A. K. Antony in the eightiesDefence Minister A. K. Antony was paying back an old debt when he called on senior Congress leader K. Karunakaran at his residence to welcome him back to the Congress on the New Year Day.

A temperamental Antony had left the Indian National Congress (Indira) late in the seventies and floated his own group (Congress- Antony) and joined hands with the leftists to form a Government in Kerala in 1980. But Mr. Antony soon realised that the truck with the Marxists were weakening his group and wanted to be back in the Congress by 1982.

However, convincing the then Congress president Indira Gandhi to take back his group was not an easy task. For that, he enlisted the support of some journalists, and above all, Mr. Karunakaran. If Karunakaran had been opposed to his come back, Mr.Antony could not have hoped for an easy entry back into the Congress. Now, the old debt is repaid with Mr. Antony siding with the reentry of Mr. Karunakaran, despite the show of face by his old lieutenant Oommen Chandy.

But what would have persuaded Congress president Sonia Gandhi to take back Mr. Karunakaran when the latter had showed enough abuses on her? (For the record, Mr. Karunakaran has expressed regret.) She probably, wanted to ward off any impression that she was aiding the Christian lobby in the Kerala unit of the Congress. The support of Hindus is critical for Congress in Kerala than Christian support as it is already allied with the pro-Christian Kerala Congress (Mani). If she had kept Mr. Karunakaran at the doors, the interpretation would have been that she was favouring the Christian lobby led by Mr.Chandy.

Now, it would be only a matter of time before K. Muraleedharan also enters the Congress. Mr. Karunakaran has already said that his prodigal son would return. But, it would be advantageous for the Congress to delay Mr. Muraleedharan’s entry. Mr. Karunakaran would not be intensifying faction fights in the party until Muraleedharan is back. (Groupism subsided in the State unit of the Congress as soon as Karunakaran left the party, indicating that he was the prime mover of factionalism.)