"I am a Congress man": KV Thomas refutes buzz of defecting to the BJP, but Congress remains watchful5 min read . Updated: 17 Mar 2019, 04:14 PM IST
- I was mistreated. But I will stand when my party takes a decision, said K.V. Thomas
- 'Will KV Thomas follow the steps of Tom Vadakkan?' party leaders are closely watching
Bengaluru: Senior Congress leader and former union food minister, K. V. Thomas was in for (in his own words) “the biggest shock in his career" when his name was dropped from the first set of candidates announced by the party on Sunday midnight. The party leaders are closely watching if Thomas would follow the steps of Tom Vadakkan, the Congress spokesperson from Kerala who defected to the BJP in a surprise move last week apparently because denied of a ticket to contest. Thomas, however, refuted such a buzz.
"I was mistreated. But I will stand when my party takes a decision. BJP has not offered me anything. I have been a congressman... since Indira Gandhi's days... Ernakulam is a congress turf, anyone standing there will win. Yesterday, I spoke out of sadness," Thomas said to reporters in Delhi.
Congress opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala rushed to visit Thomas in Delhi on Sunday morning in order to pacify but the closed-door discussion ended in about 15 minutes. “Why this drama? I don’t need any offers," Thomas apparently shouted at Chennithala, reported Asianet News. Coming after the meeting, Chennithala refuted reports of Thomas' joining the BJP. "He would never do it," said to reporters another Congress leader Benny Behnan in Kerala, who belongs to the rival 'A' group against Chennithala's 'I' faction.
PC Chacko, another Congress leader and who is close to Thomas, also visited him on Sunday and asked him not to defect to the BJP. The party has entrusted Mukul Vasnik to talk to Thomas and calm him down, who is expected to visit Thomas later on Sunday, according to senior Congress leader who spoke to Mint requesting not to be named. Thomas said he will stand with the party and is likely to visit Congress ex-chief Sonia Gandhi on Monday.
Unlike Vadakkan, who never won an election, Thomas is a seven-time MP whose mass base, especially among the district’s predominant Catholic believers, is elusive for any politician. Regional news channel Asianet News reported that senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and Vadakkan himself reached out to Thomas, offering the ticket from the same Ernakulam seat he was denied from Congress. BJP Kerala President Sreedharan Pillai declined to comment on the buzz, but said: “Thomas mash (Malayalam for teacher, as he is fondly called) is a well-respected leader across parties. We are closely monitoring the situation."
Thomas remained vague and undecided when he was talking to the press on his possible defection to the BJP on Saturday night. He was, however, sharply critical of his party. “Is being 72 years my fault... I do not know what wrong I have done. I have been a seven-time member and no one had given any hint of what has happened now. I have not been told the reason on why I have been left out. No one can make me a curry leaf to be thrown away," he said.
People close to Thomas also refuted the speculations on his going to the BJP. Thomas had, in fact, started a war-room for campaigning in Ernakulam months ago, and had reached out for support to several of his deep-rooted pockets in the city, including top members of the Catholic community, said a person who worked closely with Thomas, requesting anonymity. It would be odd for him to ask votes for another party like the BJP, or to campaign for another candidate now, the person said.
But a peeved Thomas may still end up as a negative influencer for Congress in a seat which has been one of its strongholds for decades. The party, according to local reports, has put forward offers for Thomas such as top positions in the apex organisational body All India Congress Committee (AICC) and convenor post in Congress-led alliance United Democratic Front, apart from an assembly ticket from Ernakulam later. But, so far, Thomas has been unwilling to accept any compensatory offers or even return to Kerala from Delhi in order to campaign for his replacement, sitting MLA Hibi Eden.
The drama unfolding has also in the backdrop years long factional feuds within Congress in Kerala. Eden belongs to what is known as the 'I' group within Congress, led by Chennithala, while Thomas has an image of a party man above group equations but has been closer to Chennithala's rival 'A' group, which is loyal to former chief minister Oommen Chandy. For Eden, incidentally, the development is also the wheel coming full turn. He was widely speculated to be a Lok Sabha candidate in 2009, when in a last minute twist, Congress chose Thomas as the candidate.
What went wrong for Thomas?
Thomas was criticised recently for lauding the BJP leader and prime minister Narendra Modi in a national conference of management experts in Kochi. Along with such episodes, the nature of the polls this time may have worked against him.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM— the principal enemy of Congress in Kerala— had last week announced P. Rajeev as their candidate from Ernakulam. Rajeev was lauded across party lines as a former Rajya Sabha member and has been in charge of the party in Ernakulam for the last few years and editor of the CPM mouthpiece, positions that allowed him to build a rapport in the constituency.
In short, Rajeev is not all a weak candidate and this may have prompted the party to give the seat to a relatively younger face. Eden, 35 is the son of late Congress leader George Eden, who rose up as a student leader to become a two-time Ernakulam MLA. He has been rising up the influence-ladder within the Congress party and making himself deep rooted pockets within the Catholic church as well as the masses in Ernakulam, according to a regional leader who did not want to be quoted.
On the ground, Congress leaders who were known to be close to Thomas once have turned against the veteran leader and are seen to be rooting for Eden now. “We will accept any candidate suggested by the high command and work for his victory. Perhaps the leadership thought Hibi has a more chance to win," said former MLA Dominic Presentation, also of the Congress ‘A’ group.