee last week, with PH Ayisha Banu as President. Banu is reportedly the only member from the previous committee who had refrained from signing the complaint. Following MSF National Vice President Fathima Thahiliya’s comments that the party’s decision was unacceptable, she has now been dismissed from her position.

Meanwhile, Navas was arrested by the Chemmangad police in Kozhikode based on the complaint and charged with Section 354 A of the Indian Penal Code, for ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’. He has since been released on bail. The former Haritha leaders, while speaking to the media earlier today, revealed that they had come under cyber-attack after raising their complaints, and that Navas had blackmailed them by threatening to release their photos that were in his possession.

The crisis that IUML now finds itself in, comes amidst serious allegations of corruption and money laundering. Early last month, Moyin Ali, son of the party’s state president Panakkad Sayed Hyderali Shihab Thangal, had accused National General Secretary PK Kunhalikkutty of misappropriating funds. Ali’s allegations came after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) served notice to Thangal in connection with a probe into a money laundering case using the accounts of the party’s mouthpiece Chandrika Daily. Both Ali and Kunhalikkutty are now set to be questioned by the ED. Former Public Works Minister VK Ebrahim Kunju, is also under the scanner for an associated case involving transactions to Chandrika Daily. CPI(M) backed MLA and former minister KT Jaleel, had also raised allegations against Kunhalikutty for illicit investments worth hundreds of crores using fake bank accounts created at the Muslim League-ruled AR Nagar Cooperative Bank in Malappuram district.

The Left is gaining

The public spat over the selection of DCC chiefs in the Congress has come for criticism  from their UDF allies, including IUML and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). RSP leaders have also alleged that the Congress had not paid attention to their questions regarding the failure of the election campaign. Speaking to the media, earlier today at the welcoming function arranged at the CPI(M) Kozhikode District Committee office, former Congress leader Anilkumar opined that the Congress’ face is that of anti-communism and the party has been reduced to a bystander in the fight against the Sangh Parivar’s attack on the secular framework of the country. A number of other disillusioned leaders have left the Congress, along with hundreds of party workers.

The welcoming arms of the CPI(M) to Congress leaders Prashanth and Anilkumar are being seen as a move that will encourage more such defections. Although the CPI(M) has not inducted them into the party, it is expected that they will give roles in its mass organizations for Congress members who are sympathetic to the Left ideology. With this, the exodus from Congress that former MP PC Chacko, had predicted could soon become reality.

LDF Convenor said that, "the current crisis in the Congress is because it failed to act according to the peoples’ interests". The Left Democratic Front (LDF) was reaping the dividends of its secular stand and alternative development policies and more leaders will join the LDF soon, he added.

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