The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kerala front SOS to Sonia

Thiruvananthapuram, Sept. 15: Internal battles are not new to Kerala’s ruling United Democratic Front (UDF). But the way they have spread is compelling senior partners in the coalition to seek the services of an unusual mediator: Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

It is not Congress leaders alone who are requesting Sonia to intervene and put an end to the squabbles in the front. Lok Sabha member and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leader E. Ahmed, and the founder president of a faction of Kerala Congress named after himself, R. Balakrishna Pillai, have also asked the Congress chief to take urgent steps to set things right in Kerala.

Sonia’s reaction to the requests is not yet clear. By all indications, both Pillai and Ahmed have demanded a more forceful leadership to head the UDF.

By and large, Sonia has adopted a hands-off policy vis-à-vis Antony and the Kerala government’s problems. But this style may not work this time since the leaders who have requested her to intervene are political heavyweights belonging to non-Congress parties.

The Congress president will not find it easy to mediate with the leaders as the problems within the front in Kerala are numerous and many of them are not politically significant.

The latest row involving Pillai’s son, transport minister K.B. Ganesh Kumar, and education minister Nalakathu Soopy of the IUML erupted when Kumar mentioned at a meeting to facilitate former education minister and IUML leader E.T. Mohammed Basheer that the young leader had all the qualifications to become a good education minister.

Soopy and other leaders of the IUML along with the UDF immediately took umbrage at Kumar’s statement. Their charge: Kumar was questioning the capabilities of Soopy as education minister. Kumar’s later clarifications denying any intention to make a value judgement on Soopy’s capabilities failed to make an impact and even his father had a go at him, branding the young minister “immature and having no credentials to pass remarks on other ministers”.

The front’s problems have been compounded by veteran Congress leader K. Karunakaran’s persistent attacks on Antony.

Karunakaran’s critical statements are the butt of many media jokes. However, the veteran leader has a strong support base within the Congress.

It would be interesting to see how the Congress president — who might have other handicaps, such as language, in understanding the intricacies of various issues — handles this piquant demand that has come her way.

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