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Congress gears up for action on rebels

New Delhi, April 17: The Congress high command today geared up to take disciplinary action against Kerala unit chief K. Muraleedharan and restore its authority in the state.

The leadership is unhappy with the explanation proffered by Muraleedharan, who is accused of sympathising with his father, K. Karunakaran, the rebel leader, and even covertly helping his candidate for the Rajya Sabha polls, K. Govindan Nair.

“We have chalked out a certain course of action” that would be finalised by party chief Sonia Gandhi tomorrow, Congress general secretary in charge of Kerala Ambika Soni said here this evening.

The announcement followed a two-hour meeting with party working committee members R.K. Dhawan and Ghulam Nabi Azad, who were central observers for Monday’s Rajya Sabha polls in Kerala.

Soni, under fire in the party for alleged mishandling of nominations, is said to have convinced the two “reluctant” observers on the need to act against the rebels’ defiance.

According to party sources, the three leaders will meet Sonia tomorrow for a final discussion before deciding on the disciplinary action.

The likely actions apparently being contemplated include the removal of two Karunakaran faction ministers in the Antony ministry, removal of Muraleedharan as state chief and showcause notices on at least 20 MLAs and, likely, Karunakaran.

If Karunakaran is served a showcause notice, a meeting of the AICC's disciplinary action committee will have to be convened. Kerala chief minister A.K. Antony and Dhawan are members of the L.P. Sahi-led disciplinary committee.

Neither Soni nor Dhawan, who was present alongside her, threw light on the likely action to assert the high command’s authority. They said maintenance of party unity and discipline would be the foremost objectives of any action taken. Before talking to the observers, Soni met Sonia and discussed Muraleedharan’s written explanation sent last night in response to the high command's directive.

Muraleedharan is said to have defended himself, saying he had expelled rebel candidate Govindan Nair from the Congress’ primary membership and issued directives to MLAs to vote for the official nominees, Vayalar Ravi, AICC general secretary, and T. Balakrishna Pillai, former state party chief.

He is said to have attributed the defiant voting by at least 20 MLAs in Nair’s favour to “group politics” in the state Congress.

According to sources, the explanation has angered the Antony faction. Antony himself, sources said, has demanded action against Muraleedharan for virtually blaming him.

Ravi and the “third group” leader in the state Congress, Ramesh Chennithala, apparently met Sonia yesterday to press for his removal on the plea he had covertly worked for his father while publicly campaigning for the official nominees.

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