Kerala: Cong-led UDF suffers jolt as 3-decade old key partner quits

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Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 7: In a big jolt to the opposition Congress-led UDF in Kerala, a key partner--Kerala Congress (M) led by former Finance Minister K M Mani, severed its over three-decade old ties with the coalition, deciding to sit as a separate bloc in the state assembly.

A decision to this effect was taken at a crucial two-day conclave of the KC-M which concluded today at Charalkunnu in Pathanamthitta district.

KC-M quits Congress-led UDF in Kerala

The party would be "equidistant" from Opposition UDF, ruling CPI-M-led LDF and BJP-led NDA, KC-M Supremo K M Mani told reporters after the meeting. Hitting out at Congress, Mani said there were attempts to tarnish KC-M's image and also weaken the party in many ways.

The party, which has one MP, said its relationship with the UPA would be issue-based. The party has six MLAs in the present Assembly. Yesterday while inaugurating the conclave, 82-year-old Mani had stated that his party had received only "insults and humiliations" from Congress.

Congress leaders in the state had, however, tried to iron out the differences with statements that KC-M was an integral part of the Front and any issues with Congress would be sorted out.

Relations between the KC-M and Congress over the bar bribery scam sharpened recently after Congress leaders Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala attended the betrothal ceremony of the daughter of controversial hotelier Biju Ramesh with the son of Congress leader and former minister Adoor Prakash.

Ramesh, working president of the Kerala State Bar Hotel Owners Association, had levelled bribery charges against Mani which finally led to his resignation in November last. KC(M) has maintained that a "conspiracy" was behind the scam.

The rift in relations between the two parties came to the fore after Mani announced he would keep away from a crucial UDF leaders liaison committee meeting last month, forcing the Front to postpone it. Subsequently, Congress had deputed former chief minister Oommen Chandy to hold talks with Mani to resolve the issues.

Though Chandy met Mani, he failed to get any assurance from the latter, who maintained that the party will take a final call on all matters at its Charalkunnu meeting. KC(M), which has a history of switching fronts and suffering many splits since its inception in 1964, has a strong base in the central Travancore belt, especially among Christians.

PTI

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