It’s a long drive from the state capital to Puthuppally. Hardly four minutes before we made it to Puthuppally, he had left for Perumbavoor. Finally, after a two-hour chase, we caught up with him at Muvattupuzha for an hour-long exclusive interaction on board his campaign vehicle.
Going to meet a political leader unannounced has its advantages. But not when it’s Oommen Chandy. In a freewheeling chat with Express’ Chief of Bureau Anil S, special correspondent Arun Lakshman and principal correspondent Abhilash Chandran, Chandy opens up on the UDF’s prospects this time around. The BJP will not open its account this time too in Kerala, affirms Chandy, who believes that the Sabarimala wave will favour the UDF.
Q. How do you perceive the coming elections, from the UDF standpoint?
A. It will definitely be a mandate against the Centre and state government and the UDF has the upper hand here. People have lost faith in PM Narendra Modi for failing to deliver on his poll promises, with note ban and GST rollout among others leaving an adverse impact. The LDF Government has not lived upto people’s expectations and by promoting a political culture of violence, denial of justice and the like it went against the public’s wishes.
Q. Realistically, what will be the UDF’s tally?
A. Instead of giving the precise number, I can tell you this - there is clearly a pro-UDF sentiment in all 20 LS seats which has been substantiated by the pre-poll surveys.
Q. Will the Sabarimala issue, the BJP-NDA’s major poll plank, fetch them votes?
A. Indeed not. The BJP betrayed the masses and if the party’s intentions on Sabarimala issue were genuine, it would have pressured the Centre to bring in an ordinance instead of causing mayhem, thereby destroying the hill shrine’s sanctity.
Q. Any truth in reports of the so-called ‘adjustment’ politics between the Congress and the BJP - the Congress will help out BJP’s Kummanam Rajasekharan in Thiruvananthapuram in lieu for the latter’s backing in some constituencies, including K Muraleedharan, in Vadakara?
A. It is merely an LDF spin. I suggest the LDF better reflect on its own political history. In Vadakara, the Congress is sure of getting the votes since people are tired of the CPM brand of violet politics.
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Q. Sabarimala row’s fallout on the polls. Your thoughts?
A. Let me make this clear. An issue which could have been resolved in a simple manner snowballed into a major controversy, only because of the government’s inflexiblity which inflicted considerable pain on devotees. The government brought in persons to Sabarimala surreptitiously and facilitated their entry under a disguise. In stark contrast, the UDF stance has always been to protect devotees’ interests and as CM , I took the initiative to submit a revised affidavit for protecting Sabarimala’s traditions.
Q. Was it a deliberate act by the LDF - to split anti-government votes by mishandling the Sabarimala issue - which blew up on its face and gave the BJP a foothold in Kerala?
A. One cannot hoodwink the people. Though there were sections in the LDF which sought to usher in a Renaissance movement through the Women’s Wall, they quickly realised their folly and changed the tune. Recently, when the temple opened for the monthly poojas, everything went well. The BJP, which kept mum in the wake of the SC order allowing entry to women of all ages, suddenly sensed a golden opportunity. The Congress’ stance has been vindicated now.
Q. Is Rahul Gandhi’s candidature in Wayanad going to benefit the UDF?
A. Absolutely. Rahul’s candidature will help keep the BJP completely at bay in entire South India.
Q. The BJP central leaders, including PM Modi, are trying to depict it as Rahul seeking refuge in a Muslim majority constituency.
A. Such a statement, coming as it does from an incumbent PM, differentiating Indians on the basis of religion does not behove the high office. Sadly he has got his facts wrong since Hindus account for 62 per cent of the total population in Wayanad while the minority communities add up to just around 37 per cent. In the Wayanad Parliament constituency, Hindus constitute over 52 per cent of the population, with minorities making up only 47 per cent.
Q. The LDF is miffed with Rahul’s candidature as he is pitted against its candidate. And they believe it flies in the face of Congress’ claims that BJP is its main adversary.
A. One shouldn’t forget the fact Rahul is contesting against BJP candidate and Union Minister Smriti Irani in Amethi.
Q. But is this likely to affect a Left bloc-Congress tie-up in the post-election scenario?
A. I simply cannot understand why the LDF should become so panic stricken over Rahul’s Wayanad entry. Moreover, it is a Congress’ sitting seat and a UDF bastion.
Q. Rumblings within the Congress never seem to end, especially as D-Day nears. Shashi Tharoor apparently came out against disinterest shown by some party leaders and workers in the Thiruvananthapuram seat.
A. Tharoor has rubbished the reports. The Congress has sent observers to several seats, including Thiruvananthapuram, and there has been no deliberate lapse.