In 2016, after the crucial Charalkkunnu meeting, the towering leader of Kerala Congress (M), KM Mani, announced his party’s decision to walk out of the United Democratic Front (UDF) coalition. Mani and KC(M) have been the pillar of the Congress-led coalition for 35 years. 

There were enough reasons for the resentment of Mani. He felt the Congress leadership had abandoned and betrayed him in the flaring bar scam scandal. Mani was accused of a graft charge and was forced to resign from the post of the finance minister of Kerala. 

But despite the odds, Mani emerged as the winner in 2016 legislative election from his fortress, Pala constituency, for the record 13th time. However, Congress had crumbled and lost the power – a fallout of the Solar scam case.   

In the Kerala assembly, Mani kept equidistant from both the coalitions. UDF realised Mani’s significance and made efforts to reconcile with him. Finally, Mani and Kerala Congress (M) re-entered the coalition in 2018 when UDF offered Jose K Mani, Mani’s son, a Rajya Sabha seat. The decision was opposed within the Congress party.

However, things changed with Mani’s demise in 2019. A feud ensued within Kerala Congress (M), and the party was split into two under the leadership of Jose K Mani and PJ Joseph. Political commentators questioned and cast aspersion on the political future of Jose, the Mani junior. His charisma and capability as a leader were questioned. The Joseph faction was projected the dominant among the two. 

KC(M) loses Pala election

The Pala by-election was a test for Jose. By the time, the animosity and internal fissures within Kerala Congress (M) had been at the peak. Jose and Joseph faction had fought fiercely to secure the seat for the candidate of their choice. Though Jose was successful in fielding the candidate of his choice, the party was denied the official two-leaf symbol. Instead, Jose Tom, the candidate fielded by Jose K Mani, for the by-election contested on the pineapple symbol. 

The result was heart-breaking for the Jose faction. Kerala Congress had lost the Pala constituency – its trusted fortress. Left Democratic Front constituent NCP’s Mani C Kappen won the election by a margin of 2,943 votes. The future of Jose, the son of one of the tallest leaders of Kerala politics, was obscure.   

UDF expels Jose faction

UDF was taking serious note of the developments within the Kerala Congress (M). The coalition led by Congress chose to stand by the Joseph faction and eventually suspended Jose and his group in the name of a tussle over a district panchayat president post. Congress must have been eyeing at the opportunity to establish and spread its prominence in central Kerala in the absence of Kerala Congress (M). 

A humiliated Jose lashed at the UDF for unfair treatment and political injustice. “UDF has expelled KM Mani and disgraced his politics,” he said adding that it was “KM Mani who had protected the front for 38 years.” Insulted by the treatment of the UDF, Jose joined LDF, which embraced him.

Jose proves to be Mani’s successor

Entry to the LDF was not a cakewalk for Jose. CPI and other allies of the LDF were against the move and questioned his merits. However, he was supported by CPI(M). The victory in the local body elections is double sweet for Jose as he had firmly established his position within the LDF and in Kerala’s political landscape. The support of his party was crucial in helping LDF win a thumping electoral victory in central Kerala districts – Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and Idukki. LDF will rule the district panchayats in all these districts and for the first time won the Pala municipality. 

Congress and Joseph faction suffered a huge setback in the region. The latter was made inconsequential even in his stronghold region of Thodupuzha. The election result has proved that abandoning Jose faction has been the biggest mistake committed by the UDF. The election victory in central Kerala has made Jose and his supporters realise that they still enjoy the support of the people in the region. Those who have predicted doom for Jose and his politics are surprised by his resurrection.  

Having said this, the path ahead won’t be easy for Jose and his party. With the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Mani C Kappen being firm on their stance to contest from Pala constituency in the forthcoming assembly elections, there is more in store.  Nevertheless, Jose has proved his mettle and had shown it to the people that he and his party is still a formidable and deciding force in central Kerala. Congress and Joseph faction are the biggest losers.