Tom Vadakkan’s decision to join the Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday was greeted largely with indifference by the Congress. The party’s leaders insisted they would not lose sleep over his defection since Vadakkan neither has a mass support base in his home state of Kerala nor did he play a major role in the party’s national affairs, his visibility in the media notwithstanding.
Indeed, senior Congressmen expressed surprise at how the media was “playing up” Vadakkan’s exit “despite being aware of his limited role in the party’s affairs”. This was in stark contrast to how Hardik Patel’s decision to join the Congress was reported. The Patidar leader’s February 12 entry was underplayed by the media, the Congress leaders complained, despite the fact that he enjoys a mass following which helped the grand old party run the BJP in the 2017 Gujarat Assembly election.
“Those who exited Congress do not have the support of even 10 people in their home turf,” VT Balram, a Congress legislator in Kerala, wrote on Facebook. “But don’t forget leaders like Hardik Patel, who can singlehandedly organise a rally of 10 lakh people, are coming to the Congress fold.”
Congress leaders claimed Vadakkan’s exit would not harm the party in any way. “He has never contested an election, let alone win one,” said a party leader who asked not to be named. “He will have no impact on our prospects either in Kerala or nationally. The only credit I would give him is that he managed to keep his exit a secret. But that also says a lot about his position in the party.”
The party’s leadership was similarly unmoved. They claimed Vadakkan quit because he was “frustrated with the leadership for not allowing him to contest from Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency.” “The buzz is the BJP has offered him a ticket from Thrissur,” said a Congress leader from Kerala.
In 2009, the Congress leadership reportedly considered fielding Vadakkan from Thrissur, only to be persuaded otherwise by the local leaders. In fact, the party’s Thrissur district chief, CN Balakrishnan, publicly objected to Vadakkan’s possible candidature, describing him as an “outsider”. The Congress eventually fielded PC Chacko, who went on to win. Vadakkan tried for a ticket again in 2014, Congress leaders claimed, but to no avail.
He continued to hold important positions in the party’s national media cell, though. That changed when Ajay Maken took over as head of the media cell. Under Maken, Vadakkan’s clout shrank and when Randeep Surjewala replaced Maken, Vadakkan was completely marginalised.
“He could not adapt to new social media platforms such as Twitter under Surjewala,” a former media cell colleague of Vadakkan claimed, by way of an explanation. “He just did not fit in Surjewala’s scheme of things. Thereafter, he hardly held any press briefings. He was only called when none of the other spokespersons were available. Vadakkan would hold press conferences either on a Sunday or a rainy day.”
In all, Vadakkan served as the party’s communication secretary for over a decade.
Vadakkan provided a different reason for leaving the Congress, to which he had been recruited by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Speaking to the press after formally joining the BJP, Vadakkan claimed he was hurt when the Congress “questioned the integrity of the armed forces”. Moreover, he said, dynastic politics in the party has reached a new high and “no one knows who the power centres in the party are”.
Asked about his former colleague’s comments, Surjewala said, “Our wishes are with him. Anyone who leaves for another party has to say something. We are hoping that the people will ask the BJP what it thinks about the attacks he made against them in the past.”
In Kerala, meanwhile, a group of Youth Congress workers in Thrissur’s Deshamangalam village cut a cake to celebrate Vadakkan’s departure. “The Congress got rid of a perennial problem and all party workers are happy today,” an organiser of the event told Asianet TV news channel.