Thiruvananthapuram: Defence Minister A.K. Antony has been assigned the task of strengthening the alliance of the Congress with regional and local parties in states across the country. Will he also strengthen the ruling Congress-led coalition in Kerala?
The soft-spoken and respected politician will be keenly observed as he arrives in his home state Monday, for he comes with the promise of bringing solace to warring groups in his party and its allies. Congress allies in the state have been clamouring for more seats to contest in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.
Antony, who celebrated his 73rd birthday Saturday, will arrive in Kerala Monday after a month away. He is expected to begin exploratory talks with his party leaders and also Congress allies to see that dirty linen is not washed in public this time.
Ahead of every election in the state, wrangling is common, as grouses are aired publicly.
State Congress president Ramesh Chennithala told IANS that Antony is one of the top-most leaders of the party at the national level, so it was quite natural that cutting across party lines, political leaders call on him each time he visits.
"Don't you know, Antony does not engage in state-level politicking, and he makes that quite clear. Unlike in other states, in Kerala, the United Democratic Front functions systematically. The chief minister and the state Congress president, along with leaders of the allies, take up all issues first. The UDF is meeting Jan 3. In case we are not able to reach a consensus, the issue will go to the next level," Chennithala said.
Kerala has 20 Lok Sabha seats.
Over the past few Lok Sabha polls, a pattern has emerged in seat-sharing between the parties that form the ruling coalition, with the Congress contesting 17 seats, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) contesting two seats, and the Kerala Congress (Mani), one.
Incidentally, this time, both allies of the Congress want an additional seat. The Socialist Janata Democratic Party, which split from the Left opposition soon after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, has also staked claim to one seat.
Antony's visit assumes significance as the first probable list of candidates will be drawn up ahead of the upcoming All India Congress Committee meet. A broad consensus is expected to be arrived at while Antony is in the state.
"If Antony wants, all issues can be solved amicably. We are all keen that issues in the UDF find amicable resolution. If not, things could be in a bad shape, as the Lok Sabha polls are round the corner," chief whip of the ruling coalition and vice chairman of Kerala Congress (Mani) P.C. George told IANS.
"This time, we are hopeful that selection of candidates will be done only on merit, with no sharing of seats between factions of the party. I am sure more than anyone else, Antony knows that any goof-up will only be detrimental to him too," said a Congress leader who did not wish to be identified