Ommen Chandy To Be New Kerala CM, Swearing-in Today

Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 30 | Updated: Aug 31 2004, 05:30am hrs
Another Mr Clean - Ommen Chandy - is to take the Kerala chief ministers chair left vacant by AK Antony, idolised as a paragon of probity. Congress high command, which braced up for a Herculean task of opinion-gathering from faction-ridden Congress MLAs, found its search tamely ending at the shag-haired 60-year-old from Puthupally village in Kottayam.

The night was still young when the Congress legislative party (CLP) meeting started with the air buzzing that the next CM is to be Mr Chandy, according to the mandate gathered from one-on-one sessions with MLAs by Union defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and Anil Shastri, Margaret Alva and Ahmed Patel. Mr Chandy is, at present, convenor of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) government.

For the first time after about 30 years, the Congress pendulum of power in Kerala has boldly swung off to a new territory, crossing beyond the imposing shadows of the states consecutive Congress CMs K Karunakaran and AK Antony. Unlike Mr Karunakaran or Mr Antony, Mr Chandys long political life has not been visible in national politics.

On Monday, however, what tipped the scales in Mr Chandys favour was his mass-base among the MLAs. There was little maneuvering space for Mr Karunakarans son K Muralidharan or any other Congress (I) group CM candidates since the party spokesmen announced at the outset that the race was only among the sitting MLAs.

At one point, the name of Speaker Vakkom Purushottaman did the rounds, but this cropped up only when a rumour floated that Mr Karunakaran would back any leader who would ensure the UDF convenors post for his son. However, even the MLAs from Karunakaran faction preferred to throw their weight behind Mr Chandy.

Like Mr Antony, Mr Chandy entered public life through student politics. For 34 years, the economics graduate with a law degree has represented Puthupally. He has held portfolios like labour, home and finance in the state cabinet.

It is almost poetic justice that Mr Antonys political mantle falls on his one-time-bosom friend at a time when their rift is widest. On a personal front, it was Mr Chandy who even found a bride for Mr AK Antony from his wifes Canara Bank colleagues.

But on Monday morning, the word even went around that Mr Chandy would not take even a call from his once best friend. From the AICC side, the expectations on Mr Chandy is that he should be the strong man in the UDF that Mr Antony had been unable to become.