The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Saffron-Red mix against Big Red

Thiruvananthapuram, Sept. 3: Set a communist to corner the communists.

The BJP has found a “renegade” communist to support as an Independent in the party’s renewed bid to open its account in one of the few states where it has neither an MP nor an MLA.

Long retired from active politics, V. Viswanatha Menon has been propped up by “true communists” under the banner of the EMS-BTR-AKG Samskarika Vedi for the Ernakulam Lok Sabha seat byelection on September 23.

The pro-Ezhava Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam is also expected to endorse Menon — popularly known as Ambadi Viswom — making him a redoubtable presence in the commercial hub of Kerala.

Soon after V.B. Cheriyan — a CPM dissident who has retained the leadership of Citu — announced Menon’s candidature, the 76-year-old leader told reporters that he has had enough.

“I have stuck with the CPM all these years and if I don’t break off at least now, I will merely explode,” Menon said.

He said he could not stay in a party that sings paeans to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. “No, at this late hour, I can’t do that,” Menon said from central Kerala’s Moovattupuzha, which has suddenly turned into the cynosure of all political eyes in the state.

The CPM’s reprisal was quick. Party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan said Menon’s move reflected the extent to which a former communist could degenerate.

“A person who abhors (the) Congress has no qualms about singing hallelujahs for the BJP. What a fall!” Vijayan said.

But the party will be under pressure to explain how Menon, who was finance minister in the E.K. Nayanar-led Left Front government from 1987-91 and two-term MP in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, became a renegade.

Menon is also a respected trade union leader with an impeccable track record. He won a seat for the party in 1967 though he lost to K.V. Thomas, currently the tourism minister, in 1991. In his youth, he was a more radical activist than many of the latter-day storm-troopers.

Sebastian Paul, a media critic and Independent candidate of the CPM-led Left Democratic Front, said after filing his nomination papers today that his job has been made easier with party rebels coming out in the open.

A sidelight to the main drama was the unsolicited candidature of former Union minister S. Krishnakumar, who claimed to have the blessings of Mata Amrithananda Mayi.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Congress is a divided house. The old game of Karunakaran proposes, Antony disposes is on.

But the high command has veered round to the view that as the by-poll will be a referendum of sorts on the performance of the 28-month-old A.K. Antony government, the chief minister should have the upper hand in fixing a candidate.

Antony’s nominee is M.. John, a municipal chairman. Even before the official announcement by AICC general secretary Ahmed Patel in Delhi, John had started putting his men into action by posting graffiti on the walls and booking spaces for hoardings.

Karunakaran, convalescing from a lung infection, is awaiting the high command’s formal announcement before making his next move. His nominee is Leno Jacob.

In this traditionally pro-Congress coastal seat, Christians, especially Latin Catholics (33 per cent), hold the key.

Although the backward Ezhava community has a sizeable presence, Ernakulam has usually seen Christian mobilisation in favour of a Latin Catholic, whether the candidate is from the Congress or the Left. Both John and Paul are Latin Catholics. The church has on most occasions reposed its faith in a Congressman.

In what promises to be a keen triangular contest, the fairly large erosion in the CPM ranks is expected to raise a storm. Menon is likely to become a rallying point of old warhorses, left in the lurch by the party.

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