It is that time of the year when usually ticket hopefuls from Kerala’s Congress party would gather around in Delhi and, at times, desperately lobby to be included in the candidate list. But in a reversal of scenes this time, it is the leadership desperately lobbying to make the leaders contest.
The Congress is struggling with denials among its senior most leaders in Kerala to contest in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. As a result, Congress is facing an inordinate delay in its candidate announcement, in sharp contrast to its principal opposition and ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) which announced its candidates last week.
At least four senior Congress leaders have been vocal about not interested to be fielded as candidates— former chief minister Oommen Chandy, Kerala Congress unit president Mullappally Ramachandran, former MP and strongman from north Kerala K. Sudhakaran and Congress general secretary and former union minister of state for aviation K.C. Venugopal.
Venugopal reiterated on Monday that he wished he could contest but it is impossible because of his organisational duties. Chandy had asked to be not fielded in order to continue his works based out of Kerala. Chandy is also the leader of one of the two major factions within Congress in Kerala—the other led by current opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala—who are jockeying to position themselves as the next chief minister. Ramachandran also wanted to concentrate on party building and Sudhakaran cited health-related reason to not contest.
But with the LDF announcing a strong panel of popular leaders and local MLAs, a high profile panel has become crucial for Congress too. A crucial meeting between the leaders and the high command in Congress screening committee on Monday ended without taking a decision on this matter in Delhi. The committee, but, has decided to ask Sudhakaran, as a candidate from Kannur constituency, said a senior leader of the party requesting not to be named.
“On 14 (March), Rahul Gandhi will be in Kerala and a decision might happen by then. The last word on this matter will be Rahul Gandhi’s. But this will not affect the campaign," he said.
The Congress also risks an implosion within its ally, Kerala Congress (Mani) or KC(M) party, where a factional leader, P.J. Joseph, has turned into a rebel to secure a ticket. Joseph had publicly announced his desire to contest, but the KC(M)’s official faction headed by K.M. Mani does not want to part away to the rebel faction the single seat where they have been traditionally contesting, the Kottayam constituency.
Kerala Congress (Mani) group announced Thomas Chazhikadan as their Kottayam candidate on Monday, against the wishes of the factional leader P.J. Joseph.