In electoral politics, more so in Kerala, there is only one way to avoid premature decay, i.e. join one of the two coalitions. Therefore, there is nothing surprising or unnatural in Jose K Mani (faction of the Kerala Congress-M) walking into the left democratic front (LDF) with his electoral symbol of two leaves. His statement of justification for the shift of stance that he found LDF more committed to secular policies, may be a political joke implying that Jose K Mani is also treading the path of his deceased father. In Kerala Congress, which has it in its very genes to split when it stands united, has for long been bedevilled by faction fight, and resultant estrangement, between the Mani-(PJ)Joseph groups. Ever since the death of the then party supremo KM Mani, his son Jose got pitched against the party leadership of PJ Joseph and thus it had become a source of headache for the very United Democratic Front (UDF). It is as a culmination of this tussle that the Jose faction was kept out of UDF on 29 July, as a punishment for its unwillingness to part with the Kottayam district panchayat presidency for Joseph group. The choice before Jose was to re-enter UDF after a disciplinary measure or make an entry into LDF. In the meantime, the BJP had cast a net for the faction, with ambitions of a third front, but the Jose faction did not fall for such a possibly suicidal turn.
When the LDF, which had raised a storm of protest against Mani over the bar licence scam, now welcomes Jose, the latter may be jubilant over it as a sweet revenge. And until Mani, following a High Court reference tendered his resignation from the cabinet on 10 November 2015, he was enjoying the protection of UDF which kept rubbishing all the allegations against him. All through this, the LDF under the leadership of CPM was leading an agitation against him. And now, when Jose is hailed back to the LDF, in a way as a return after 38 years, it amounts to saying that all those protests were a mere eyewash. As for LDF, which caught in controversies one after another, has of late had to scale down its dreams of coming back to power again, the focus is all on a continuity of rule in the upcoming assembly election. Kerala Congress, known for axiomatically splitting as it grows and growing as it splits, has always been adept at capitalising on each situation or crisis. What emboldens the party to be so divided down the line with no hesitation and find a place in any coalition even in minutest incarnations, is its confidence about its leverage in the communal equations prevailing in central Kerala. And every time it switched sides, it had the same justification: it did not get justice from the front.
That was how the very birth of Kerala Congress came about on 8 October 1964. The then secretary of Congress party in Kottayam district, KM Mani, came over as Kerala Congress candidate the next year and won from Pala constituency, which he held on to until his death. If the first split in Kerala Congress in 1977 was under the leadership of R Balakrishna Pillai, the second was led by Mani. Ever since then the history of Mani group, which always had the upper hand among the KC incarnations, is dotted with splits and shifts all aimed at being part of a government. That history also had seen a phase when Joseph and Mani would be invariably on opposing sides of the left-right divide. Mani and Kerala Congress had displayed an unusual political nimbleness to stick to power, or be in a pivotal position, regardless of the equations. Leaders vied for position with each other not only within the government, but also within the party. What marks the new entry into LDF is the fact that Jose K Mani has been able to wrest his way with the same vigour and power-hunger as displayed by the party under Mani. It is true that with such political opportunism, claiming support of communities behind them, the factions of Kerala Congress were able to emerge as a key bargaining force in Kerala politics. Thus the party has been able to rub shoulders with the leading party of the new front, who readily find fault with any party disagreeing with it about religious and community stances with charges of communalism and reactionary thinking. This abiding participation in power, regardless of which front is in power, has critically been influencing Kerala's political, communal and economic spheres: a case study for students of political science.