It is difficult to keep a Mani away from power for long, Keralites aware of the undercurrents of the state politics will nod in agreement. It was true of the original Mani, that is KM Mani of Kerala Congress (M), and it is becoming true for his son Jose K Mani, fondly and otherwise referred to as ‘Kunju Mani’ which means nothing but ‘Little Mani’.
A brief introduction to the life and exploits of KM Mani is essential to understand Jose K Mani, because the latter is primarily shaped by the legacy of his father and the party he created and nurtured.
In the see-saw politics of Kerala that ensures opposing alliances alternating at the throne, KM Mani was not less than an enigma. He was endowed with surreal amounts of survival skill, juggling political friends and enemies with such dexterity that he has ended up with the winning side more often than not.
Kerala Congress and its various factions hope to champion the pride and aspirations of the predominantly Christian belt in the central Kerala. They are hence important allies for both the United Democratic Front (UDF) and Left Democratic Front (LDF). There are many factions of Kerala Congress alive and fighting with each other now and unless you are a regular follower, it is difficult to identify where they are standing now. Only one thing is sure: one faction or the other will be part of the ruling front at any given time.
KM Mani: Fall from grace
In the recent years, Kerala Congress (M) and its leader KM Mani were part of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and were staunch opponents of the Left Democratic Front or LDF. Protests against the then finance minister KM Mani, following allegations of corruption in issuing bar (liquor) licenses led to one of the most unruly incidents in the history of Kerala Legislative Assembly. He was forced resign after unfavorable comments from Kerala High Court in 2016 but was reelected from Pala in 2016. KM Mani died in 2019, following which the Left Front captured Pala seat through Mani C Kappen.
Ironically, the circumstances are different now. The son of the man the LDF accused as a thief and corrupt is in their ranks now. There is no qualm on both sides. And the voters shrug it away too. After all what else can you expect from a student of KM Mani School which developed political opportunism as an art itself?
In another era, KM Mani himself was the finance minister of an LDF government. That he withdrew support to the government leading to its collapse was a different matter. No wonder the late leader and proprietor of sorts of Kerala Congress (M) has the unique record of presenting 13 budgets and was the longest serving member of the Kerala Assembly when he died in 2019.
He was also credited with the forever dictum about the unique phenomenon called Kerala Congress: the party grows as it splits, and splits as it grows.
Task at hand
Born in 1965 Jose was active in the youth wing of his father’s party and became its state president in 2002. After an unsuccessful bid in 2004, he was elected a Member of Parliament in 2009 from Kottayam, a seat he successfully defended in 2014. Bickering started between the party and the UDF following 2016 assembly elections and they parted ways. Following a rapprochement, Jose was elected to the lower house of the parliament in 2018 with Congress support but he resigned the seat after joining the LDF.
Jose is contesting from Pala, a seat his father has continuously represented since 1967. He has the task of wresting it back from Mani C Kappen who won the by-election following the death of his father on an LDF ticket. If he does so, will he be the new finance minister in the LDF government? Is that the possibility that CPI(M) is hinting by denying ticket to the outgoing finance minister Thomas Issac? Wait and see.
Main rival: Mani C Kappen Nationalist Congress Kerala (UDF)
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