Oommen Chandy is all set to be Kerala’s next chief minister as the Congress ‘High Command’ Sonia Gandhi is expected to have lent her weight to his candidature, even as his rival Ramesh Chennitala withdrew from the race.
Senior Congress leaders Mohsina Kidwai and others are expected to touchdown in Trivandrum by 1 pm with the Congress President’s ‘message’ and make a formal announcement soon after.
The Kerala CM’s chair has become the zone of contention between two rival groups in the Congress party. Oommen Chandy, a Christian leader, was seen as the unrivaled CM candidate till about six months ago.
However, worried that it was losing its vote-base among Nairs — a Hindu community which accounts for around 12-14% of Kerala’s population and traditional vote-base for the party — Ramesh Chennitala was flown in from Delhi prior to the election.
Chennithala, a Nair leader, was then projected as possible CM in a move designed to keep Nair and other Hindu voters faithful to the party. However, Christians, who account for nearly 22-25% of Kerala’s population, overwhelmingly voted for the Congress, lending strength to Chandy’s candidature.
Out of the 38 Congress elected representatives in the 140-member Kerala Legislative Assembly, only 17 are seen as supporters of Chennitala, while Chandy is learnt to have the support of 20 Congress MLAs.
Meanwhile, Chennithala, made a statement to the media that he supported the candidature of Chandy to the CM’s post, but was not interested in joining the government. “I would like to continue to work towards strengthening the party by remaining as the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee President,” he said a few minutes ago.
“I will not be in the government, but will be in the party,” he added. He also said that he did not deny the possibility of his becoming the Chief Minister as such decisions are taken by the ‘High Command’ — indicating that Sonia Gandhi has chosen Chandy to the chair.
Sonia Gandhi, who has final say on such matters, is learnt to be in the process of talking to each Congress MLA and asking for their preference.
Meanwhile, the swearing in of the new Congress-led government, which was expected to happen tomorrow, has become uncertain over the allotment of ministries to different alliance partners of the Congress.
The biggest partner — the Indian Union Muslim League — has 20 MLAs, followed by Kerala Congress faction led by KM Mani with 9 MLAs. The two are reportedly negotiating for 5 and 3 ministerial posts each. While Congress may not be averse to allotting that many ministries to the two, the exact ministries are a bone of contention between the various parties. The postponement of swearing-in is likely to be seen in this light.