New Leader of Opposition in Kerala Making a Generation Shift in Congress

Bringing hope of fresh air to the State unit, which is badly damaged in the second wave of LDF led by Pinarayi Vijayan, the Congress party decided to appoint VD Satheesan as its leader in the Kerala Assembly. The announcement comes 21 days after the results of the Assembly elections were announced followed by a series of discussions amidst the confusion.

Satheesan will be the leader of Opposition, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 15th state Assembly. “The AICC on Saturday nominated Satheesan as the leader of the party’s parliamentary party in the Kerala Assembly,” said KPCC President Mullappally Ramachandran.

Marking a generation shift in the Congress in Kerala and the UDF coalition it leads in the House, Satheesan replaces veteran Ramesh Chennithala. According to political observers, a similar generation shift happened in the state Congress in 1967, when a new leader came as the leader of its nine-member parliamentary party, K Karunakaran, who later came to be popularly known as ‘Leader’.

The latest decision came after most of the newly-elected MLAs preferred a change in the House leadership. AICC observers Mallikarjun Kharge and R Vaithilingam had arrived in Kerala after the Assembly election results and held one-on-one discussions with all the 21 Congress MLAs. Of these, at least 12 are reported to have chosen Satheesan over Chennithala. There were reports that the faction led by former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy offered his support to Chennithala.

Satheesan will be leading a 41-member UDF comprising of the Congress, Muslim League and Kerala Congress. The Opposition also has one member each from NCK, a split away faction from NCP and RMP, a split away faction from CPM in the Kerala Assembly, compared to the 47-member UDF led by Ramesh Chennithala from 2016 to 2021. The Muslim League has 15 members.

The State unit of the Congress seen as its best bet in these elections, especially due to the ‘alternative term to opposition’ phenomenon in the last four decades, had to face a humiliating defeat by the ‘Pinarayi juggernaut.’

Satheesan, 56, was elected from the Paravur constituency in Ernakulam district for a fifth consecutive term and has served as the vice-president of the state unit and an AICC secretary in the past. He is the first leader of Opposition in the State from a seat in Eranakulam district, incidentally, which sent eight members including Satheesan out of the total 21 Congress MLAs.

Satheesan started his electoral politics with a defeat in 1996 in Paravur. A brilliant orator and voracious reader, he was also the president of the PAC and estimate committees in the last Assembly.

Satheesan rose through the Congress ranks from the Kerala Students Union (KSU), like Ramesh Chennithala. He, a former chairman of Mahatma Gandhi University Students Union (1986-1987), has also served as the secretary for National Students Union (NSU). He is a double postgraduate, one in Social Sciences from Rajagiri School Sciences Kalamassery and the other in Law from Kerala University.

Satheesan, a native of Nettur in the Kochi Corporation, has been part of the ‘I’ faction and later with the Ramesh Chennithala faction in the Congress. However, he was not associated with any groups in the party for almost a decade. He began to keep a distance from the factions after the 2011 elections. Neither the group nor the party considered him to the UDF cabinet in 2011, despite his extraordinary performance in many a debate for his party in the Assembly and outside especially the one with then Finance Minister Thomas Issac.

“Traditional way of the opposition has to change (and) will discuss with colleagues on this. During the pandemic, we will be with the govt. People wish all the parties should work together to fight the crisis. I assure you that we will give unconditional support to the government in the measures they take to overcome this pandemic,” Satheeshan said.

He added that during times of crisis people don’t want political parties to fight with each other but to work together.

“We will support all the good things done by this government. When they do wrong, we will point that out inside and outside the Assembly,” Satheeshan said.

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