The virtual ouster of Kerala Congress' Jose K Mani faction from United Democratic Front (UDF) was only a matter of time; and the history of Kerala Congress is punctuated by splits in the party and switching of fronts. No wonder then about the recent development. Kerala Congress was born in 1964 following a parting with the then ruling party Congress, triggered by the mysterious incident of Peechi scandal involving the then home minister PT Chacko who had to resign in the aftermath of the event. Fifteen mostly-Christian MLAs left the Congress which resulted in the collapse of the R Shankar ministry and the formation of Kerala Congress, a party with a hallmark of allegiance to the Christian churches in Kerala. The new organisation, with KM George as its chairman won 25 seats in the 1965 state assembly election and gave Congress jitters and weakened thereby writing a notable chapter of Kerala's political history. However, for want of absolute majority for any party, the 1965 assembly could not be convened and was dismissed without meeting.
When in 1967 the seven-party coalition came to power under the leadership of EMS Namboodiripad, Kerala Congress had a place in it thereby enjoying power sharing and concomitant privileges. That opened fresh opportunities for the party to strengthen - as also to break. Kerala Congress alone can claim the dubious distinction of having split not less than 14 times from 1972 until now. And the words of its leader KM Mani that it is a party that splits as it grows and grows as it splits, have since then become axiomatic. As of now, there are at least five Kerala Congress entities. The latest split is the culmination of the bid to monopolise the party by Jose K Mani MP, the son of the party's heavyweight KM Mani, on the latter's death which angered Acting President PJ Joseph. The tug of war that ensued between the two is all too clear. Following the last assembly election in 2016, in which the UDF suffered a heavy loss, KM Mani had left the UDF. But later when his son who was a member of the the Lok Sabha that had one year left of its term, resigned to be given entry to parliament through a Rajya Sabha seat, that reopened the door for Mani's re-entry into UDF. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the UDF also stood behind Kerala Congress to vote the Kerala Congress nominee Joseph Chazhikkadan to victory in Kottayam constituency. But Jose K Mani was not prepared to acknowledge all this and come to friendly terms with PJ Joseph. Finally, it was when the Ommen Chandy-PK Kunjalikutty duo failed at the last moment in their persistent attempt to achieve a rapprochement that the front was forced to de-recognise the Jose K Mani faction. For optics, the immediate provocation was the refusal of Jose K Mani to hand over the presidency of the Kottayam district panchayat to Joseph's faction for the few remaining months of its term. But the fact is that at the bottom of the rift was the refusal of Joseph to pass the party mantle, its chairmanship, and the stubborn stand of Jose that the party could not brook anyone who did not stand by him and fall in with his wishes.
The crux of the matter is that neither of the fronts in Kerala has the integrity or certitude to teach a lesson to the those with the effrontery to play any tricks for power and position. Unless there is a fundamental change for the better from the situation where anyone from one front falling into the abyss of value degradation is easily picked up with stretched arms by the other front, Kerala will continue to witness such despicable farces. It is widely reported that the CPM wants to induct into the LDF Jose K Mani - who till the other day was part of UDF - ignoring the opposition by the second biggest component of the front, the CPI. Even chief minister Pinarayi responded to the idea saying it would be looked into when it is time for it. As one who had foreseen this eventuality sufficiently in advance, former chief minister Oommen Chandy, has been giving Jose the message that the door of negotiation is still open. But Jose cannot haggle with LDF while remaining as part of UDF. Nor can he exact the desired price from UDF, if he returns after being rejected by the LDF. The only consolation then may be that there is a third front in National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of the BJP, a calculation tempered by a possible realism that it may be a losing deal for its fortunes in the state assembly election. Whatever that be, Kerala's politics is set to nosedive into the abyss of value degradation.