Kerala Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala believes that the ruling CPI (M) party will lose its national party status following the Lok Sabha elections. In a wide-ranging interview, Chennithala told TNM that Rahul Gandhi’s candidature in Wayanad has bolstered voters in the state and that the Sabarimala women’s entry issue will play an outsized role in the elections.
He also pointed to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s affiliation with community and religious organisations. “No communist in India has ever ruled the state by befriending community or religious forces. A communist sees only two classes - the privileged and the underprivileged. Pinarayi Vijayan is rejecting communist ideologies by encouraging caste and religious organisations,” he says.
With just two weeks left before Kerala heads to the polls, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala sat down with TNM to discuss the state’s political future.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
TNM: Congress leader and prime ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi decided to contest from an unexpected seat - Wayanad in Kerala. Should there have been a public discussion on that decision before it was confirmed?
RC: It was not a public discussion. Kerala leaders had suggested Rahul Gandhi for this seat after sensing the emotion of the party workers in the state. Leaders in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka had also recommended the same. The media however made it a topic of discussion and that is natural.
The message we are giving is that he is a pan-India leader. There will be greater enthusiasm among the voters as well as the party workers in south India. We view it as a move to increase the seats in south India. I had put forward this idea when I was travelling with him (Gandhi) but he did not respond at the time. This has been a long-pending desire for the people of Kerala and for party workers.
When a survey was conducted on whom should be prime minister, 80 percent voted for Rahul Gandhi.
TNM: Is his candidature meant to appease minorities?
RC: We don’t believe in appeasing any one community. Congress is a party that absorbs all religions. Rahul Gandhi is a leader with mass appeal. He is not contesting to appease any particular group.
TNM: After the Sabarimala issue, the LDF, especially Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, was able to bring two community organisations -- the Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha and Sree Dharma Paripalana Yogam -- to the Left. The Nair Service Society has been leaning towards a pro-BJP stance. Which community organisation does the UDF have support from?
RC: The tactics of Pinarayi Vijayan, who is a communist, is to strengthen his grip on power by appeasing community organisations. But that doesn’t befit a communist way of thinking. No communist in India has ever ruled the state by befriending community or religious forces. A communist sees only two classes - the privileged and the underprivileged. Pinarayi Vijayan is rejecting communist ideologies by encouraging caste and religious organisations.
In regard to SNDP votes, Thushar Vellappally is saying the votes are with him. Vellappaly is saying they have taken an equidistant stand (not siding with any one party) and the Left thinks they will get their votes. At the same time, a major chunk of the people of SNDP are siding with the Congress, and that won’t be changed, whoever asks.
It is true in the KPMS case, but what we can do about it.
TNM: You have been accused of being close to the RSS, which has become strong since the Sabarimala issue.
RC: That is not something new. It has been there since 1982, in whatever elections I am contesting. It is not something new. That would be propagated whenever Hindu Congress candidates were contesting. To stop them from getting Muslim or Christian votes, the CPI (M) would brand Hindu Congress candidates, whom they can’t defeat, as RSS sympathisers.
But people of Kerala won’t believe that.
TNM: So you are denying this conspiracy of a Congress-Muslim League-BJP understanding?
RC: This is the losing CPI (M)'s tactics. Who will believe this absurdity? The main contest at the national level is between the Congress and the BJP, so who will believe that these parties will help each other? Those who raise such allegations should be housed in mental asylums. CPI (M) has no relevance in this election. The CPI (M) is set to lose its national party status after this election. The CPI (M) is set to lose spectacularly in Bengal, Tripura and Kerala.
They may win in Tamil Nadu with the help of DMK. Both the communist parties have no place in people's mind. In India, the Communist parties haven’t shown any growth.
TNM: Will the election be a mandate for the Pinarayi government or the Modi government in Kerala?
RC: It will be a mandate of both the governments, the state and the Centre. It will be a combination of both. People will evaluate performance of Centre and state. People will discuss political violence. The CPI (M) has killed three of our workers. What has the party gained by it? CPI (M) and BJP are parties that kill and people are tired of them. People will react strongly to this.
TNM: Which national parties were against Rahul contesting from Kerala?
RC: The Left asked Sharad Pawar to dissuade Rahul as they are scared. The Left is afraid that they will face a huge failure because of Rahul Gandhi's candidature.
TNM: But will Rahul's candidature send a confusing signal on whether the real Congress nemesis is the BJP or the Left?
RC: Pinarayi Vijayan is answerable for that. He opposed a united secular front that Sitaram Yechury had proposed. If the Kerala leaders didn’t speak against that, there would have been a national alliance by now. Who destroyed the unity of Bengal? How can the CPI (M) have a sudden awakening that all secular parties should be together? It is too late now.
TNM: Was the Congress wrong in its stand on Sabarimala?
RC: No, it is 100 percent correct. We stand with believers. Women who entered Sabarimala are activists. It was because of Pinarayi Vijayan's stubbornness.
TNM: So Sabarimala is the most impactful subject during these elections?
RC: There is no doubt that that will create waves in the state. LDF's stance to turn against devotees will not favour them this election.
TNM: Internal politics thwarted Oommen Chandy's attempts to contest the Lok Sabha elections. What do you think? Why was Oommen Chandy not selected as a candidate?
RC: It’s not like that. He didn’t want to contest, same as in the case of KPCC President Mullappally Ramachandran. This time, instead, there is a line-up of efficient and young leaders.