UDF finding it tough to complete seat-sharing exercises

With coalition partners indulging in hard bargaining, the Congress-led UDF in Kerala is finding it hard to complete the seat-sharing exercise and hit the campaign trail for the April 13 Assembly polls.

Thiruvananthapuram: With coalition partners indulging in hard bargaining, the Congress-led UDF in Kerala is finding it hard to complete the seat-sharing
exercise and hit the campaign trail for the April 13 Assembly polls.

Though filing of nominations is to begin on March 19, seat allocation and drawing up of candidates list are getting delayed with allies continuing their hard bargaining with lead partner Congress.

The inter-party issues in the CPI(M) controlled LDF, on the other hand, are far less serious and the front is expected to seal its seat sharing deal soon.

However, the CPI(M) is yet to arrive at a final decision on whether party veteran and Chief Minister VS Achuthanndan is to be fielded again.

Though never a serious player in the state, BJP has marched ahead of the LDF and the UDF at least in announcing its key contestants in nearly a dozen segments, which have been identified by the saffron party to make a serious bid to
break its electoral jinx in the state.

The hardening posture of the Kerala Congress (Mani) and JSS has put the Congress in a bind since meeting their demands would reduce its own share of segments.

There is also a strong line of thinking in the party that yielding to the undue demands of the allies would damage its image as well its long-term interests.

JSS leader KR Gowry Amma has gone to the extent of threatening to pull out of the front if her demand for five seat is not met.

That Kerala Congress (M) would demand more seats this time from what it contested in 2006 was certain for a year when the party managed to get Kerala Congress (Joseph) faction to merge with it and leave the LDF, of which it was a
constituent for long.

But the insistence of KC (M) that it should get 22 seats this time against 11 it contested last time has taken the Congress by surprise.

Top KC (M) leaders, who met at the party’s traditional headquarters Kottayan two days back, made it clear it would not dilute its claim whatever be the consequences. But Congress leaders dismissed this just as a `pressure tactics`
as KC (M) has no other option but to remain in the UDF.

An early-bird among regional parties in India, Kerala Congress was formed in 1960s by some leaders who came out of Congress, backed by Catholic Church and the Nair Service Society. Since then, it has split and re-united many times.But
various factions have continued to enjoy spoils of power, irrespective of the coalitions, through shrewed manoeuvring, pressure tactics and bargaining skills.

Led by electoral battle veteran KM Mani, KC (M) is by any reckoning the largest Kerala Congress faction still commanding a good support base in Christian heartland of Central Travancore region. But within the UDF there are two
more KC factions, one led by R Balakrishna Pillai, now serving jail term in a graft case, and another led by TM Jacob.

In the LDF too there is a splinter KC faction, led by former Union Minister PC Thomas. This would mean, whichever coalition is in power, there would be at least one Kerala Congress faction in it.

91-year-old Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samithi (JSS) leader KR Gowry Amma has gone to the extent of threatening to pull out of UDF if its demand for five seats is not conceded, that too in her traditional turf Alappuzha district and around.

Once a firebrand CPI(M) leader and a member in most Left ministries since 1957, Gowry Amma quit the party some 15 years back following sharp differences with the leadership.

KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala made it clear that Congress would not give more than four seats to JSS under any circumstances. "We have done the best we could do for JSS.

Let that party decide what it wants", he said. Indications from JSS are that if Gowry Amma breaks ranks with UDF, the party might split as some sections in it
favour continuing in UDF.

Socialist Janata (Democratic), a comparatively new entrant in UDF, is also dissatisfied with the share of seats Congress has offered. SJD was formed after JD(S) in Kerala led by MP Veerendrakumar left LDF on the eve of the last Lok
Sabha polls, protesting the `undemocratic` approaches and unilateral decisions of the CPI(M).

In this case also, Congress would lose a few seats from its kitty as other allies would not be ready make sacrifices to accommodate the new ally.

Apart from the numbers game, the delicate exercise of striking religious, caste and regional balance in choice of candidates is a worry for Congress, as the party believes it enjoys the support of all sections of society.

UDF’s second largest component Indian Union Muslim League would field nearly 25 Muslim candidates in Malabar region in the north. Similarly, most Kerala Congress
candidates would be Christians, to be put up mostly in central districts of Kottayam, Pathanamthitta, Idukki, Eernakulam and Thrissur.

It is in between these two allies that Congress has to give due representation to its Christian and Muslim faces without making the Hindus unhappy.

Compared to UDF, inter-party issues are less serious in LDF where, other than CPI, most allies CPI(M) has to deal with are far too weak to seek a big share.

However, the crucial question if Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan will lead the LDF again is yet to be decided by the CPI(M). The party’s state committee, which met earlier this week, did not take a final decision on this issue.

The state leadership is meeting again this week, where the fate of Achuthanandan is expected to be decided. In case a solution still eludes, the matter will be referred to the central leadership for a final decision.

The first list of candidates announced by BJP included former Union minister O Rajagopal, the party`s most popular face in Kerala. The party has also nominated former state presidents CK Padmanabhan and PK Krishnadas.


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