Exclusive: Kerala CM Blames Cong For ‘Aiding’ BJP’s Communalism
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, while responding to questions from this author on email, categorically reiterated that his government will stand by constitutional values and the Supreme Court, on the Sabarimala issue.
He alleged that the ‘controversy’ was masterminded by the Sangh Parivar outfits, and accused the Congress of having a double stand on the issue. While declaring BJP as the principal enemy, he also accused the Congress of being weak in fighting communalism and upholding secular values.
Vijayan said that he is confident that the BJP’s efforts to gain a foothold in Kerala will not succeed, and that it will also be defeated nationally in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
As you come close to completing 3 years as CM, and as the country heads into a parliamentary election, how would you rate your own performance? What would you state as the biggest challenge you have faced in the last three years?
My government is committed to fulfilling the promises we made before the people. I must say that we are earnestly implementing the promises made in the LDF poll manifesto. As you know, we brought out progress reports when we completed our first year and second year as well. I believe, no other state government or even Union government has placed a progress report on their performance.
There is an impression that the manifesto is just an instrument to woo the electorate and it can be forgotten after the elections. However, as a matter of fact, we decided to have periodic reviews of our performance on the basis of our manifesto.
In the last two years, we had a plethora of problems and issues including the catastrophic floods. However, we could mitigate the sufferings to a large extent, and now our focus is to rebuild the state, which requires huge resources. According to UN agencies, the loss would be around Rs 26,000 crore and we envisage at least Rs 40,000 crore for rebuilding the state.
The defining feature of the 2019 polls is that secular forces across India are making attempts to come together to form a joint front against the BJP. There are both national level arrangements as well as local level adjustments.
In Kerala, both the LDF and the UDF are strong forces. Does the fight between the LDF and the UDF present an opportunity to the BJP?
The Left has been consistent in its fight against the RSS and Kerala is a glowing example of the resistance against the right wing onslaught.
We are aware of our responsibilities, the cardinal among them, to defeat the BJP at the Centre.
The BJP, backed by RSS and the central government, has been making serious efforts to gain a foothold in Kerala. I am of the opinion that their divisive politics will not succeed in this state. If you look at the political arithmetic, the influence of BJP has been coming down in Kerala, which also manifested in the recent bypolls.
How do you reconcile the fact that nationally the Congress may be an ally, but locally it is an opponent?
We have made a realistic analysis about the national political situation. We do acknowledge the fact that Congress has a role to play to take on the BJP. However, Congress has an inherent weakness in its policy and its orientation in checkmating communal forces.
Many a time, Congress has been playing second fiddle to BJP in weakening the secular fabric of the nation.
We do feel that secular forces in different states would adopt an appropriate strategy to defeat the BJP.
One of the key challenges you have faced, one that has sparked off a fierce debate nationally, is the controversy over allowing women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple.
Your decision to allow two women to enter the temple was hailed as a brave decision to enforce the rule of law by progressive intellectuals. However, the orthodox have strongly opposed it. Has it precipitated matters? How do you assess that decision now?
There is a paradoxical situation which I feel that even the media is fanning. A government which adheres to the Constitution decides to uphold the Constitution and to implement the verdict of the Supreme Court.
However, this stand is being termed as an attempt to precipitate a crisis whereas those who are bent upon sabotaging the Supreme Court verdict are termed as believers fighting for certain rituals!
The first thing that needs to be cleared is that all that happened in Kerala was masterminded by the communal forces for political gains. The government is absolutely clear that it has to stand with the Supreme Court.
Would you do it again? In retrospect, would you have taken a different decision or is it one that you stand by?
Our position has been always clear on this. It is not that we were compelled to support the Supreme Court. We had always taken a stand in support of the emancipation of women. Even the affidavit we filed in the Supreme Court underlines our commitment towards equality for women.
Does the issue worry you as one that hardens the Hindu Orthodox position? In a sense, it has divided the society into an orthodox versus progressive battle?
As stated earlier, any division, if at all happened is due to the manipulative politics of BJP and Congress. Both these parties had initially supported the entry of women, but made a somersault for few votes. The people of Kerala are wise enough to see through this evil design.
Kanakadurga, one of the women who entered the temple, has faced severe opposition from her family. Does that hurt or worry you? And, do you feel there is a long way to go before society can accept constitutional values, especially in the context of religious beliefs?
Well, as far as Sabarimala is concerned, women of all ages were permitted before 1991. It is an indisputable fact and the situation changed only after the verdict of the Kerala High Court in 1991.
I think permitting women is not a big issue. Sangh Parivar outfits are trying to create communal tension using the issue and threats against women who visited the temple are part of their agenda. History has shown that there will be a bit of churning during social reformation. Things will settle down as time passes.
In effect, this is a battle between constitutional values and religious beliefs. Were you disappointed with the reaction of the Congress party and leaders like Shashi Tharoor? Would you describe the Congress’ stand as one of ‘Soft Hindutva’ and ideologically dangerous?
Undoubtedly, Shashi Tharoor is a prominent politician who is always seen speaking about egalitarian values. However, his real colour got manifested during this Sabarimala imbroglio. A person of Tharoor’s stature had the audacity to speak against the Supreme Court verdict whereas his own party high-command had hailed it as historical.
The people of Kerala are not fools. They understand the double stand being practised by politicians like Tharoor. It is also curious to note that Congress President Rahul Gandhi also made frequent changes in his stand and nobody knows where he stands now, after his last visit to Kerala.
How do you see the road ahead for Indian society? Do you fear that it is becoming more conservative? What is the biggest lesson we must take from this issue, as a nation?
Everyone knows that the BJP government has taken the country backward. There have been serious setbacks on almost all fronts, including economy and society. The country cannot even think of the continuance of such a regime.
The criticism against secular parties is that they have not been as unequivocal in condemning minority fundamentalism as they have been in condemning Hindutva forces. How do you view this criticism?
Such accusations are not at all applicable to the CPIM and other Left forces. Of course, majority communalism of RSS and BJP is more dangerous and disastrous. However, we vehemently oppose minority communalism too. We have been fighting relentlessly against both.
In your view, what is the most important issue in this election: Is it corruption, communalism or livelihood issues?
What is interesting is that we cannot focus on a single aspect as there has been an all-round assault. The secular fabric of the nation has suffered severely. The economy is in utter shambles.
The recent sample survey results on employment underlines the magnitude of problems that have erupted. Is there any democratic institution that has been spared by the Modi regime?
Some of the Hindu caste outfits have declared their support for the BJP. Does this worry you, especially as Kerala is a state where contests are won on thin margins?
RSS could have managed to influence a couple of social organisations. But we have been trying to convince them to understand the reality. We are hopeful that these organisations will eventually understand the diabolic game played by the RSS.
There seems to be a pattern in how parts of South Trivandrum, Kasaragod and Palghat vote, and this seems different from the manner in which the rest of Kerala votes. Is this a worry for the LDF?
I don’t think there is any such pattern of voting in Kerala. LDF has a strong support base throughout the state. There could be pockets of influence for a particular party. However, nothing has changed in Kerala for several years.
Finally, what is your prediction for 2019, in Kerala and the rest of India?
I am certain about two aspects; LDF would have a resounding victory in Kerala and the country will throw out BJP at the Centre.
(The author is an independent journalist. He can be reached at @TMVRaghav)