‘Need more left-wing members in Parliament’: LDF’s K Radhakrishnan speaks to TNM

In the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the LDF has an uphill battle to reclaim Kerala’s Alathur, and they have fielded Dalit leader K Radhakrishnan, incumbent Minister for Welfare of SC/ST/OBCs. Radhakrishnan speaks to TNM about identity politics, the BJP’s communalism, and the significance of the INDIA alliance.
K Radhakrishnan
K Radhakrishnan
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As the Lok Sabha election campaigns pick momentum in Kerala, the Alathur constituency –one among the two Scheduled Caste (SC) reserved constituencies in the state– is witnessing a battle between a sitting MP of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and a cabinet minister from the LDF’s (Left Democratic Front) incumbent Pinarayi government.

Formed in 2008, Alathur can be called a left-leaning constituency with the LDF securing it in both the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It was in 2019 that Alathur tilted towards the UDF, when Ramya Haridas, a Dalit woman, rose to victory in the constituency. 2019 was also a year when the LDF secured only one out of the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala.

In the 2024 polls, the LDF has an uphill battle to reclaim Alathur, and they have fielded K Radhakrishnan, incumbent Minister of Kerala for Welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Classes, Devaswoms, and Parliamentary Affairs. A Central Committee member of the CPI(M) (Communist Party of India, Marxist), Radhakrishnan was a former speaker of the Kerala Legislative Assembly and a minister in EK Nayanar’s cabinet from 1996 to 2001.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has fielded the BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) Dr Sarasu, a retired professor of the Palakkad Victoria College who was caught up in controversy after students of the college built a symbolic grave on her retirement day. Sarasu had earlier locked horns with the SFI (Students Federation of India), the CPI(M)’s student wing, as well as the CPI(M) affiliated Association of Kerala Govt College Teachers (AKGCT) over academic matters. 

Amidst the boiling election heat, LDF’s K Radhakrishnan spoke to TNM about the importance of winning Alathur, as well as the need to have more left-wing members in the Indian parliament. Excerpts from the interview: 

Q. After the formation of the Alathur constituency, LDF has secured all Lok Sabha seats except for 2019. All the Assembly constituencies that come under this Lok Sabha constituency are LDF-dominated. So, what are your expectations in this election?

There were a lot of reasons for losing Alathur in 2019. One was Rahul Gandhi’s candidacy in Wayanad and the projection by the Congress that if he won, Kerala would get a Prime Minister from the state. Moreover, the overall trend was favourable for the UDF. But that trend has changed. 

In the 2020 local body election, the LDF won with a higher margin, and the front’s performance was even better in the 2021 Assembly election. In the last seven and a half years, we (the LDF government) ensured immense development in the state. 

But in the last few years, we have been witnessing different agitations related to the Union-state relationship. After the declaration of this election as well, two ministers have been jailed. This is happening for the first time in India’s history. Investigation agencies are also being used in the interest of the Union government. But we are determined to fight because we did not get what we have today very easily. We have a history of agitations and struggles. 

The BJP is trying to strike back using mythology and stories about gods. All of that will have a bearing on this election, but we will try our best to maintain the secular values of the country.

Q. Many Dalits are attracted to the BJP though a savarna ideology dominates the party. In Kerala, prominent Dalit leader CK Janu also joined the BJP. Do you think this is because the political left has not been addressing their concerns?

CK Janu herself has said that nothing changed for her after joining the BJP. To address this issue, we should address the condition of the Indian Dalits, especially in the past 10 years, and how the Union government has treated them. 

The BJP is attempting to push the Dalits back to several years ago by neglecting their concerns. They are protecting alleged criminals and sexual assaulters who have killed Dalit girls. Maybe you can point out a few cases of Dalit victims being delayed justice in Kerala too, but I am talking about the general condition of Dalits in India, whom the BJP does not consider as humans, and such a divisive mentality is being further normalised by them. 

Dalits are not able to access reservation benefits and if the Union government fills the 14 lakh vacancy in central government institutions, many Dalits will get secure jobs. Why are they not doing it? Likewise, the budget allocation for Dalit welfare is dwindling by the year, and the fund for the National Rural Employment Guarantee program, of which most beneficiaries are Dalits, is also being reduced annually.

Just recall who inaugurated the new Parliament building. They keep the Indian president away from the ceremony because of her Dalit and woman identity. This single gesture is enough to understand the BJP’s anti-Dalit politics.

Q. You have previously mentioned that despite being a minister you experienced caste discrimination at a temple. Though Kerala is said to be progressive, do Keralites still harbour internalised casteism? 

Everything that happens in our society influences us. The present situation in India is fertile enough to prompt the hidden casteism within many of us to take root. Once we feel that the atmosphere around us is conducive to divisiveness, people just act on it. This sets back all the social reforms we have brought about over many decades. 

The Kerala government is trying to approach this differently. Our government never protects anyone who hurts Dalits, though sometimes, lapses in delivering justice happen because it also depends on the judicial system, which is not under our control.

Radhakrishanan in Alathur during election campaigns
Radhakrishanan in Alathur during election campaigns

Q. Alathur is an SC-reserved constituency. Should Dalit candidates only be fielded from reserved seats? Why aren’t parties including yours fielding Dalit leaders in general seats? 

We tried this on an experimental basis – allotting general seats to Dalit candidates in local body elections. We have examples in Assembly elections too. But what is important is that there must be an atmosphere that encourages such change. Only then can we do such things with more courage. The same thing happens in the case of seats reserved for women. An election is always about the possibility of winning, and identity is not the only deciding factor, unfortunately. 

On the other hand, society is not something that changes by itself and we should not think that we will change ourselves only if society becomes more inclusive. That’s the reason we have introduced 50% reservation for women in local body elections in Kerala. So, that change will slowly come to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha elections too. This time, Shailaja teacher (KK Shailaja) is contesting in a general seat from the Vadakara Lok Sabha constituency.

Q. A significant proportion of voters in Alathur are farmers. Even though a farmers' protest is happening in Delhi, here in Kerala, most farmers aren’t part of it, but they, along with the Opposition, criticise the Kerala government for non-payment of procured paddy. How are you going to address this?

Our agriculture sector has been adversely affected by the import policies of the Union government, initiated by the Congress during their term. When we import goods from other countries that have more advanced technology, it will affect the demand for our indigenous goods. That’s what has happened in India. 

Coming to Kerala, the biggest difficulty is the non-payment of procured paddy. This is because the Union government has failed to disburse the allocation to us. 

Q. Do you think the Kerala government has failed to convince farmers why the payment is late?

Beneficiaries of pensions and other payments, including farmers, naturally become concerned when they are not paid. They are not obligated to understand why this happens. For the government though, it is often not often possible to convince them why the payment is late. But now, especially after the protest by CM Pinaryi Vijayan in Delhi, people are slowly understanding the core reason for this issue.

Kerala pays the highest amount to farmers, and this government tries its best to help them.  However, we cannot control the general economic crisis, which is a matter of concern.

Q. The Communist party is at the forefront of the farmers' protest, but why is the party unable to convert its ground support into votes nationally?

As a society, we often see protests as linked to a particular cause, and elections as a separate event. It is a common practice to use money and muscle power to threaten people to vote for a particular party. The BJP raised a huge amount of money through electoral bonds, and they are also making sure that this money does not benefit other parties. Because they know it will affect votes. They even froze the Congress’s accounts. How undemocratic is it? The BJP candidates have advertisements everywhere, worth crores of rupees.

But the scenario is different in Kerala where people think before voting. That is why the CPI(M) is in power here.

Q. The Communist party is waning in states like West Bengal and Tripura. Is this because of a weak national leadership?

No. There was a time when the idea of socialism flourished in India. But in those days, human conditions were different and socialism had a very different kind of edge. Therefore it spread, though it faced backlash from the capitalists and feudalists. However, the situation is different now. Those who have gained financial mobility over the years have become selfish and this will definitely change, but not quickly. 

Similarly, in this era of globalisation and liberalisation, everyone has come under the illusion that there are more opportunities. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, hope is lost among people. So the number of people who look up to the ideology and embrace it is limited.

Radhakrishnan in Alathur during the anti-CAA night march
Radhakrishnan in Alathur during the anti-CAA night march

Q. How important is this election for CPI(M), especially to retain its status as a national party?

The election is important, but not just to secure the party’s symbol. It is the necessity of the time to have more left-wing members in the Indian parliament. One can understand this if one looks at the parliamentary proceedings from 2019 to 2024. When it comes to large-scale anti-people movements and laws, only the left has tried to speak against them.

Q. Nationally, the CPI(M) and the Congress are allies. But in Kerala, they are fighting each other. Do you think this INDIA alliance has created confusion among voters?

Our stand is very clear. We will directly fight against the BJP in places where the Communist Party has a strong base. In other places, we will fight it by standing with other democratic, secular forces. The INDIA alliance is extremely important because the BJP’s communal politics has escalated beyond imagination. We must resist it.

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