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Mani quits UDF, Congress says he will regret it

Mani quits UDF, Congress says he will regret it

Thiruvananthapuram: The UDF split on Sunday when the Kerala Congress-Mani led by former Finance Minister K.M. Mani quit the alliance after blaming the Congress for the rout in assembly elections. A miffed Congress said Mani will regret the decision.

"Better late than never. This should have happened before. Please allow us to leave," party leader Mani, who has presented 13 budgets, told the media near Thiruvalla. He said his party was not aligning with the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) or the Bharatiya Janata Party.

"We will sit as a separate block in the Kerala assembly and in parliament where we have two members. We will extend our support based on issues," he added. He said his party won't create a crisis in local bodies in Kerala.

With his departure, the United Democratic Front's strength in the 140-member house slid from 47 to 41.

State Congress president V.M. Sudheeran said Mani would regret the decision.

"Not a word did he say about his grouse at any UDF meeting after the assembly elections," he said. "It now appears he had made up his mind to leave and was searching for reasons."

At a few places, angry Congress workers took to the streets shouting anti-Mani slogans. In some places scuffles broke out between Congress workers and Mani supporters.

"This is quite natural," said Sudheeran. "He was with us for 34 years. He should be given an honourable exit. We stood behind him after the bar scam broke out," he added, referring to the scandal which hit Mani hard.

Congress leader and former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said: "Mani never raised his problems at UDF meetings. His moving out is painful."

UDF convenor and Congress leader P.P. Thankachen asked Mani to show "political decency" by ensuring that all the six legislators of his party, including Mani himself, resigned "as they won with our support".

Mani's party had been with the UDF since 1982. Even after the original Kerala Congress broke up, Mani remained with the Congress. He has been a legislator since 1967.

Mani had been cut up with a section of the Congress leadership led by present Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala.

When Mani quit as Finance Minister in 2015 over an adverse remark by the Kerala High Court in the bar scam, Chennithala was the Home Minister.

Mani strongly believes that he was trapped because the Vigilance Department initiated action against him after a bar owner alleged that he (Mani) took bribes to open bars that had been closed down.

But he said: "It's just not the bar scam, there are other issues too. In a family there has to be harmony. That was never there.

"Instead we were being targeted. Hence we have no other option but to bid goodbye."

Mani said his party would meet on August 14 to "spell our future course of action. We will function as a responsible opposition".

LDF convenor Vaikom Viswan said since Chandy had always described Mani as the "dominant leader", the UDF should now be dissolved as the "dominant leader" had quit the Congress-led alliance.

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