Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and state Congress chief Ramesh Chennithala on Wednesday put up a show of unity amid reports that the recent cabinet expansion had created a major rift between the two leaders.
Emerging after a 45-minute meeting at the party headquarters here, Chandy and Chennithala - who control two powerful factions in the state Congress - dismissed reports of any rift between them and said the party would remain united. Interestingly, this comes just ahead of a crucial assembly bypoll in Neyyatinkara.
"I have always enjoyed the backing of the KPCC president," Chandy told reporters after the meeting. Chennithala, while confirming that there was indeed a "communication gap" between him and the Chief Minister said, "All misunderstandings are now over. Our party will go ahead unitedly"
The rift between the two leaders came to the fore after leaders from the party's 'I" faction controlled by Chennithala unleashed a scathing attack on the Chief Minister for "succumbing to the pressure" of ally Muslim League and conceding it an additional cabinet berth. The cabinet expansion had also invited the wrath of Hindu caste organisations who were already complaining of "disproportionate representation" of Hindus in the cabinet. In the 21-member Kerala cabinet, 12 members including the Chief Minister, belong to minority communities.
What also angered the Chennithala faction was the way in which the Chief Minister "unilaterally" reallocated portfolios without consulting the state Congress chief. Chandy gave up his powerful Home Affairs portfolio to his trusted aide T Radhakrishnan and allocated important portfolios of Revenue and Health to Adoor Prakash and V S Sivakumar - all from the majority community. But the move failed to cut ice with Hindu caste organisations.
Political analysts say the real grouse of the Chennithala faction was Chandy's clever move in using a formula floated by the 'I' group to his own advantage. When the talk of 'communal imbalance' in the cabinet did the rounds, a formula floated by the 'I' faction was to bring congress chief Chennithala, who is a Hindu Nair, into the cabinet and give him the post of Deputy Chief Minister or Home Minister. However, Chandy brought in his own trusted lieutenant T Radhakrishan, also a Nair, as Home Minister. Chandy's decision to re-allocate portfolios of Prakash and Sivakumar of the Chennithala faction was also reportedly done without the state Congress chief's consent.
As Congress leaders from either faction began washing dirty linen in public, the central leadership intervened. Congress sources say it was senior leader A K Antony who reportedly brokered the truce between Chandy and Chennithala.
But observers feel that the Chandy-Chennithala truce would only last till the crucial assembly by-poll in Neyyatinkara. The ruling Congress-led UDF is precariously placed with only 72 members in the 140-member assembly. With the Chief Minister himself admitting that the bypoll will be a referendum of his government, the Congress has no other way but to remain united. A reason why many would take this new show of unity in the Congress with a pinch of salt.