Discord in the Congress in Kerala between Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala has sharpened after the possibility of the latter's entry into the state cabinet with a plum portfolio got dimmed.
What has added a serious dimension to the rumblings over the matter in the last few days is a newspaper interview in which Chennithala had purportedly stated that it would be difficult for him to maintain the same smooth equation with Chandy since he felt that he had been insulted over the ministerial issue.
When reporters on Wednesday sought his comments, Chennithala said: "I have not given any official interview to anybody," declining to entertain any further queries on the matter.
Heading the state unit for over eight years, Chennithala was recently tipped to join the ministry with a key portfolio after he concluded his month-long 'Kerala Yatra' campaign last week.
The move, which reportedly had the tacit approval of Chandy, was also seen as a step to placate Nair community outfit Nair Service Society, which has accused the UDF government of neglecting the "interests of the majority community."
But moves in that direction hit a roadblock over choice of portfolio for Chennithala. While his supporters are keen that Chennithala should be given Home with the status of deputy chief minister, this has not been acceptable to the Chandy camp. After a round of one-to-one talks last Sunday, Chandy said a cabinet reshuffle was not on the cards.
If initially it was the turn of middle-rung party leaders close to Chennithala to term the development as an insult to their leader, political observers here feel that the issue could snowball into a crisis after the sharp comments Chennithala reportedly made against the chief minister.
They expect that the party high command might take note of the development and intervene to settle the issue before it aggravates as restoring organisational unity is vital to equip the party for the Lok Sabha polls.
According to the Chennithala camp, feelers had been sent to their leader by Chandy on joining the cabinet while he had been on his Kerala Yatra.
"Now, the refusal to properly accommodate Chennithala in the ministry has come not only as a humiliation to a leader who holds the vital position of KPCC presidentship but amounted to taking away the mileage gained by the party from the Kerala Yatra campaign," a KPCC functionary, who does not want to be identified, said.
Last week, speculation was rife that a final call on the issue would be made after prodding the mind of Defence Minister A K Antony, whose views are considered as the last word in Kerala party affairs.
But Antony distanced himself from the issue stating that this was a matter to be decided between the Chief Minister and KPCC president and he need not be dragged into it.
Chennithala was seen as a possible contender for the chief ministership when he entered the fray in the Assembly polls in 2011 and won from Harippad segment in Alappuzha district.
But he refrained from throwing his hat in the race against Chandy as the UDF could only muster a wafer thin majority of 72 seats in the 140-member Assembly. Both Chandy and
Chennithala have since claimed that they have a smooth working arrangement based on perfect understanding.
Though Chandy has left the invitation open to Chennithala to join the ministry anytime he wants, the latter has resisted the temptation thinking that becoming a minister with a minor portfolio would mar his long-term prospects as a central political player in the state.
However, according to sources in Congress, the real worry of Chennithala is that he might have to step down as the KPCC chief anytime as he had been heading the state unit for over eight years, in tune with the party's line of bringing new faces to head organisational tasks.