Thiruvananthapuram/ New Delhi: April 4: The crisis in the Congress in Kerala crystallised today after a loyalist of veteran leader K. Karunakaran filed his nomination for the Rajya Sabha poll as a rebel candidate, though the party had already put up two others.
Kodoth Govindan Nair, a close aide of Karunakaran, submitted his papers a day after the two candidates named by party chief Sonia Gandhi — Congress general secretary Vayalar Ravi and former state party president Thennala Balakrishna Pillai — filed their nominations.
Elections are due in May for three Rajya Sabha seats from Kerala, two of which the ruling Congress is sure to win. The third is likely to go to the nominee of the CPM, which heads the Opposition alliance.
Nair filed his papers despite a long telephone conversation that Ambika Soni, party general secretary in charge of Kerala, had in the morning with Karunakaran to persuade him not to support a rebel candidate.
However, with Nair pressing ahead, Karunakaran has signalled that his show of defiance is now aimed at Sonia’s leadership too, apart from Kerala chief minister A.K. Antony.
The warhorse sent an ominous signal to the party leadership by getting as many as 27 Congress legislators to pledge support to Nair.
In the 140-member Kerala Assembly, the Congress-led United Democratic Front has 100 seats and the Marxist-led Left Democratic Front 40 seats. Thirty-six votes are required for a victory for one Rajya Sabha seat. If there are no withdrawals, one of the three Congress candidates is sure to lose.
Karunakaran’s son and state Congress president K. Muraleedharan has also challenged Sonia’s decision on the Rajya Sabha nominations by sending a resignation letter, though he was supporting the candidature of P.C. Chacko, Karunakaran’s arch-rival. “We have already submitted one set of nomination papers for Nair and, if necessary, we would submit one more set,” an MLA belonging to the Karunakaran faction said over the phone.
Nair said he is not a rebel candidate. “I submitted the nomination after 27 legislators decided to support me. You wait till April 7 (the last date for withdrawal of nominations). I am also going to seek the support of the state unit,” he added.
Antony today feigned ignorance of a rebel candidate filing nomination. Antony sees Nair’s candidature as another arm-twisting tactic of Karunakaran, who has time and again proved that the arms of the state and national leadership can be twisted.
During candidate selection for the May 2001 Assembly elections, Karunakaran had, on finding a few of his followers missing from the list, resigned from the Congress’ apex policymaking body. A panicky party leadership then rushed to placate Karunakaran and he managed to get three additional seats for his faction.
This time, the threat has come not only in the form of the rebel candidate but also in the form of the expressed intentions of three of the ministers loyal to Karunakaran that they would resign if matters did not go as their leader wished.
However, in New Delhi, the Congress high command indicated that it would not yield to the pressure, convinced that Karunakaran will not be in a position to oppose the official party nominees.
Senior party leaders at the AICC said the high command was not impressed by the threat of three Karunakaran camp followers of resigning from the Antony ministry. “We know that the Karunakaran camp does not have the requisite number of MLAs to vote against the official nominees. The legislature party will issue a whip and they will have to follow it if they have to retain their membership of the Assembly,” a leader said.
The Congress’ central leadership also does not believe that Muraleedharan would quit his post. They maintain that the high command was not aware of the resignation letter that he reportedly submitted. “Muraleedharan will come here on April 7. We are confident he will come round to supporting the official nominees, though he might still have reservations about Pillai’s selection,” a leader said in Delhi.