Is Rahul Gandhi’s focus on national politics going to cost him Kerala?

Rahul Gandhi, Congress, Citizenship Amendment Act, Kerala, Wayanad, CPI(M), BJP,
Local Congress leaders say it is up to Rahul Gandhi to take a final call on the issue. Photo: @RahulGandhi/Twitter

Cracks have deepened in the state unit in recent weeks over joining hands with the communists in opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress-led coalition won 19 of the 20 seats by capitalising on the communist government’s bungling of the volatile Sabarimala issue.

For years, factional rivalry has turned the Congress into all leader, no cadre. The main fight this time has been over how the party should protest the contentious CAA. The Act has been an emotive issue for weeks, with peaceful street protests across Kerala.

On December 16, Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala floated the idea of a joint campaign with the communist coalition against CAA, which would have put Kerala in the vanguard of anti-CAA protests. Chennithala, who is the opposition leader in the state legislature, confined the discussion to leaders of the legislative parties, thereby leaving room for excuse should his idea be shot down by others. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan immediately agreed to it.

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Chennithala’s move was aimed primarily at preventing fringe Muslim groups known for their fundamental tilt from seizing control of the issue. Both the Congress and the communists have been determined to keep out such groups. A common front would immediately help block these elements.

Chennithala also won quick support from AICC general secretary and former chief minister Oomen Chandy, who said, “the need of the hour is to have a joint agitation with all like-minded political parties to oppose the CAA and the opposition has to be stiff.” Leaders of two major factions immediately welcomed the idea, as did the Indian Union Muslim League, which was part of the Congress-led coalition during the elections.

But party state president and Chennithala’s rival Mullappally Ramachandran rejected the idea. He said his ideological conviction doesn’t allow him to have any dealings with the CPI(M). He said party workers would never tolerate cosying up to the communists, with whom they have often fought bloody clashes. Ramachandran recalled that two Congress workers had recently been stabbed in clashes with the CPI(M) cadres. His stand has won him support from important leaders such as VM Sudheeran and Lok Sabha member K Muraleedharan.

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However, the party’s vice-president, VD Satheesan, counters that by saying that if mainstream parties do not take up the issue, extremist elements will enter and that would only help the Sangh Parivar. “Only with the help of mainstream political outfits can the insecurity in the minds of our people be eliminated,” he said.

Nearly every leader of the party has either favoured the joint action or opposed it, not so much out of ideology but out of local political requirements, such as improving their popularity among Muslims or shoring up their eroding credibility among the cadres.

While several protests have been held by both the communists and the Congress groups, no joint movement has happened so far, which could ignite a nationwide stir. Local Congress leaders say it is up to Rahul Gandhi to take a final call on the issue. If he fails to do so, it would only deepen the fissures in the party.

(The author is a freelance journalist with 40 years’ experience writing and editing for Indian and American newspapers and news agencies)

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