The Congress in Kerala seems to have learnt its lessons after its electoral debacle and has gone in for a generational shift by selecting V.D. Satheesan, one of the most popular faces of Congress as the Opposition leader in the state.
The Federal was in fact the first to report that the Congress is all set to infuse young blood into the party, pushing some of the old guards to the sidelines. “As a first step, VD Satheesan, one of the most outspoken leaders in the party, has emerged as the top contender for Opposition Leader, a post now with veteran Ramesh Chennithala,” said The Federal in a report on May 13.
Putting an end to factional conflicts, for the time being, the Congress high command finally decided to listen to the calls raised by the youngsters in the party and took a decision overriding group equations. This will be a vital blow to the present leadership, who had led the party to face an embarrassing defeat in the recently concluded Assembly elections. Moreover, according to sources, the AICC has decided not to listen to group leaders anymore.
Despite being a part of the (I) group, Satheesan is accepted across groups and among the masses due to his impressive performance in the Assembly. There had been overwhelming demand from District Congress Committees (DCC) to bring in a generational change in the party.
The 56-year-old V.D. Satheesan had been treated as a counterpart to previous Finance Miniter Dr. Thomas Isaac often in the debates raised in the Assembly, when it came to matters involving economic policies. The sources within the party indicated that Rahul Gandhi had insisted on a change in the party, to bring in younger leaders and thus Satheesan was elevated to this position ignoring the pressure from senior leaders such as Ramesh Chennithala, Oommen Chandy, and A.K. Antony.
According to party insiders, Ramesh Chennithala had laid claim to another tenure as Opposition leader citing the support of around 14 MLAs. A.K. Antony is said to have expressed the concern that the party in Kerala cannot function smoothly if senior leaders like Ramesh Chennithala and Oommen Chandy are completely ignored. There is strong speculation that the AICC is also poised for a comprehensive change in the party and is likely to change the President of the KPCC as well.
The decision taken by the CPI(M) and CPI to change all members, who had completed two terms and also all the existing ministers, has served as a lesson and eye-opener to the Congress too, according to party sources.
The response and body language of Mullappally Ramachandran, the current KPCC president were not exactly welcoming but he said a few good words about Satheesan. When he was quizzed by the media at Indira Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram on how such a decision was arrived at, Ramachandran replied that he ‘was not aware of any such decision, but he was informed by Mallikarjuna Kharge that AICC had taken this decision.’
He also added that as the leader of the Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala had accomplished his duty very well and he will be remembered as the finest Opposition leader that Kerala had.
On being asked whether the Congress is paving the way for the new generation to take over the party, Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, a senior leader and former minister, responded that a generational change does not mean that the old leaders will be eliminated. V.D. Satheesan is a good learner and he will do his best, he added.
The youngsters in the party welcomed the decision, as the long pending demand raised by them had been finally approved by the AICC. Hibi Eden, an MP, and one of the young party leaders who had openly criticised the KPCC president after the defeat, welcomed the decision and did not conceal his excitement to the media. “This is a recognition given to Satheesan very late,” he said.
Shafi Parambil, the young MLA who defeated E. Sreedharan, the metro man, in Palakkad constituency, also appreciated the leadership change in the party. “Youth Congress has made its position very clear long ago. This decision taken by the high command will certainly rejuvenate the party. As we had faced an unusual defeat, we have to take unusual decisions to correct and reform the party,” said Parambil.
V.D. Satheesan’s first statement to the media, after being elevated to the position of the Opposition leader, is a pointer to the change in the party and state politics. “We will extend unconditional support to this government for all the good things they do. We will use all possible platforms – inside and outside the Assembly to expose the Government when they go wrong. We will show zero tolerance to the Sangh Parivar for any attempt to destabilise the secular fabric of Kerala,” said Satheesan.