The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia set to crack Kerala whip

New Delhi, April 16: Unable to reconcile to the fact that its authority had been questioned by veteran leader K. Karunakaran, the Congress high command is taking a second look at the Kerala party affairs, throwing hints that some hard options might be exercised to restore its supremacy.

After two days of soft-talking, the high command today fired the first salvo, asking Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president K. Muraleedharan to immediately submit a report on the Rajya Sabha polls. At least 20 of the 62 Congress MLAs defied the high command and voted in Monday’s polls for expelled rebel candidate K. Govindan Nair, propped up by Karunakaran and his “I Congress faction”.

Muraleedharan, son of Karunakaran, has come under attack for his “covert” support for Nair even while overtly claiming to have worked for the success of AICC general secretary Vayalar Ravi and former state president T. Balakrishna Pillai, the two official nominees.

The state chief would have to do “some explaining” over the MLAs’ defiant voting for the expelled candidate, party spokesman Jaipal Reddy said today.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi took the decision to seek an immediate explanation from Muraleedharan after holding a detailed second round of consultations this morning with Ghulam Nabi Azad and R.K. Dhawan, the two AICC observes for the Rajya Sabha polls. Also present at the meeting were AICC general secretary in charge of Kerala affairs Ambika Soni and Ravi.

The apparent strategy behind the move is to force Muraleedharan to make his position clear — whether he stood with the high command or sympathised with his father. He had avoided taking a firm position when he had met Sonia before the polls and agreed not to press for acceptance of his resignation as Kerala unit chief. But Muraleedharan had also assured her to work for the success of the official nominees.

A day before the polling, however, the high command is understood to have been very cutup with Muraleedharan’s continued sympathies for his father’s cause and even considered his removal.

Muraleedharan might lose the post if he failed to convince the party about his loyalty to the high command.

Apart from virtually putting Muraleedharan on notice, the high command is also believed to be contemplating showcause notices to defiant MLAs and refer Karunakaran’s case before the AICC’s Disciplinary Action Committee of which state chief minister A.K. Antony, Dhawan and L.P. Sahi are members. Apparently, Antony is pushing for strong action.

It was, however, not clear whether all these are posturing or an indication of wielding the stick. Ravi, for one, did not favour a clampdown on the Karunakaran-led dissidence in the state.

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