THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Rahul Gandhi, touring Kerala on Thursday to officially kick off the Congress poll campaign, was in for embarrassment when his senior leader Tom Vadakkan exited.

On the one hand, Gandhi already had the mighty task of changing the mind of the senior most leaders who are turnning away from the poll contest.

On the one hand, he had the mighty task of changing the mind of the senior most leaders who are turnning away from the poll contest. On the other hand came the unexpected exit of Tom Vadakkan, adding more to the embarrassment.

Gandhi's itinerary in Kerala was instructive, shaped by an important criterion that the Congress is trying to convert into votes in the polls—political murders in North Kerala. He visited the families of slain youth Congress leaders in Kannur and Kasargod, allegedly under the hands of the ruling communist party activists. However, Vadakkan's exit almost entirely shadowed the visit's such purposes.

Vadakkan was one of those old Congress leaders in Kerala who acted like a bridge between local unit and Delhi leadership. Many of the leaders first approached him to present their matters before the leadership in Delhi, said a Congress leader, requesting not to be named.

It is not the electoral impact the Congress is worried about, he said. Indeed, the Congress in Kerala does not consider him to have any base, even at his native place, Thrissur, where his strongest contacts in Catholic church holds a significant sway, he said. In fact, the buzz is that it is the Congress' denial of Thrissur seat in back to back polls which caused Vadakkan to quit.

The Congress position was also vindicated as Vadakkan's announcement was received with a swarm of trolls against the BJP in social media in Kerala. Writer NS Madhavan suggested that it is more of a liability than a gain for the BJP. He tweeted: "I am reminded of Parameswarji, BJP ideologue in Kerala, who, when he was informed that Kamala Suraiya had converted to Islam, said, “God save Islam!""

But, according to the above mentioned Congress leader, the optics around the Vadakkan's exit right when the Gandhi is touring the state worry the grand old party. Vadakkan going to BJP shows the Congress in Kerala is also vulnerable to the so-called exodus to the saffron brigade, he said. This has already a much heated debate in the poll campaign. Two days ago, its principal enemy, communist leader and Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, accused the Congress in a public rally of becoming "a recruiting agent" for BJP. "How can we believe Congress candidates?" asked Vijayan.

Adding to the chaos, the state vigilance department booked three Congress MLAs-- Hibi Eden, AP Anil Kumar and Adoor Prakash--who were widely expected to be included in the candidates list, under sexual assault charges on Thursday. The allegations are not new, made by Saritha Nair of the infamous 2016 solar scandal, and were noted widely even before the assembly elections at the time, which the three leaders won. The MLAs called ratcheting up the old allegations ahead of the polls is motivated by political concerns.

Gandhi and his aides bungling the selection process not only lost the Congress an early edge in the polls, but has caused the state unit to come across as weak, incompetent, and riddled with personal fights than the party’s interests—both within and amongst its allies—said political analyst Jacob George.

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