Jose Tom Pulikkunnel no KCM candidate

UDF candidate to fight as an ‘independent’ in Pala assembly byelection.

Kottayam: Crisis in the Kerala Congress (M) over the Pala byelection appeared deepening on Thursday with the rejection of Jose Tom Pulikkunnel's claim to the party symbol.

The loyalist of dissident leader Jose K. Mani is now contesting as an independent candidate supported by the United Democratic Front (UDF).

Deputy collector S. Sivaprasad, who is the returning officer, rejected his nomination as KC (M) candidate, considering the Idukki munsif court preventing Mr Mani from officiating as its chairman.

His archrival, working chairman P.J. Joseph, had also placed on record that Mr Pulikkunnel was no longer a party member.

“He informed us that Stephen George, who endorsed the ‘B’ form of Mr Pulikkunnel as the office secretary, was already under suspension. He will now be allotted a symbol as demanded in the second set of nomination on a priority basis," Mr Sivaprasad said.

Soon, Joseph Kandathil, the Joseph loyalist who entered the fray at the last moment creating confusion, withdrew his nomination.

The scrutiny of nominations witnessed a battle between the rival factions over the party symbol of double-leaf.

Following the revolt by Mr Mani anointing himself as the party chief, Mr Joseph had suspended many of his loyalists.

While Mr Joseph insisted he was the de facto chairman after KM Mani's death, the rivals argued that none holds the right to issue a consent to the symbol.

As per the party constitution, he held no right to suspend any party member, they argued. As the talks reached a deadlock, its scrutiny was put on hold to verify the rest.

“Their move was suspicious,” Mr Joseph told reporters in Thodupuzha before leaving for Pala to attend the first election meeting of the UDF candidate.

“We agreed on the candidacy of Mr Pulikkunnel on the condition that he’ll not get the party symbol. Those who insisted that K.M. Mani was their symbol are now demanding it."

Election observer Poornima Chouhan was also present during the scrutiny that found 15 nominations valid.

Later, at the UDF election convention attended by top leaders, including Oommen Chandy, Mani loyalists shouted slogans against Mr Joseph as he addressed the gathering.

He tried to reason with them reminding that he had resigned as a minister in the LDF government for the unification of KC factions. Mr Joseph said the differences of opinion with Mr Mani will be settled soon.

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