Thiruvananthapuram, April 7 (IANS) Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy appears to be caught in a caste conundrum over the expansion of his cabinet.
Politics in Kerala has always been dominated by caste and it becomes more aggressive whenever the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) is in power.
The allies of the UDF include the Indian Union Muslim League, considered as the party of the Muslims and there is also the Kerala Congress (Mani) which is generally seen as a Christian-dominant party.
The present trouble for Chandy is over the demand for a fifth cabinet post for the IUML, which has been in the pipeline ever since Chandy assumed office in May last year.
The fifth cabinet minister was announced by IUML supremo Panakkad Hyder Ali Shihab Thangal as early as May last year when he announced the four ministers of his party and named M. Ali as the fifth minister.
The Chandy cabinet has five Christians, five Muslims and nine Hindus (and there is one cabinet post which is lying vacant after the death of food minister T.M. Jacob).
Jacob's son Anup Jacob won the by-election from the seat held by his father in Piravom last month, but even though he has been promised a ministerial berth, Chandy is unable to announce the date of his swearing in because IUML is breathing down his neck demanding the already promised fifth ministership.
'Yes, there are issues in finalising the ministerial berths and we briefed our party high command about it. We are expecting to solve the issues at the earliest,' said Chandy.
What troubles Chandy is that a fifth ministership for IUML and swearing in Anup Jacob will increase the number of minority community members in his cabinet to 12 (six Muslims and six Christians).
Of the 3.20 crore Kerala population, Hindus constitute more than 50 percent, followed by Muslims with 24 percent. Christians come next with 23 percent.
A few formulae for balancing the cast equations have been floated, including giving the speaker's post to IUML and asking speaker G. Karthikeyan to join the cabinet. However, this has been turned down by the speaker who said he will resign as speaker but not be a minister.
'It is not a viable formula to ask the speaker to resign for a minor reshuffle; this will create more confusion. The chief minister met with the speaker to discuss this, but strangely this was not reported at our party leaders' meet held early this week,' said K. Muraleedharan, a Congress legislator and son of K. Karunakaran.
Another formula that's being discussed is to include a Hindu (state Congress president Ramesh Chennithala) in the cabinet and give him the post of deputy chief minister.
IUML strongman and Industries Minister P.K. Kunhalikutty dismissed as baseless the various formulae being discussed in media.
'We are confident that all the issues will be smoothly tackled and there will be no problems at all in the best interest of all,' said Kunhalikutty.
One of the main reasons for this dilly dallying is because a by-election to the Neyyatinkara constituency is to be held soon and any further increase in the number of minority community in the Chandy cabinet will not augur well for the prospects of the UDF in the by-poll.
'It is most unfortunate that in this conundrum of naming a fifth minister for the IUML, the office of the speaker also has been dragged.
'Chandy is caught in the web of casteist politics,' said leader of opposition V.S. Achuthanandan.
(Sanu George can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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