The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong cracks letter whip on Kerala rivals

Oct. 26: The Congress’ troubles in Kerala appear never-ending.

Even before a disciplinary panel could finish probing complaints that party rebels conspired to defeat an official party candidate in a recent byelection, the Congress high command has been forced to step into the frame.

Its intervention has been necessitated by the raging post-poll war of words between the rival factions led by chief minister A.K. Antony and his predecessor, K. Karunakaran. Three state ministers and a legislator have been asked to set the record straight after they reportedly rushed to the media with critical statements about their rivals.

The Karunakaran faction helped a CPM-backed Independent wrest the Ernakulam Lok Sabha seat from the official Congress candidate during last month’s byelection. Complaints of sabotage prompted the high command to set up a three-member inquiry panel, headed by the chairman of the party’s disciplinary action committee L.P. Sahi, to probe the matter and report to Delhi.

But even before the report could be finished, the Congress high command was forced to step in and tick off the warring faction members after keeping silent for 30 months. Electricity minister Kadavur Sivadasan and health minister P. Sankaran — who are Karunakaran loyalists — and forest minister K. Sudhakaran and Thodupuzha MLA P.T. Thomas, who belong to the Antony faction, have been asked to get back to Delhi within seven days.

Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, who is in charge of Kerala affairs, said the letters he sent to the four dissidents today should check the mud-slinging.

Patel has asked the four to clarify if they had made public statements about rival faction leaders. Sources said the political secretary had spoken to Antony and state Congress chief K. Muraleedharan, who is Karunakaran’s son, to get them to urge their followers not to rush to the media or hold factional meetings. Both leaders apparently assured Patel that they would do so.

It is anybody’s guess if Delhi’s belated and half-hearted attempt to check dissidence will cow down the Karunakaran camp for his supporters have taken their campaign against Antony too far. The latter had ousted the former as chief minister in 1995.

Disciplinary panel chairman Sahi said the letters did not relate to the bypoll defeat. He said a suo motu decision had been taken based on media reports about the public slanging matches.

Sahi said the high command would take further action if the four dissidents did not respond in time. But Muraleedharan said the letters would not solve matters. “A few capsules cannot tackle what requires bypass surgery,” he said, adding that an alternative government could be formed.

The Karunakaran faction is going ahead with plans for a mega rally in Ernakulam on November 19, the birth anniversary of Indira Gandhi. It is also organising grassroots-level meetings, which will be followed by conventions in 14 districts.

The Antony faction is unhappy at the way the high command let the Kerala rebels off the hook, despite having worked against the official election candidate and having threatened to defeat a finance bill.

Delhi’s weak response to the open challenge to Antony’s authority, the raging factionalism and the bypoll blow has undermined the chief minister’s standing.

What started off as discontent against Antony’s leadership style has become a full-blown crisis with Karunakaran and Muraleedharan sharing pubic fora with the Marxists and mulling ways to install an alternative government.

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