Can Oommen Chandy claw back the lost turf of Congress?

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By Kumar

Congress high command’s decision to bring back AICC general secretary Oommen Chandy to Kerala politics to lead the party’s campaign and finalize strategy for the forthcoming assembly polls has sparked widespread speculations about the chief minister candidate of the UDF. Though the high command has stopped short of naming Chandy as the CM candidate, his spin doctors have lost no time in amping up propaganda projecting him as the de-facto CM candidate, after the high command’s announcement.

The former CM’s purported leadership qualities and popularity across the state are being touted by his acolytes as the elixir to regenerate Congress which is slowly dissipating in Kerala. However Chandy is no savior and his past poll records don’t feature any outstanding achievements to corroborate such tall claims.

Oommen Chandy’s diminishing social base

The argument of the traditional social base of Congress consisting of Christians and Nairs consolidating behind Chandy ( the purported undisputed leader of Christisnas in Kerala) to provide a walkover to Congress doesn’t hold water anymore as the Christian community in Kerala is no longer a Congress vote bank. A significant percentage of Nairs in South Kerala have shifted allegiance to BJP already. Chandy’s breakfast meetings with NSS general secretary G. Sukumaran Nair are unlikely to make any dent in the community’s new-found love for the BJP. In addition, with CPM stoking communal fears, the prospect of a minority dominated UDF appears real and could prevent the rank and file of NSS from wholeheartedly supporting the Congress.

On the flip side Chandy’s appointment is sure to distance from the Congress theJacobite Church, which is engaged in a bitter fight with Chandy’s Orthodox Church.Statistics of last local body polls show Jacobite Church has voted for the LDF in many of their strongholds. They have vowed to support anyone who furthers their interests and obviously Chandy can ill afford to endear Jacobites antagonising Orthodox church. Moreover, Chandy’s hold over even Orthodox Church has weakened as evident from the win of Veena George from Aranmula assembly seat as the CPM candidate in the last assembly poll. Most importantly, the Catholic Church, the biggest church, is never known to support Chandy all out. With their own man Jose K Mani with the LDF, the Catholic Church would at best remain neutral in the coming assembly polls.

In the meantime, the simmering discontent among different chruches in the state against Muslim League on various issues is going to pose a tough challenge to Congress esp. Chandy. His prowess as an interlocutor of Churches will be put under severe test.

Finally, the former chief minister’s performance as AICC general secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh also hasn’t brought him any laurels as he outrightly failed to bring Jaganmohan Reddy back to the Congress fold or breach his fortress as prophesied by his minions in Malayalam media. He went to Andhra and returned bare-handed.

Past performances

Chandy led the Congress thrice in Kerala assembly polls in 2006, 11 and 16 and his performance as a leader has been average at best. As the chief minister, Chandy had failed to achieve continuity of Congress rule in Kerala in 2006 and 2016 when Congress suffered humiliating defeats with Chandy at the helm. On the other hand, in 2011, Congress under Chandy’s leadership just scraped through with 72 seats. The victory lacked sheen as Kerala has a tradition of bringing the opposition to power after every five years.

During his last term as chief minister, Chandy’s office had come under a barrage of allegations related to Solar Scam. Some of his personal staff were asked to resign and even Chandy himself came under fire. Though the present LDF has failed to prove any of the allegations against Chandy, the LDF can use it as whataboutery to shield Pinarayi against Congress attacks related to the gold smuggling case.

Current scenario

In the recent local body polls, the Congress has failed miserably in Kottayam district, considered to be Chandy’s forte. The party failed to come to power in all but two panchayats in Chandy’s own Puthuppally assembly segment. Chandy’s charisma has failed to work magic anywhere in the Chrisitian dominated Kottayam.

The Chruches and NSS have conveyed to Congress their displeasure in handing over education portfolio to Muslim leauge if the UDF comes to power, but the latter is in no mood to yield. The Catholic Church is willing to negotiate with the BJP and the CPM and Cardinal George Alencherry has clarified that the Church doesn’t consider BJP as untouchable. Signs of a disruptive change in Kerala politics are becoming palpable.

It’s true that Chandy continues to be the blue eyed boy of power centres in the Congress, as is evident from his return to active politics and the systematic campaign being conducted by certain groups for him. Though it is true that Chandy remains popular among sections of Congress workers, there are few takers for the myth of Oommen Chandy as an invincible warrior.

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