Jose K Mani: The ‘Christian’ face in Communist fold

In the recent local body polls in Kerala, Jose proved his worth to the LDF helping it make deep inroads into traditional Christian-dominated UDF bastions.

A two-time Lok Sabha MP from Kottayam and chairman of the Kerala Congress (M), who left the Congress to align with the CPM ahead of the elections, Jose K Mani has stirred a hornet’s nest by expressing fears regarding ‘love jihad’ — a pet theme of the BJP that Jose’s new partner LDF has criticised as a polarisation tactic by the BJP.

The Communist front is an unlikely home for the KC(M), a party formed in 1979 by Jose’s father K M Mani which enjoys wide support among Christians, apart from farmers and rubber planters in Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts. The late Mani holds the record for being the longest-serving MLA in the Kerala Assembly, representing his home constituency Pala from 1965 till 2019 uninterrupted. He was a minister in seven Congress-led cabinets between 1975 and 2015.

After Mani’s death in 2019, Jose, 55, was seen as his natural heir. However, a stiff challenge was put up by senior KC (M) leader P J Joseph. While Joseph was more experienced, Jose wielded greater influence within the party’s organisational machinery and held the keys to its finances.

The tussle eventually broke out in the open, primarily hinging on which faction got to appoint president of the Kottayam district panchayat. Finally, in October last year, Jose, along with two KC(M) MLAs, walked out of the UDF and tethered his faction to the LDF. The group led by Joseph, comprising him and two other party MLAs, remained with the UDF.

Subsequently, both the Election Commission and Kerala High Court ruled held the Jose faction as the official KC (M), and alloted it the party’s Two Leaves symbol.

In the recent local body polls in Kerala, Jose proved his worth to the LDF helping it make deep inroads into traditional Christian-dominated UDF bastions. The Pala municipality, a stronghold of the KC (M), was won by the LDF for the first time in decades. Out of 14 district panchayats across the state, the LDF won 11, including the prized councils of Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta, which had always stood with the UDF.

In the run-up to the Assembly elections, Jose managed to get 12 seats from the LDF, including some sitting seats of the CPM, proving a tough and skillful negotiator. When the party was in the UDF, both Jose and Joseph factions collectively fought on 15 seats.

Jose himself is in the electoral fray from his father’s seat Pala, facing sitting MLA and former NCP leader Mani C Kappan. Kappan, who had wrested the seat in a by-election in 2019 while part of the LDF then, quit the alliance in January when he was denied the seat and crossed over to the UDF.

As Kerala polls enter the last stretch, which way the KC (M) vote goes may well decide the closely fought battle.

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