The Congress high command Tuesday picked Kannur MP K Sudhakaran to head the party’s Kerala unit replacing Mullappally Ramachandran.
Ramachandran had apprised the national leadership of his desire to step down, taking responsibility for the party’s debacle in the recent Assembly elections. The Congress, which contested on 93 seats, won just 21 of them. The UDF, the alliance it leads, was restricted to 41 seats in the 140-member Assembly.
Sudhakaran, 73, was named the KPCC chief following consultations between Tariq Anwar, the general secretary in-charge of the state, and MPs, MLAs and senior leaders of the party. It is speculated that former Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, former chief minister Oommen Chandy and Ramachandran did not specify their choices for the post.
“I’m very happy to hear the party high command’s decision. It’s a big responsibility to strengthen the party. The Congress will come back with renewed vigour. I will try to unify all the leaders,” Sudhakaran told reporters.
Though Sudhakaran had lobbied hard to become the state party chief last year, the high command chose not to effect a leadership change with the Assembly elections approaching. Now that he has been handed the responsibility, he will have to take the party’s two principal warring factions together and strengthen the organisational base for 2024, the next big electoral test.
Sudhakaran is the party’s tallest leader from Malabar and has earned a reputation of taking the rival CPM head-on, especially in the latter’s stronghold of Kannur. Party workers credit him for upholding an aggressive brand of politics instead of meekly surrendering to the CPM’s alleged violent tactics in the district. Known for delivering electrifying speeches aimed at enthusing cadres, Sudhakaran has often attracted controversy for his personal remarks on Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister and CPM’s tallest leader. He has also not shied away from publicly pointing out the drawbacks in his own party, especially in the wake of defeats.
Sudhakaran has been elected four times to the state Assembly in the past and is mid-way into his second term as a Lok Sabha MP from Kannur. In 2019, he defeated CPM’s PK Sreemathi by over 94,000 votes in the Kannur Lok Sabha constituency.
He was one of three working presidents of the state unit and has held a slew of key leadership positions within the party. He has also been a minister in charge of the forest portfolio in the AK Antony-led government between 2001 and 2004.
Sudhakaran’s appointment comes in the wake of a generational change in the party’s leadership in the Assembly. Last month, five-time MLA from Paravur, VD Satheesan, was named the party’s legislative leader, replacing veteran Chennithala.