Last year around this time, I spent a day with Oommen Chandy while he was campaigning for himself in his Puthupally constituency in Kottayam district. Chandy is an affable man, has no airs, is very approachable and unlike politicians of other states who flaunt their black cats as a status symbol, believes in a DTH – direct-to-home – approach. Most people in fact, call him by his nickname, Kunjoonju.
At one of the roadside meetings, Chandy was joined by Kerala Congress (Mani)’s strongman, K M Mani. He is the Christian strongman in the southern part of Kerala and is now the finance minister in Chandy’s cabinet. The body language of Mani’s supporters displayed the political arrogance that came from commanding the Christian votebank and Chandy, eager to become CM once again, was only too willing to pander to their ego.
Up north in Kerala’s Malabar region, Chandy had to play second fiddle to the aggressive presence of the Muslim League (IUML) and its leader, P K Kunhalikutty. The election results where the UDF just about passed the half way mark in the Kerala assembly, increased the dependence of the Congress on its allies as even one unhappy ally could easily rock the boat. So with both these allies flexing their muscle, over the last one year, the UDF has come to be dominated by the Kunjoonju-Kunhalikutty-Kunjumani trio.
This domination by the Muslim-Christian lobby has meant `Amar’ is aggrieved that `Akbar’ and `Antony’ get more footage than him. In Chandy’s cabinet now, with the addition of a fifth minister from IUML and another Christian minister Anoop Jacob on Thursday, there are 6 Christian, six Muslim ministers and nine Hindu ministers. Critics point out this is clearly not in keeping with the population break up where Hindus are 56 per cent of the population, Muslims 24 per cent and Christians 19 per cent. In Kerala’s politics, deeply polarised on community lines, this is proving to be Chandy’s biggest headache.
Ministerial aspirants within the Congress are not happy with what they call the `C-M’ group dominating the government. An attempt to rectify this was made when it was proposed that Congressman Ramesh Chennithala be made the home minister. That did not happen reportedly over demands for the post of deputy chief minister. It was also suggested that Assembly Speaker G Karthiyen be drafted into the cabinet and the Speaker’s post given to the IUML in a game of musical chairs, but Karthikeyan did not play ball.
The present confusion only emphasises all that is wrong with Indian politics today. That the best man for the job is not chosen if he or she is not from the politically appropriate caste or community. In fact, the angst within the Congress is that the party does not have a Hindu leader of the stature of Oommen Chandy to lead the community within the party. The fear therefore is that the Hindu voters will increasingly see the Congress and the UDF as a Christian-Muslim party and the shift of Hindu votes could prove disastrous.
Already the BJP and the Nair Service Society are raising the pitch ahead of the Neyyattinkara byelection where the Nair votes will be critical for the UDF. They accuse the UDF of pandering to the minorities and the NSS has said the honeymoon with Chandy, who they felicitated just four months back, is over.
This is not good news for Kerala as this caste and community politics can only tear the state’s fragile communal fabric apart.