K M Mani Returns to UDF, Congress in Ferment Over Rajya Sabha Seat
K M Mani (photo Credit: PTI)

Thiruvananthapuram, June 8:  The Congress party was in turmoil in Kerala on Friday even as estranged ally K.M. Mani returned to the UDF fold after being given a Rajya Sabha seat the Congress could have easily won.

Veteran Congress leader and former Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson P.J. Kurien blamed former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy for the surrender of the Rajya Sabha seat, a decision which also sparked street protests by young Congress activists in the state.

Kurien told the media in Delhi that he had no grudge against Mani. "This is the brain work of Chandy who has always had an agenda. At times he comes out with plans to sideline some leaders and at times he comes out with plans to project some others. I was a victim in 2012 also when Chandy opposed my nomination but I got elected," said Kurien.

"This seat, which should have rightfully gone to the Congress, was handed on a platter to Mani. What should have happened was that the Political Affairs Committee of the state Congress should have met and a discussion should have taken place... This never happened."

Congress student and youth wings held protests at a few places in the state to denounce the loss of the Rajya Sabha seat. But none of them criticized the return of Mani to the Congress-led UDF.

Mani, who in 2016 walked out of the United Democratic Front (UDF) ending over a four-decade-long association, all smiled on Friday. Mani said his party had decided to rejoin the UDF and thanked the Congress for giving his party the Rajya Sabha seat.

"The decision on who will be nominated to the Rajya Sabha will be announced shortly," he said, adding that he does not wish to contest.

Mani was beaming as he entered the Cantonment House where a meeting of the UDF was on. Minutes before Mani's arrival was announced, former state Congress chief V.M. Sudheeran walked out of the meeting expressing his displeasure over the Congress decision.

As the UDF meeting continued, young Congress activists staged a sit-in outside the venue.

Mani said: "We will now all work together to see the resurrection of the UDF."

Chandy, however, told IANS that the decision on giving the Rajya Sabha to Kerala Congress (Mani) was meant to strengthen the UDF.

"Over the years, on two occasions, once in the 90s and again in 2001, the Congress party due to the political needs took the Rajya Sabha seat from Mani... This is a one-time adjustment. The Congress will get the Rajya Sabha seat in 2022," said Chandy.

Kurien alleged that the opposition to his re-nomination to the Rajya Sabha by young Congress legislators was a game plan of Chandy. He insisted that the Congress High Command had been misled by Chandy.

Those backing the nomination of Mani's party to the Rajya Sabha include Chandy, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala and state Congress chief M.M. Hassan besides IUML Lok Sabha member P.K. Kunhalikutty.

On Thursday, Congress President Rahul Gandhi sanctioned Mani's return to the alliance.

An upset Sudheeran told the media that although Mani's return was welcome, the way the affair was handled, minus transparency, had hurt the Congress and UDF workers.

"Those who handed over the Rajya Sabha seat to Mani said it will strengthen the UDF. But actually, it will not. In fact, the Congress party has been weakened.

"The rank and file of the Congress have been badly hurt. The end result of this illogical decision has set the stage for the strengthening of the BJP and that does not augur well," said Sudheeran.

Both the CPI-M and BJP tried to fish in troubled waters. CPI-M state Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan appealed to Congress leaders upset with the loss of the Rajya Sabha seat to take a stand during the polls to the Upper House. If they do, the Left will take appropriate decisions, he said.

Former state BJP president P.K. Krishnadas invited all disgruntled Congressmen to join his party.

"The doors of the BJP will be kept open to all Congressmen who are unhappy," he said. Three Rajya Sabha seats have fallen vacant in Kerala. While two of the seats will be won by the Left, the Congress-led UDF is expected to bag the third.