At the press conference, while announcing that Kerala Congress (Mani) would no longer be a part of the United Democratic Front in Kerala, chairman K.M. Mani described his party as a beautiful, young woman, who all wanted to woo. Mani's confidence was palpable. And why not!
In his six-decade-long career, 83-year-old Mani has survived many political storms. He has been an MLA 13 times and has presented as many budgets. But, for a while now, Mani had been contemplating whether to leave the Congress-led UDF. He was upset with a few leaders in the Congress, who, he felt, were constantly trying to run down him. A prominent bar owner in the state had even alleged that Mani, as finance minister, had taken bribe to open bars that were closed down. Mani had to resign as finance minister in November last year after the Kerala High Court upheld a vigilance court's order to further investigate the bar bribery case. Mani’s political future, it was thought, was over. But in the 2016 assembly elections in the state, he won for the record 13th time from his home constituency of Pala.
Last week, at the party conclave, the Kerala Congress (M) decided to leave the UDF. The party said it would sit separately in the assembly and avoid dealings with the ruling Left Democratic Front and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
Said Mani to THE WEEK: "I am not afraid of any leader in the Congress. Kerala Congress has time and again proved that it can stand alone."
The Kerala Congress (M) was one of the key constituents of the UDF which was formed in 1981. Said Jose K. Mani, MP and son of Mani, to THE WEEK: "It was a party decision to separate from the UDF. The Congress took us far too lightly." But he did not blame the entire Congress leadership. "Congress has some good leaders who cared for us. But some other leaders were hellbent on defaming my father and the party. This was unacceptable.”
There is speculation that the Kerala Congress (M) is talking to the BJP for a possible alliance with the NDA. But Jose said, ”We are having no discussions with the NDA or even the LDF. We will give issue-based support to all parties.”
The BJP is wary of the Kerala Congress (M) at the moment. Said its leader O. Rajagopal, MLA, to THE WEEK: "So far as the BJP is concerned, we will neither blindly support nor oppose the Kerala Congress (M). We will decide matters on merit.” It was too early to say whether Mani would be part of the NDA, Rajagopal said. "Our doors are always open. Any party that doesn't take a hostile stand against us can be part of the NDA," he said.
Mani’s exit, it is said, would have an effect on the fortunes of the UDF. It could increase growls in the alliance. The exit of the Kerala Congress (M) has emboldened some leaders of the Janata Dal (United) to demand that their party also sever ties with the Congress-led coalition. But JD(U) leader M.V. Shreyams Kumar does not support them. He said to the THE WEEK: “We are with the UDF. But the problem in the UDF is that the Congress wants to fight in every seat in the state. Such an attitude needs to be sorted out. The overall dispensation of the Congress did not work cohesively in the 2016 assembly elections. Our party did not win even a single seat for the first time.” Kumar said that some Congress leaders at the local level furthered their own interests during the polls, damaging the chances of the JD(U).
The day Mani left the UDF, Youth Congress workers waved black flags at his motorcade and called him a cheat. State Congress president, however, merely said, “Mani and his party will realise soon that they have committed a grave mistake by leaving the alliance.”
Kerala Congress (Mani) leader Joseph M. Puthussery blamed Sudheeran for the mess. Said he to THE WEEK, “Sudheeran could have intervened and saved the alliance from breaking.” Seat-sharing talks had failed miserably during elections, Puthussery said. “We were not given good seats. Some leaders in the Congress wanted us to perform badly in the elections. They worked against us. We kept quiet despite all the insult. Now, we will not.”