Who was it that wrote 'The road to Hell is paved with good intentions'? It would prove a fine epitaph to the political career of my old friend A K Antony. All that remains is the epitaph since he is doing such an outstanding job of digging his own grave.
Antony, the man who led the United Democratic Front to an immense victory in the 2001 assembly election in Kerala, is now the unwanted man in state and national politics. And for the life of me I simply cannot understand why he insists on throwing away all his political advantages!
Does Antony actually have any clear targets in mind? Everyone else around him has some aim. One may not agree with the goal that each one has but at least you don't get a sense of aimless drift when you study their careers.
Karunakaran is bent on founding a dynasty that will dominate the Congress in Kerala just as the Nehru-Gandhis have done at the national level. Seen from that perspective, it makes a certain amount of sense for him to scupper the Congress boat if the captaincy is denied to his son, Muraleedharan. And when Muraleedharan was expelled from the party, it was only a matter of time before the Congress veteran -- I don't think there is anybody in the party who can match his history -- hit back.
Again, from Sonia Gandhi's perspective the paramount need was to ensure that regional satraps never received so much power that they could venture to defy the high command, so she had no choice but to kick out Muraleedharan. But Antony?
Antony has been battling Karunakaran and his I-Group for decades. In 2003, when Antony was the chief minister, a by-election had to be held to the Ernakulam Lok Sabha seat. Karunakaran went out of his way to denounce the United Democratic Front's chosen man, M O John, as the 'government candidate.'
Sebastian Paul, the Left Front candidate, went on to win the seat -- at which Karunakaran's men went out on a victory procession! Any self-respecting party should have seized the opportunity to kick out both Karunakaran and Muraleedharan for such gross indiscipline.
Amazingly, what actually happened was that the Antony and Karunakaran factions chose to compromise. This annoyed just about everybody in Kerala. The Lok Sabha election came up a few months later, and the Congress-led United Democratic Front was all but wiped out. The Congress candidates lost all 17 seats they contested, and the sole United Democratic Front man to make it to the Lok Sabha was a Muslim League candidate. (Much to my own surprise, a National Democratic Alliance candidate also won; he didn't belong, however, to the BJP -- the party keeping up its record of failing to win a single assembly or Lok Sabha seat from Kerala!)
Antony resigned the chief ministership soon after, on the ground that he owed moral responsibility for the debacle. By then, even his closest allies were just too tired even to make a token gesture of protest. He could not win an election either against Karunakaran or with the old man by his side. And his decline has continued to gather speed in the few months since his resignation. He tried to mediate one last time with Sonia Gandhi before Muraleedharan got the sack; the Congress high command simply did not listen to him. He was asked to concentrate on organising the party's internal polls in Karnataka -- much to the relief of Congressmen in Kerala who feared his interference would lead Sonia Gandhi to dither once again.
From the high command's viewpoint, there is probably no better time to give Karunakaran the heave-ho once and for all. Judging by the results of the Lok Sabha poll, the Congress and its allies do not have a hope of coming back to power when the assembly election is held in 2006. That being the case, there is nothing to lose in jettisoning the Karunakaran clan. But, for the life of me, I simply cannot understand why Antony tried to intervene on Karunakaran's behalf at the eleventh hour.
Antony has already hinted that he shall not contest elections any longer. (It says something of his growing irrelevance that the announcement did not make a splash.) He must know that Karunakaran can be sated with nothing less than the reinstatement of Muraleedharan -- with the consequent massive loss of face for Sonia Gandhi herself. So why on earth would he open his mouth and make Keralites even more impatient with him?
Students of history will be familiar with the name 'Neville Chamberlain'. As prime minister of Britain in the crucial years from 1937 to 1940, it fell to Chamberlain to counter the wiles of Nazi Germany. He thought he could fend them off by cutting a series of deals with, a practice now infamous as 'appeasement.' It ended, as we all know, in the Second World War. Karunakaran is no Hitler, but he is as unbending about getting his own way -- and Antony was only too willing to play the part of Chamberlain. History judges such men harshly!