Kochi, Nov. 19: Dissident Congress leader K. Karunakaran put party president Sonia Gandhi on notice today, announcing at a rally in Kochi that he would not wait beyond Ramazan for replacing chief minister A.K. Antony.
Frail but packing enough fire power, the octogenarian leader thundered: “We will formulate our strategy within a week. I can assure you that come what may we will see that the chief minister steps down.”
On his side was son and state Congress chief K. Muraleedharan, for whom the show proved to be an occasion to announce the formal takeover of the reins of the group from his father.
The rally was held in virtual defiance of the Congress high command which had asked the dissidents to wait till December 1.
Muraleedharan said he did not care if anyone wanted to punish him for attending a rally held by a section representing 80 per cent of the Congressmen in the state.
Muraleedharan had no good words for Antony, though the state Congress chief had come to the rally from a meeting with the chief minister at the party office in Thiruvananthapuram this morning.
Antony said the talks were “very cordial” but Muraleedharan said they were nothing but a formal exchange between the chief minister and the pradesh Congress president. “The crisis continues,” Muraleedharan said.
However, all the 21 MLAs on the dais did not seem to share the enthusiasm of the father and the son.
Karunakaran’s daughter Padmaja Venugopal, the chairperson of the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation, was also on the stage in the front row, making it a consummate family affair.
Huge cutouts blazed in the sun with pictures of the father-son duo and Indira Gandhi. There was not a single portrait of party president Sonia Gandhi.
Karunakaran and Muraleedharan refrained from challenging the high command but had not one word of praise for the party president. Karunakaran said “all problems will end if Sonia and Antony took the initiative”.
Realising that all the legislators in the group may not back a split, Karunakaran harped on the theme of Congress tradition and derided Antony for deserting Indira Gandhi in 1978.
“Antony does not have the courage to attack us from the front. He would stab you from the back, as Indiraji had cautioned me at the Kochi convention decades ago held to re-admit Antony into the party,” the Congress veteran said.