THE Catholic clergy is again getting active in Kerala .The Catholic clergy which was instrumental in ousting the first communist government in the State in 1957 and has always been a major bargaining power in the political landscape of the State is now in the process of unifying the Kerala Congress splinter groups to enter into a major bargaining position in the run-up to the 2011 Assembly elections and in the new government to be formed.
The Kerala Congress (Joseph) group which has been an old ally with the LDF is now in the process of merging the party with the Kerala Congress (Mani) led by the veteran leader KM Mani. Sources in both the parties told Organiser that it was at the behest of the Catholic church that both the leaders, who were bitter opponents, buried their differences of opinion and decided to merge into the Kerala Congress. The former Arch Bishop of Changanachery and one of the most respected voices in the Catholic community Mar Joseph Powathil has initiated the discussion between the two groups on behalf of the Catholic church .
The Kerala Congress(Joseph) group chairman PJ Joseph is now a minister in the CPI-M led LDF government and sources said that he would put in his papers in a day or two .The Chief Minister is also, according to CPI-M sources, calling for the resignation of Joseph after reports have started appearing in local media about the merger of the two Kerala Congress entities .
The Kerala Congress (Mani) has now eight MLAs in the State Assembly while the Kerala Congress (Joseph) has four MLAs. After the merger, the Kerala Congress party would be the biggest block in the UDF after the Congress pushing Indian Union Muslim League to the third spot. The IUML has seven MLAs.
The Kothamangalam Arch Bishop and the Pala Arch Bishop were also instrumental in the discussions to bring both the Kerala Congress groups together and sources told this correspondent that these discussions were first held at the Divine Retreat Centre at Muringoor at the behest of Mar Joseph Powathil.
However the Congress camp led by Oomen Chandy is not all that happy at the merger between the Kerala Congress groups as the party knows that there would be bargain for more seats to the Assembly and demands would throng for plum postings for the cadres and second rung leaders. They have to be accommodated into several corporations and boards.
Sources also indicated that the Congress party has already communicated with both Mani and Joseph that they would have to share the total number of seats allocated and that there should not be a fresh demand for more seats showing the collective bargain power. However the Congress leaders in private do admit that they may have to make some compromises as there could be a huge demand from the unified Kerala Congress party for more seats. With the Catholic church supporting the unity move there could be a landslide victory for the UDF in the 2011 Assembly elections and this idea of a major victory for the UDF would be one reason for the Congress to soft pedal in the issue .
However the estranged Kerala Congress (Joseph) leader PC Thomas has announced that a section of the party would continue with the LDF and that there would be Kerala Congress representation in the present LDF government even if PJ Joseph walks out of the LDF. This has given rise to speculation that the lone non Christian Kerala Congress MLA V Surendran Pillai may continue in the LDF and become a minister in place of PJ Joseph.