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Oommen Chandy's stature could rise in a crumbling Congress

Saturday, 17 May 2014 - 4:54pm IST | Place: Thiruvananthapruam | Agency: IANS

Not many politicians would have envied 70-year-old Congress chief minister from Kerala Oommen Chandy ahead of the 2014 general elections.

On the back-foot in Kerala due to anti-incumbency factor both at the centre and in the state, and facing the Narendra Modi-led BJP and a resurgent Left, Chandy emerged as one of the few Congress leaders who managed to salvage a degree of respectability for the party, whose tally in the Lok Sabha has now slipped from 206 to an unprecedented, paltry 44. 

While Karnataka returned nine Congress Lok Sabha members, in Kerala the Congress won eight seats out of the 15 which the party contested. A Congress-led alliance in Kerala secured 12 out of the 20 seats, a reduced margin from 2009, yet respectable considering the party's national rout.

When IANS caught up with Chandy at his residence late on Friday night, sometime after the state results were announced, the chief minister said he expected more seats. "Yes, we expected a few more seats, but nevertheless, people have given us their support in a big way, despite the overall national situation. I wish to complete a few more mega projects, some of which have started and the proposed Vizhinjam port," said Chandy.

In his white vest and trademark lungi, Chandy appeared relaxed after the hustle and bustle of electioneering. Chandy said his focus will now be on state politics and governance, even suggesting a cabinet rejig in the near future. "Yes, it's been on the cards for a while. Now the process for implementing it will begin. It would involve talks with my party, the UDF (United Democratic Front) and the final clearance from the party high command. No time frame has been fixed, but it would happen," said Chandy.

In the last decade, Chandy has been catapulted to the top rung of state politics. Protege of Defence minister A.K. Antony for nearly a quarter of a century, he emerged out of his mentor's shadow when he succeeded Antony as the chief minister, after the UDF lost ground in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls. In 2006, however, he had to make way for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government after the UDF also lost the state polls.

For the next five years, Chandy played the constructive opposition leader, which eventually helped. The UDF came up trumps in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and also swept the 2010 local bodies polls. His winning streak continued in the 2011 assembly polls, which he won, albeit, with a wafer-thin majority.

On Sunday, Chandy celebrates his third year in office. Chandy holds a unique record of being the longest serving legislator in his party and has never lost an election, starting from way back in 1970. He has won every time from the Puthupally assembly in Kottayam district since. Today, as he stands tall among the ruins of his party at the national level, indications are that Chandy may be inducted into the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party's elite decision-making forum.

"It's high time he is rewarded for his yeoman and untiring efforts for the party. He should be inducted into the CWC. This time the Congress party came a cropper because they were disconnected from the people, and there's none better than Chandy to gauge the pulse of the people," said a Congress leader who did not wish to be identified. Chandy's weaknesses, party-men claim, could be his limited connection with the party high command.

But the chief minister counters that with his spartan lifestyle, a strong grassroots approach and his ability to connect with the people. Some say, Chandy often recalls first names of his workers, acquaintances and even reels out telephone numbers of known individuals, much to their delight and surprise.


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