New Delhi/Thiruvananthapuram: The Congress party's selection of candidates to contest the upcoming Kerala assembly polls today ran into an unexpected hurdle as Chief Minister Oommen Chandy desired to withdraw from the electoral fray.
Chandy expressed the desire in the light of state Congress president V.M. Sudheeran raising issues of criteria for selection of candidates.
A close aide of Chandy said things are in a state of uncertainty as Sudheeran is adamant and wants to replace a few senior party leaders on the ground that some are under a cloud, while others have been in the fray for long.
"Chandy made it clear today to not just the state leaders but also to top national leaders that, if yardsticks are to be fixed like what Sudheeran is insisting on, then it is applicable to him as well. He said he would stay out of the contest," the aide said requesting anonymity.
Since Monday night, Kerala's top leaders are in Delhi and two rounds of screening committee meeting of the candidates were held. Trouble started after Sudheeran put his foot down and asked that ministers facing allegations and veterans should step aside.
Among those whom Sudheeran is opposing are state Minister for Excise K. Babu (facing the bar scam), Minister for Revenue Adoor Prakash (facing the heat for a few land transfers that were done last month and cancelled later), Minister for Culture K.C. Joseph who is a legislator since 1982, Benny Behanan (allegedly for having links with solar panel scam accused), and A.T. George, a legislator from the Parassala constituency in the capital district.
Of the five, Prakash and George belong to the faction led by state Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala and the other three are the closest aides of Chandy.
Chandy has already conveyed his mind to the national leadership that if this is what the yardsticks are, he is the one who is facing the maximum allegations and has won every election since 1970. Hence, he would step aside.
Senior party legislator and K. Karunakaran's son K. Muraleedharan, who is also in Delhi, remarked that in no way should the Congress party sit in judgement over leaders when the court has not said anything about the allegations that have been levelled against ministers.
The game plan of Sudheeran is to checkmate both Chandy and Chennithala, and instead of directly attacking them, he is targeting the close aides of the two leaders.
Sudheeran, who was in political wilderness after losing the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, got a new lease of life in 2014 when much to the surprise of practically every Congress leader in the state, Rahul Gandhi handpicked him as the state party chief.
Since then, Chandy and Chennithala factions have been united against Sudheeran's moves. All eyes are now on the party high command, who will make the final call on Friday.
Chandy met senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mukul Wasnik, the general secretary in charge of the pary's affairs in Kerala, and conveyed his displeasure against Sudheeran.
At the screening committee meeting on Tuesday, the Congress cleared at least 50 names for the 82 seats it is contesting in the Kerala assembly elections.
Polls for the 140-member Kerala assembly will be held on May 16.
"All this confusion is needless and this comes at a time when for the first time a government that has done so much is expecting to create history by retaining power. If this is not settled amicably, things will be difficult," said a Congress leader who did not wish to be identified.