The Congress’ predicament over forming an alliance with Left parties in West Bengal while contesting them in Kerala may find a solution when party vice-president Rahul Gandhi begins his Kerala poll campaign on February 9 at the conclusion of the ruling party’s ‘Jana Raksha Yatra’ .
Gandhi, who will be on a two-day visit, will seek the views of party leaders on the possibility of an alliance to defeat the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in West Bengal where Congress leaders have been pushing for a tie-up with the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
It will be a tricky balance as Kerala Congress leaders prepare to take on the Left combine in the upcoming assembly elections, where the bitter rivals hope to win in a state that has voted out incumbent governments since 1982. Some leaders argue that the BJP’s entry in Kerala politics has made the contest triangular; this could mean that a section of the Left votes could be eaten into by the saffron party of the total 140 assembly constituencies, helping the Congress return to power.
But the Congress has other problems. Political analysts suggest there is strong anti-incumbency sentiment growing against the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), particularly after the names of its top leaders, including chief minister Oomen Chandy, surfaced in the Solar scam.
In case the BJP succeeds in “dividing the votes and polarising” the elections, there could be some respite for the Congress.
The other major challenge for Gandhi would be in uniting the various factions within the party, a problem that has dogged its Kerala contingent for three decades now. Broadly divided into “I (Indira) group” and “A group” who owe their allegiance to late K Karunakaran and AK Antony respectively, the intense factional feud prompted Congress president Sonia Gandhi to urge party leaders to bury their “differences”. While Chandy belongs to the “A” faction, his rival within the Congress and current home minister Ramesh Chennithala is from the “I” group.
Rahul Gandhi’s task will be critical as the March-April elections across five states are crucial for the Congress which holds two of these -- Kerala and Assam.