The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Risk lurks in kid gloves

New Delhi, April 15: The victory of the two official Congress nominees in Monday’s Rajya Sabha election from Kerala has saved the high command from embarrassment but the outcome has left the party bruised at the wrong time.

The party leadership’s reluctance to even talk about initiating disciplinary action against K. Karunakaran, the rebel leader who had put up Kodoth Govindan Nair of his ‘I group’ to challenge the two official nominees, speaks for itself.

Nair, whom the high command had got expelled after he refused to retire from the race last week, has lost.

But in the process, Karunakaran has demonstrated that he is still a force to reckon with in state politics with a third of the Congress’ 62 MLAs defying the high command and voting for Nair.

The Congress high command is realistic enough to read the situation appropriately as it has dropped enough hints that all will be forgiven if Karunakaran did not indulge in more provocative activities against it or the UDF government in the state headed by his arch rival A.K. Antony.

For the same reason, the high command might also not remove K. Muraleedharan, Karunakaran’s son, as KPCC chief, though some central leaders were believed to be angry that he was covertly working for the rebel candidate while overtly being the high command’s man in the saddle.

According to sources, R.K. Dhawan and Ghulam Nabi Azad, the two central observers who went to Kerala to oversee yesterday’s elections, have recommended to party president Sonia Gandhi that no precipitate steps should be initiated over the Kerala veteran’s anti-party activities.

Much as the central leadership would like to gloss over the development by describing it as a “unique situation confined to Kerala”, Sonia stares at a threat of several party veterans elsewhere getting emboldened by the Karunakaran case.

It is by now widely believed that the clamour for berths by several senior leaders who are without formal positions is the main reason why Sonia has not been able to effect the much-awaited shuffle of her AICC team.

The shuffle, when it happens, runs the risk of being reduced to an exercise in balancing the claims and counter-claims of various leaders. It may fall short of the intended objective of putting in place an effective team of leaders to prepare the party for the big poll challenges ahead.

Some restless leaders are also learnt to be cobbling together new equations to assert themselves. The contemplated changes in some states, too, are getting stalled. Some of the party’s allied organisations are also virtually without functioning heads.

An AICC functionary said the conflicting pulls and pressures would now force “the party chief to come up with a package” to reorganise the party set-up at various levels.

But V.C. Shukla, the party’s disgruntled leader in Chhattisgarh, has chosen not to wait for the package and has already left the Congress.

The state Congress leadership under chief minister Ajit Jogi has been dismissive of Shukla’s decision to join Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party.

Not many in the central leadership seem to share that perception as the Assembly elections are due in about six months.

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