Bengaluru: The delicate matter of how to deal with an influential Christian politician is threatening to drive a wedge between the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala and its junior partner the Communist Party of India, or CPI.

At its national meet that ended Kollam on Sunday, the CPI decided to be stern and vocal in opposing K. M. Mani, leader of the Kerala Congress (M), said a senior CPI leader on condition of anonymity.

But alliance leader CPM is trying to woo Mani towards the ruling Left Democratic Front in order to retain power in Kerala, the only state ruled by the communists.

The CPM in Kerala considers defeating the Congress, the principal opposition in the state, its main political task. It even opposed CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury’s proposal to forge an alliance with the Congress nationally ahead of the 2019 general elections.

In the CPM’s calculation, the support of Mani, who remains an influential leader among Christians in central Kerala, is crucial to defeating the Congress, as the balance of power in Kerala shifts between the Congress and the CPM on the basis of a few seats.

An alliance with Mani would deepen the depth of Congress’s break-down in Kerala, since he was a Congress ally for a long time, a senior leader of the CPM, requesting not to be named, had told Mint in an earlier interview.

But if the mood from the CPI meet is of any indicator, it is clear that the comrades are in for a period of churn.

Mani is controversial because of his alleged involvement in what locals call the “bar bribe scam". Mani was accused of taking a bribe from bar owners for undue favours back in 2015, when he was a finance minister in the previous Congress government. It resulted in a protracted battle between him and the Left Front, which was in the opposition.

Coupled with adverse court remarks, the scam eventually resulted in his exit from the cabinet. But he won again the next assembly election in 2016 and got a clean chit from police investigators later. In the meanwhile, he quit the Congress-led United Democratic Front.

The matter already seems to be having an impact on a crucial bypoll in Alappuzha district’s Chengannur assembly constituency on 28 May, where the CPM is seeking the support of Mani to win a tough battle.

The fight in Chengannur is billed as a semi-final of sorts to the general election, as all three major fronts in Kerala—LDF, UDF and the BJP-led NDA—claim to have considerable support.

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