The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress wins poll tussle, loses Karunakaran

April 14: Hours after the Congress high command won its trial of strength with the Kerala rebels after the official nominees won the Rajya Sabha polls, rebel leader K. Karunakaran wrote to the Speaker asking for his faction to be considered a separate entity in the Assembly.

He said from tomorrow the Opposition will have 67 MLAs in the Assembly, indicating his group will sit in the Opposition.

Earlier in the day, the official nominees, AICC general secretary Vayalar Ravi and former state president Thennala Balakrishna Pillai, bagged 38 and 36 votes, against the minimum requirement of 36.

The rebel candidate, Kodoth Govindan Nair, polled as many as 26 votes, clearly unsettling the party leadership, including chief minister A.K. Antony.

Karunakaran did not hide his feelings when, in his first reaction to the poll results, he said: “It is not Antony’s victory, but the victory of money power. The MLAs were given blandishments of different dimensions to make them vote for the official candidates.”

Among two other factors likely to aggravate the situation further was a statement from the CPM national leadership that it was willing to do business with the Karunakaran faction if it took a clear political stand, including one on a principled opposition to the BJP.

The other was the return of state Congress chief K. Muraleedharan to his father Karunakaran’s camp.

Three state Congress general secretaries were incensed enough to demand his removal as state president. They accused him of overtly calling for support to the official candidates while secretly canvassing for the rebel. The three are K.C. Abu, Joseph Vazhakkan and Anil.

For the past six months, Muraleedharan had kept aloof from the faction.

Muraleedharan had adopted the stance that as the chief of the state Congress, the smooth conduct of the functions of the state government and the party organisation were his primary concern.

Now, if the CPM-led Left Democratic Front, with 40 members in the Assembly, does get together with the Karunakaran faction, the United Democratic Front government’s majority would be reduced to a mere four seats.

Karunakaran has friends among the ruling coalition’s partners such as the Kerala Congress factions led by K.M. Mani and Balakrishna Pillai. If they, too, fall out with Antony, the government will collapse.

There were indications during the day that Karunakaran was contemplating a no-confidence motion against Antony.

After the poll results were announced today, supporters of the Karunakaran faction took out processions across the state “promising to disturb Antony’s sleep in the coming days”.

Earlier in the day, the Congress leadership appeared willing to forgive Karunakaran and his rebel MLAs. “The long-term interests of the Congress in Kerala are very uppermost in our minds. Our desire is to keep the party united and strengthen it further in the state,” said Ambika Soni, AICC general secretary in charge of Kerala.

Soni was answering queries whether the high command was contemplating action against the rebels. She said disciplinary action, if any, would depend on the report that party central observers Ghulam Nabi Azad and R.K. Dhawan would submit.

The leadership realises that disciplinary action against Karunakaran, without any further provocation from him, would ultimately bleed the Congress in the state.

“The party has a constitution. It has a mechanism (to initiate disciplinary action). But in the context of Kerala, I can’t say anything now. Kerala situation is different from other states,” Soni said.

Azad and Dhawan are expected to immediately brief party chief Sonia Gandhi on the situation after they land in Delhi tonight.

CPM’s Chandran Pillai bagged the third Rajya Sabha seat in the state with 39 votes.

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