The Kerala Congress faction led by former finance minister KM Mani has split from the United Democratic Front (UDF), dealing a blow to the Congress-led coalition.
Blaming the party leadership for the recent election debacle, Mani said, “Better late than never. This should have happened before. Please allow us to leave. We are leaving without cursing anyone.”
Clarifying his party would not align with the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) or the BJP, Mani added that they would not create “a crisis in governance” in local bodies.
“We will sit as a separate block in the Kerala assembly and in Parliament where we have two members. We will extend our support based on issues,” he said.
With Mani’s departure, the UDF’s strength in the 140-member house shrinks by six, sliding to 41.
For the past two days, the leadership of the Congress factions were involved in internal discussions over the future of the UDF.
Mani had been cut up with a section of the Congress leadership led by present opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala. When he had to quit as finance minister in 2015 over an adverse remark by the Kerala high court in the bar scam, Chennithala was the home minister.
However, former chief minister Oomen Chandy claimed the his former cabinet minister didn’t draw much attention to his grievances.
“Mani had never raised his problems at the UDF meeting. His moving out is painful,” Chandy said.
Mani’s party, which joined the coalition in 1982, remained an ally even after the Kerala Congress broke up. The former minister was a legislator since 1967 and presented 13 state budgets.
“It’s just not the bar scam alone, there are several other issues. In a family there has to be harmony. That was never there. Instead we were being targeted. Hence we have no other option but to bid goodbye,” Mani said.
Mani alleges that he was trapped because the Vigilance Department initiated action against him after a bar owner accused him of taking bribes to open bars that had been closed down.
Senior Congress leader and UDF convenor PP Thankachen said Mani should show political decency by ensuring that the six legislators of his party, including Mani himself, resign “as they won with our support”.
LDF convenor Vaikom Viswan said the UDF should be dissolved as its “dominant leader” -- Chandy had always described Mani as a “dominant leader” -- had quit the alliance.
Mani said the party would meet on August 14 to finalise its “future course of action”.
“We will function as a responsible opposition.”