US embassy cable - 05CHENNAI875

KERALA'S CONGRESS PARTY SPLITS: A BOOST TO THE LEFT

Identifier: 05CHENNAI875
Wikileaks: View 05CHENNAI875 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Chennai
Created: 2005-05-04 10:49:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: PGOV IN Indian Domestic Politics
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 CHENNAI 000875 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV, IN, Indian Domestic Politics 
SUBJECT: KERALA'S CONGRESS PARTY SPLITS: A BOOST TO THE 
LEFT 
 
REF: 04 Chennai 01008 
 
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Kerala's ruling Congress party split 
on May 1, with octogenaran party veteran K. 
Karunakaran announcing that is son, Muraleedharan, 
would be the President ofthe newly formed National 
Congress (Indira).  Alhough only about seven of the 60 
Congress party MAs in Kerala seem to support the new 
party, Congess insiders inform Post that the rebels 
may tak away more than 15% of the party workers and 
votrs.  The split, which is a culmination of decades- 
old factionalism, will not immediately affect the 
stability of the Congress-led state government. It 
does, however, increase the chances of succes of the 
opposition Communist-led Left DemocraticFront in the 
2006 state assembly elections and i the state's 
Panchayat elections slated for Septeber 2005.  END 
SUMMARY 
 
------------------------------------------ 
VETERAN'S REVOLT BOOSTS LEFISTS' PROSPECTS 
------------------------------------------ 
 
2. (SBU) The May 1 split in Kerala'sCongress party 
made banner headlines in South Inda's newspapers for 
two reasons.  One, the statur of the rebel leader, K. 
Karunakaran, who announed the formation of the new 
party, the National ongress (Indira), and two, the 
advantage the splt is likely to give to the Opposition 
Communist-ld coalition.  Four-time Chief Minister of 
Keralaand once Union Minister in New Delhi, 
Karunakara had been a member of the Congress party for 
sevn decades and in the party leadership for over hal 
a century.  Local Congressmen credit him with 
ebuilding the state Congress party from the wreckae 
caused by the explosive growth of the Communis party 
in the Sixties.  His splitfrom the party is now likely 
to boost the prospects of the leftist parties he has 
opposed all his life. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
BLOOD THICKER: FATHER AND SON TO SINK OR SWIM TOGETHER 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
3. (SBU) Senior Congress leaders of Kerala told Post 
that the 87-year-old veteran party man would not have 
left the party but for the pressure from his son, 
Muraleedharan, who was recently sacked from the party 
for dissident activity.  Party factionalism is not new 
in Kerala.  Since the Seventies, Karunakaran and his 
bete noire, former Chief Minister A.K. Antony, had led 
bickering party groups and until 1995, Karunakaran had 
the upper hand.  When he started pushing his son 
Muraleedharan and daughter Padmaja in party hierarchy, 
however, he quickly began losing grip over his 
lieutenants.  Antony, who replaced Karunakaran in party 
leadership in 1995, continued to face Karunakaran's 
family's dissidence but endured it stoically.  In 2004, 
the deeply divided party lost all seats in the Lok 
Sabha elections, forcing Chief Minister Antony to quit 
office, giving way to Oommen Chandy (Reftel).  Chandy, 
a hardliner on enforcing discipline, got the party high 
command to dismiss former State Party President and 
Karunakaran's son Muraleedharan from the primary 
membership of the party, which has now led to the 
split. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
CONGRESS INSIDERS FEAR 15% EROSION IN SUPPORT BASE 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
 
4. (SBU) Chief Minister Chandy's right hand man and 
party legislator M.M. Hassan (protect) told Post that 
about 15% of the party's lower rung workers might join 
the new party. "Over the short term, this can cause 
setbacks," Hassan said.  Dr. Kuttappan (protect), 
another Congress leader, said that Karunakaran's 
departure could defeat the party in the 2006 elections 
because in most assembly constituencies, the margins of 
victory are traditionally narrow.  Of the state's 60 
Members of the Legislative Assembly, Karunakaran's 
party appears to have the support of only about 7. 
The dissidents do not have the numerical strength in 
the state assembly to vote down the government in the 
Assembly.  The MLAs did not participate in the 
dissident rally to avoid disqualification from Assembly 
membership. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
HIGH COMMAND TOES CHANDY'S LINE, ALBEIT CAUTIOUSLY 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
 
5. (SBU) Kerala Minister for Parliamentary Affairs 
Radhakrishnan (protect) informed Post that the party 
high command was deciding to toe Chief Minister Oommen 
Chandy's line in dealing with Karunakaran's faction. 
The high command refused to intervene decisively to 
stop the formation of the new party.  Seeking to avoid 
an outpouring of sympathy for the old leader, party 
leadership has been playing down the importance of the 
split, emphasizing that the high command has not sacked 
the senior leader.  Nor has Karunakaran publicly 
criticized Sonia Gandhi's leadership.  However, with 
Karunakaran resigning his Rajya Sabha membership, a 
substitute will have to be elected and it is only a 
matter of time before the present politeness gives way 
to the reality of the split.  Meanwhile, Karunakaran's 
daughter Padmaja, reportedly engaged in a sibling 
rivalry with her brother Muraleedharan, has not yet 
made up her mind about which side to join. 
 
------------------------------------------- 
KEEPING TO THE LEFT AND WAITING FOR SIGNALS 
------------------------------------------- 
 
6. (SBU) Although the opposition leaders indicate in 
public statements that they have yet to deliberate on 
any tie up with the new party, senior journalists told 
Post that the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) 
will eventually strike a deal with the new party. 
Johnny Lukose, News Editor of Kerala's leading daily 
Malayala Manorama, told Post that the new party's 
political and economic resolutions point in that 
direction.  The political resolution ends with the 
exhortation that the Congress and the left parties who 
coordinate at the Center should likewise cooperate in 
Kerala too. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
Karunakaran Deftly Plays the Hindu Communal Card 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
7. (SBU) According to Hassan and many others, 
Karunakaran and Muraleedharan are subtly playing the 
Hindu communal card against Chandy's leadership. 
Chandy is an Orthodox Christian and his closest allies 
are the Indian Union Muslim League.  There is already 
an undercurrent of resentment in the state against "the 
coalition of Christians and Muslims" (together 
constituting 43% of the population) who wield 
disproportionate power in the Congress-led government. 
Dropping only hints and suggestions, Karunakaran in 
public statements, however, continues to be as 
minority-friendly as ever.  Lukose believes that if the 
new party is not honorably accommodated within the LDF, 
they might eventually end up with the BJP, thus 
exacerbating the communal divide in Kerala.  The state 
has still not elected any BJP candidate to the Assembly 
or Parliament. 
 
------------------------------------ 
UPCOMING ELECTIONS WILL PREVIEW 2006 
------------------------------------ 
 
8. (SBU) Kerala's local administration (Panchayat) 
elections, due in September 2005, might offer a preview 
of the shape of things to come in the State Assembly 
elections of 2006.  Some believe they do not have to 
wait that long to conclude that whichever way the 
rebels turn, it will be advantage LDF. "That view is 
only short-term," says Hassan, who believes that after 
Karunakaran's lifetime, the party workers will all 
return to the fold.  Both Hassan and Lukose believe 
that playing the Hindu communal card can also backfire, 
with a consolidation of the minorities behind the 
Congress and the UDF. "Generally speaking, the 
minorities tend to consolidate better than the Hindu 
caste groups," says Lukose. 
 
 
-------------------------------------- 
NOTHING TO LOSE, EXCEPT TROUBLE MAKERS 
-------------------------------------- 
 
9. (SBU) COMMENT: Kerala's two leading coalitions, the 
UDF and the LDF, generally alternate in power.  In 
light of that trend, the prevailing notion in the 
Congress is that, with or without the split, the next 
election in 2006 will be the opposition LDF's turn. 
Faction hardliners like Chief Minister Chandy, 
therefore, want to use the opportunity to weed out the 
bickering elements and bring about a degree of 
cohesiveness in the party in the interim.  Chandy has 
already taken over most of the former supporters of 
A.K. Antony, who continued to lobby the Central 
leadership for a softer policy towards the dissidents. 
The high command seems to be interested in sending a 
strong message to prospective dissidents in other 
states by adopting a firm approach.  In Kerala, 
however, over the short term, the split will only help 
the Leftists. END COMMENT 
 
Haynes 

Latest source of this page is cablebrowser-2, released 2011-10-04