Kerala Chief Minister's rejig plan raises a storm

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's long-pending plan to reshuffle his cabinet has gained steam now as he looks stronger following the parliamentary elections where the state Congress put up a creditable performance.

Chandy had sounded out his shake-up plan even before the polls. There is, no doubt, a cocktail of reasons for his intent to rejig his team. For one, he probably thinks that some incompetent or lackadaisical ministers need to be weeded out as assembly polls are not very far off. 

Not many ministers can keep pace with the chief minister who is said to be a quick thinker and doer and a workaholic to boot. He would like to have a more dynamic and competent team before he faces people in the next assembly polls.

For another, and perhaps most importantly, he wants to ensure a state of equilibrium in the cabinet between the two dominant Congress groups — 'I' led by Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala and 'A' under his own leadership.

With the entry of Ramesh in the cabinet at the behest of the high command, there's a clear tilt in favour of the 'I' group though Chandy's 'A' group has a definite edge in the assembly as well as in the rank and file. Two most important portfolios — home and revenue — are held by the 'I' group ministers.

Chandy had given Adoor Prakash, an 'I' group minister, the revenue portfolio when 'A' group minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan had been promoted as the home minister.

Later when the home portfolio had to be given to Ramesh, Chandy was not able to take away the revenue portfolio from Prakash fearing a cack-handed group war prior to the parliamentary poll.

Now that the poll is over, the CM is champing at the bit to make some changes in the cabinet. The high command being way weaker now than when it was prior to the poll, it cannot stop the chief minister from going ahead with his shake-up plan.

After all, cabinet appointments and allotment of portfolios are, technically speaking, his prerogative.

Senior leader G. Karthikeyan's decision to quit as speaker of the assembly has come as a godsend for the CM to rev up his rejig plan.

Karthikeyan, who doesn't belong to any group, has to be given an important portfolio in the cabinet as he said he would wish to be active in politics.

In this scenario, Prakash could lose the revenue portfolio and a balance of sorts could be established between the two dominant groups. Which is why 'I' group leaders have been vocal against any reshuffle now.

Some political analysts believe that the CM is behind Karthikeyan's call to call it quits. They say the CM then would have no alternative but to give Karthikeyan the revenue portfolio which is now with Prakash.

In the bargain he could also turf out one or two 'I' group ministers who are said to be not very competent.
It is doubtful if the CM has had anything to do with Karthikeyan's resignation move.

Karthikeyan is an independent-minded leader. He has been able to remain above group politics, which is rampant in the party.

Remember, Karthikeyan was the unanimous choice for the KPCC (Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee) presidency before the Lok Sabha poll. However, the high command picked V.M. Sudheeran, who was above group politics too, and had commanded wide respect in Kerala as a straight-talking, no-nonsense leader.

It may be noted that for the last many years, Congress groups have been able to keep Sudheeran out of active politics.

Apart from the problems within the party, Chandy has to deal with the concerns of other parties in the UDF. Kerala Congress (B) has been pressing the CM for re-inducting K.B. Ganesh Kumar who had to quit as the forest minister following his marital troubles which had become public. It remains to be seen if he would make a comeback in the reshuffle.

Kerala Congress (B) has only one MLA like Kerala Congress (J) whose sole member, Anoop Jacob, is a minister. There are growing calls from within the party not to give cabinet berths to single-MLA parties, something which has unnerved Anoop whose handling of the civil supplies portfolio is seen to be not up to scratch.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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