The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kerala Cong mixed bag

Thiruvananthapuram, April 12: There was good news and bad news for Congress president Sonia Gandhi today as her envoys — Ghulam Nabi Azad and R.K. Dhawan — arrived in Kerala to pacify veteran leader K. Karunakaran, whose faction has put up a rebel candidate for Monday’s Rajya Sabha byelections.

The good news is that Karunakaran rejected suggestions by the Nationalist Congress Party that the former Kerala chief minister follow veteran leader V.C. Shukla to the party. The bad news is that Karunakaran refused to withdraw the candidature of Kodoth Govindan Nair, the rebel candidate put up by his group.

Karunakaran also accused supporters of the official Congress candidates — party general secretary Vayalar Ravi and T. Balakrishna Pillai — of using unfair means to win the byelections. Speaker Vakkom Purushotaman was specifically targeted on this count.

“He is threatening MLAs of my group with dire consequences for supporting Govindan Nair. Do not expect me to watch this in silence,” the veteran leader said.

Azad and Dhawan are, however, not sparing any effort to resolve the crisis. Sonia’s envoys had discussions with Karunakaran, after meeting his son — state Congress president K. Muraleedharan — and chief minister A.K. Antony. The leaders are supposed to have more rounds of discussions with Karunakaran later at night and on Sunday.

Today’s conciliatory moves were in sharp contrast to the tough stand taken so far against the rebel candidate, Nair, who was expelled from the party two days ago for six years. Besides, Azad and Dhawan are considered to be close to Karunakaran at a personal level too.

The reconciliation move also shows that the leadership is apprehensive about the defeat of one of the two official candidates of the Congress.

There are fears that some partners of the Congress in the ruling coalition would support the rebel. The CPM-led Left Democratic Front has four spare votes — after ensuring the victory of its candidate K. Chandran Pillai, which could also go to Nair.

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