The Congress's woes got just a little deeper on Sunday, when the regional Kerala Congress (Mani) quit the United Democratic Front.

The party said it was leaving the Congress-led coalition, of which it has been a member almost continuously since its formation in 1979, because of "conscious" attempts by a section of the Congress leadership to malign the party and its leader.

“We have quit the UDF to uphold our dignity,” Kerala Congress (M) leader KM Mani, after whom the party is named, told reporters at the end of a two-day party camp at Charalkunnu in Pathanamthitta district on Sunday. "We will sit as a separate bloc in the state Assembly, maintaining equidistance from all the existing coalitions and try to build the party."

The allegation is seen as a reference to the case filed against Mani on the basis of an allegation that he had received bribe from bar owners to give them licences when he was finance minister in the previous United Democratic Front government. The case had led to his resignation from the United Democratic Front ministry in November.

In May, the United Democratic Front was defeated in state elections by the Left Democratic Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Bribery allegations

Mani had claimed that the case was the result of a conspiracy against him. Even though the party had set up a committee to investigate the allegations, its report was not made public. Former Kerala Congress (M) leader Antony Raju, who was part of the panel, said that the committee had suspected that top Congress leaders were behind the charges raised by a bar owner against Mani. Raju quit the party before the assembly elections to join the Left Democratic Front.

However, Congress leaders said that the reasons cited by Mani to quit the United Democratic Front are not valid. Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee vice president V D Satheeshan suggested that the decision was prompted by the Left Democratic Front's decision to revive the investigation against Mani in the bar bribery case.

“Mani is apparently trying to curry favour with the LDF," said Satheeshan. "His allegation that the Congress did not back him in the bribery case is baseless. Many of us had differences over backing him. However, we did not air them after the party asked us to remain silent for the sake of unity in the coalition."

Another section of the Congress believes that Mani may take the party to the National Democratic Alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party if the Modi government offers a berth for his son Jose K Mani.

On their part, the CPI (M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and Left Democratic Front convenor Vaikom Viswam described the exit of Kerala Congress (M) as an indication that the United Democratic Front is disintegrating and urged the Congress to dissolve the coalition.