The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Karunakaran keeps Congress on edge

New Delhi, April 27: Having “condoned” K. Karunakaran’s serious acts of indiscipline over the recent Rajya Sabha polls, the question that stares the Congress high command in the face is what to do the next time he rebels.

Karunakaran had fielded his own candidate, K. Govindan Nair, against the official nominees for the polls. Nair lost.

Now, if news coming from Kerala since Friday is to be believed, Karunakaran has fired another salvo at his bete noire, chief minister A.K. Antony.

Karunakaran has just returned to Kerala, after spending five days in Delhi patching up differences with the party high command.

He has reportedly also met afresh MLAs of his party’s “I group”.

Adding to the Congress’ woes is his son, K. Muraleedharan, the state party president, who recently returned to Kerala from Delhi only to rake up the history of the state’s factional rivalry.

According to Muraleedharan, his father’s consistent attempts to question Antony’s leadership of the United Democratic Front government cannot be termed anti-party activity and do not merit any disciplinary action.

He points to Antony’s similar campaign in 1995 against Karunakaran, who was chief minister then, to oust the veteran from the party’s leadership. Antony had won the intra-party tussle.

Appearing to bury his differences with his father, Muraleedharan is apparently striving to correct the “injustice” done to Karunakaran by now pushing for Antony’s removal from chief ministership.

AICC general secretary in charge of Kerala Ambika Soni, also Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, is perplexed by Muraleedharan’s remarks.

“Did he say so'” she reacted when asked about the state chief’s reported statement.

Soni has had a tough time coming to terms with the bitter Antony-Karunakaran tussle.

Though she wanted the whip cracked and discipline enforced in the state unit, the necessity of maintaining party unity compelled both her and Sonia to go soft on Karunakaran.

Antony, who was also in Delhi for consultations with the party leadership, had advised against wielding the stick on the Karunakaran faction.

But the high command told the chief minister that any further rebellion by Karunakaran would be his headache.

Soni is now clearly worried about the signs of a renewed factional battle in the state for the high command knows it cannot wash its hands of Kerala affairs.

“It is a difficult situation. The two factions are at war with each other. If we take sides in this war, it will weaken the party. If we remain indifferent, then also it will weaken the party,” a senior AICC member said.

He said he hoped Karunakaran would not precipitate things. “We take comfort from the fact that he has met Sonia Gandhi earlier this week,” the AICC member said.

He, however, agreed that the high command felt disturbed by the veteran leader’s meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee before returning to Kerala two days ago as well as his earlier meeting with a senior CPM leader.

Vayalar Ravi, AICC general secretary and one of the official Rajya Sabha nominees, however, had a different interpretation to Karunakaran’s fresh attacks against Antony.

“After the high command condoned his rebellion in the Rajya Sabha polls, he wants to project before his supporters that he had won politically though his rebel nominee lost the polls,” Ravi said.

This, Ravi believes, will help Karunakaran keep his I-group united. Beyond this, nothing will happen, he said.

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