New Delhi/Thiruvananthapuram, Aug. 29: Sonia Gandhi appears to have set in motion a purge in response to poll setbacks in certain states by giving the marching orders to Kerala chief minister A.K. Antony.
The departure of Antony, whose propriety in public life was considered an invincible shield, has set alarm bells ringing in faraway Punjab, where another Congress chief minister — Amarinder Singh — is on a sticky wicket.
Antony announced his resignation this evening, immediately after Sonia’s weekend visit to the southern state during which Ahmed Patel, the in-charge of party affairs in Kerala, is understood to have read the riot act to “Mr Clean”. He later submitted a tersely worded quit letter to governor R.. Bhatia.
The move came on a day the Congress-led government in Delhi completed 100 days and Kerala had settled for a quiet Sunday after the most important day of the Onam festival.
The exit orders for Antony followed a late June report to Sonia by a two-member AICC team that went into the reasons behind the party’s worst-ever electoral showing in the state since its inception. The Congress failed to win a single seat in the May Lok Sabha polls and dissidence had descended into public brawls between senior leaders.
One of the members of the team was Bhatia and the other was Margaret Alva, now a party general secretary. The report is believed to have taken a dim view of the possibility of the party’s revival under Antony.
“Antony’s resignation is a logical culmination of the report,” said a party source.
Sonia’s Sunday sting operation would have made Amarinder Singh sit up in Punjab. He, too, has been under the high command’s scanner in the wake of the party’s poor showing in the May polls.
Last month, Amarinder did no good to his chances of survival with a controversial decision to terminate the state’s water-sharing agreements with its neighbours.
After seeing off Sonia at the Thiruvananthapuram airport, Antony told a news conference: “I am resigning. I am obeying the dictate of my conscience… I would urge the people to compare with a sense of justice the five years of the previous Left government and my three years. I am sure that I am handing over to my successor a state in a better shape than I had inherited it three years ago.”
Sonia has appointed defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and Alva as observers and asked them to reach the state capital tomorrow.
A party source said the successor would be elected from within the Congress legislature party. It effectively shuts the doors on senior leaders like K. Karunakaran, Vayalar Ravi and Ramesh Chennithala who are not legislators.
Karunakaran, who is being accused by the Antony camp of sabotaging the party’s Lok Sabha poll prospects, could not hide his glee. “Antony has done a service to Kerala by resigning,” the veteran Congress leader said.
Indications are that UDF convener Oommen Chandy, an estranged Antony ally, is the front-runner for the top post.