Congress leadership decision in Kerala stuns party members

Thiruvananthapuram: After several decades of status quo in its leadership circles in Kerala, the Congress has taken a decision so bold it has left party members in Kerala ecstatic or stunned, depending on their age-groups.

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The Congress high command on Saturday named V.D. Satheesan as the new legislature party leader in the state assembly, choosing him over Ramesh Chennithala, who was Opposition leader over the last five years.

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‘Generational’ change

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The choice of Satheesan has been described as a ‘generational’ change, though going strictly by their ages it hardly deserves that adjective. Chennithala will turn 65 on May 25 and Satheesan is only eight years his junior, turning 57 on May 31.

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The ‘generational’ term is more reflective of the long decades that many Congress leaders from Kerala have been in top party ranks while also hanging on to their positions as MLAs or being parliamentarians.

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Those like Vayalar Ravi and A. K. Antony, both octogenarians, and Oommen Chandy in his seventies, have been in that elite group, into which Chennithala came in a few years later.

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Ravi seems likely to go into retirement when his present Rajya Sabha term ends but Antony, Chandy and Chenntihala continue to pull their weight in the organisational set-up in the state Congress committee.

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Scapegoat

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Some political observers feel Chennithala has been made a scapegoat for the Congress-led United Democratic Front’s failure in the assembly elections. It did lose by a mile, but if there was one leader who soldiered on through all the past five years, particularly in the final months of the Left government, it was Chennithala.

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Unfortunately for him, the Pinarayi Vijayan government’s competent handling of the COVID-19 crisis, the free food kit strategy, and the last-minute confusion created in the UDF ranks when Oommen Chandy appeared as a probable chief minister candidate, all roiled Chennithala’s valiant efforts.

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Crouching leader, hidden HQ?

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Changing Chennithala for Satheesan comes through as ironic considering how the Congress party headquarters has been functioning. The party has not been able to decide on a regular president yet, but seems to want decisive leadership in Kerala.

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Even for the Kerala elections, the Congress high command’s indecisiveness was writ large in its delay in choice of candidates, its campaign strategy and in the manner in which it humiliated leaders like Lathika Subhash.

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Denied a ticket to contest, Subhash tonsured her head and contested as an independent candidate against the UDF’s official candidate. In the event, both lost to V. N. Vasavan of the Communist Party of India Marxist.

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Obviously, pushing for a young and dynamic legislature party leader in Kerala while the high command cannot itself shake out of its lethargy seems anomalous.

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No Rahul-Priyanka magic

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The poll defeat may be put squarely on Chennithala’s shoulders, but the campaign also revealed the absence of any magic from the sustained efforts of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra.

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Rahul even went to the extent of joining a team of fishermen on their venture out to sea, and jumped into the waters for the cameras, but none of that brought votes for his party.

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As always, a Congress team deputed by the high command is studying the failure of the party in the poll. “Can’t they study some success story for a difference?”, went one troll.

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With its ‘generational change’ strategy, the Congress is hoping to revive the rank and file of the party in Kerala. But having sidelined a hardworking Congressman who put his heart and soul into his work for five years, the party high command may also have to worry whether the G-23, the group of dissenters, may just swell to G-24.

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