The Kerala Congress’s directive to party officials on how to address a CPM meeting paints the party in a negative light. 

The Kerala Congress leadership’s decision to its leaders not to speak at seminars held as part of the CPM party congress in the state next month is a snub that reflects poorly on the party. The Congress prides itself on being a moderate organization that preserves the ideas of free speech and conversation in its best form. Its directive to former Union minister K V Thomas and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor refutes the claim. 

The decision was issued by Congress state chief K Sudhakaran, who stated that party leaders should not be seen on CPM platforms at a time when the latter is pushing “anti-people policies,” particularly the disputed semi-high-speed railway project. Those who refuse to obey the leadership’s orders would face disciplinary punishment, he has said. The CPM has invited Tharoor to speak on secularism’s issues, while Thomas has been asked to speak at a session on Centre-state relations. Both politicians are well-qualified for the jobs they’ve been given: Tharoor has written extensively on the concept and practice of secularism in India, and Thomas has served on key parliamentary committees such as the Public Accounts Committee throughout his numerous years in the Lok Sabha. The Congress and the CPM — deadly competitors in Kerala but electoral partners in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal — profess and portray similar ideas on secularism and Centre-state relations, which their leaders articulate regularly on national platforms. In recent months, relations between the two parties in the state have deteriorated, with top leaders resorting to name-calling and amusing their respective cadres by reliving violent confrontations from their undergraduate days. However, a PCC chief prohibiting even intellectual collaboration with the CPM is a first for the state. Tharoor and Thomas’ presence at the CPM party conference will not only enrich discussions but also create much-needed conversation in this polarising era. 

Sudhakaran has been focused on changing the Congress from a mass party to a cadre-centric organization, a sort of mirror image of the CPM, since his appointment as PCC chief. His insistence on avoiding all interaction with opponents originates from a belief that Congress should be more aggressive in its pursuit of office, and that no opportunity should be missed to paint the opponent as an enemy. This is a naive assumption that simply serves to make Congress appear more uncomfortable and irritable while also restricting public debate venues. 

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