As electioneering reaches a crescendo, with polling day barely hours away, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is confident of the LDF netting a rich haul. And he believes the ruling combine will indeed improve its tally, reports of a strong anti-LDF wave over the Sabarimala issue notwithstanding. In an exclusive chat with Express Chief of Bureau Anil S and Chief Reporter Sovi Vidyadharan, Pinarayi feels Prime Minister Narendra Modi should desist from acting like a mere RSS pracharak and definitely not resort to blatant lying. Clearly unhappy with Rahul Gandhi’s candidature from Wayanad, the CPM strongman says Rahul’s utterances are meant to justify his ‘political blunder’ in Wayanad.
Q: Sabarimala is emerging as a major issue in the final leg of the election campaign. In this backdrop, what is the LDF's assessment of the situation?
The situation in the state is currently in favour of the LDF unlike what is being presented through surveys or during the campaign by rivals. As far as Sabarimala is concerned, it is one of the biggest places of worship in the state. We have only taken steps to strengthen Sabarimala. The problems that arose was due to the Supreme Court verdict. The BJP is out to destroy constitutional institutions. They have no qualms in publicly threatening even the Supreme Court, as we have seen in the Ram temple issue. The stance the Central government took after the Supreme Court verdict in no way matches the current stance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi or BJP president Amit Shah. The Centre told the state to ensure that the Supreme Court verdict is implemented and to clamp prohibitory orders if required. They even promised Central forces. Any government at the Centre can take only such a stance.
Just because Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister, the Centre can't declare that the Supreme Court verdict will not be implemented. However, those opposed to the verdict did things that are unbecoming of devotees. They forcibly prevented other devotees from offering 'kaanikka' (coin box offering) leading to a slump in the temple's revenue. To tide over the situation, the LDF government gave more funds to Sabarimala in the previous budget. Many devotees were detained and attacked at 'sannidhanam'. All this was done to turn Sabarimala into a conflict zone. Then they unleashed false propaganda against the state government. But due to strong police presence, untoward incidents were avoided. What the miscreants wanted was a fierce clash with the police. But despite huge provocation, the police thwarted such moves. Now, after the Sabarimala season, a high-level committee headed by the Chief Secretary has been constituted to chalk out development projects for the shrine and to complete it in a time bound manner.
We do not have any anxiety over Sabarimala. The propaganda unleashed by the Sangh Parivar will not be accepted by the devotees.
Q: BJP is raising Sabarimala as a major poll plank. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said devotees in Kerala have to bear lathi blows to protect their faith. The BJP believes the issue will help them in at least one or two Lok Sabha seats.
Modi referred to Sabarimala only in an indirect manner maybe because he didn't want to cut a sorry figure before Keralites who know the reality. He is the Prime Minister of India and he should speak only on the basis of facts. While speaking at election rallies, he shouldn't turn into an RSS pracharak, which is his former self. Nobody expects such blatant lies from the Prime Minister. He said one will land in jail if one utters the word 'Ayyappa'. He also said a candidate has been put behind bars. Yes, there has been action against people who indulged in criminal activities such as attacking women, detaining devotees and fomenting trouble at 'sannidhanam'. In the states ruled by the PM's party, atrocities are being carried out in the name of cow or due to hatred towards minorities. But the perpetrators enjoy state protection. Maybe Modi expects a similar scenario in Kerala. But he should realise that in Kerala, whoever breaks the law will face action. Regarding the candidate, he was jailed on the basis of the attacks he carried out on women devotees. It is the court which remanded him to judicial custody. A person holding the Prime Minister's office should have welcomed it. Instead of doing that, he is spreading falsehood, which is unbecoming of the Prime Minister's stature.
Q: Thiruvananthapuram, where BJP candidate Kummanam Rajasekharan is contesting, is one constituency where the BJP is using the Sabarimala issue to the hilt. The BJP says that with Kummanam all set to win, the LDF may trade votes in favour of Congress candidate Shahi Tharoor to prevent that from happening. How do you view this charge of the BJP?
BJP has proven expertise in terms of vote trading. Previous elections have shown that. Finally, the party leadership decided that the shameful practice should be stopped. But that hasn't changed the situation. The BJP prides itself by opening an account in Kerala during the previous assembly election. How did that happen? It was not BJP's influence alone but votes from Congress that helped that party win. The Congress did that to ensure its win in another constituency with BJP's support. On the basis of its vote trading experience with Congress, BJP is trying to defame others. Our stand has always been clear. We firmly oppose the BJP. For the sake of a few votes or positions, we have made no arrangement with any party anywhere. In this election, LDF candidate C Divakaran is sure to win with a comfortable margin from Thiruvananthapuram.
Q: But BJP is very confident of opening an account either in Thiruvananthapuram or Pathanamthitta. They say the people will give a befitting reply to the Pinarayi government on Sabarimala issue. How do you see BJP's chances in Kerala?
BJP cannot open an account here at any cost. Kummanam will finish third in Thiruvananthapuram. In Pathanamthitta, Surendran is not even an acceptable candidate. In fact, it's a direct battle between UDF and LDF there.
Q: Rahul Gandhi during his campaign in the state reiterated he is not going to criticise the Left. He also said the Left has never done anything like what the RSS is doing in the country. Do you see a trap in the Congress' new-found love towards the Left?
Rahul Gandhi is giving out a message that the Left should be destroyed in the country. In the current national context when communalism has reached its peak, it is the Left which firmly and consistently resists the BJP. How can you justify Rahul Gandhi's arrival with the sole aim of destroying the Left? Rahul Gandhi's new utterances should be seen as an attempt to justify the political blunder he has committed.
Q: The Congress has come up with a NYAY scheme which assures Rs 72,000 per year to five crores poorest families in the country. Congress believes this is a game-changer. But the Left is not impressed. Do you think it's a revolutionary scheme or just another poll gimmick?
Haven't we seen similar gimmicks from the Congress earlier too? Have they properly implemented any election promise they made? We should understand that people friendly schemes - be it Right to Information Act or Forest Rights Act - were implemented during the UPA-I government only due to the Left's pressure.
Q: Due to Sabarimala issue and the expected erosion of upper caste Hindu votes, the Left banks on minority votes. But with Rahul Gandhi's entry, won't there be a consolidation of minority votes in Congress' favour?
Rahul Gandhi is not a newly-emerged leader. He has been a Congress leader for quite some time. No matter wherever he contests in India, he is a Congress leader. It's the Congress that the people will assess. In that assessment, Rahul Gandhi is not at all a factor and no minority consolidation is going to happen (in Congress' favour). If you ask the people, you will realise there is no anti-incumbency against the LDF government. The only straw the opposition clings on to is Sabarimala.
Q: Congress leader A K Antony says Congress should get maximum seats in a post-poll scenario to form the government. His argument is that the Left will anyway not be able to form the government and there is no use voting for it?
It's very important to ensure that the Left remains a significant force in Parliament. If the Left presence is significant in Parliament, many unhealthy practices can be resisted and prevented. In 2004, the Left decided to support the Congress to keep BJP at bay. This despite the fact that majority of the seats the Left won was wrested from the Congress. The Left was able to intervene in many issues effectively. In the previous election, though we didn't have as many MPs, we intervened in many issues such as triple talaq and citizenship bill. Strengthening the LDF is crucial in determining the direction the nation takes.
Q: The Left believes this election will be a repeat of the 2004 parliament election. If such a scenario emerges, will the Left support the Congress in a post-poll scenario?
In 2004, the LDF won 18 out of 20 seats. This time we expect an improved performance. The UPA - I government earned all-round appreciation for the many people-friendly policies it undertook, thanks to the Left's intervention. But UPA - II functioned without the Left and implemented a number of anti-people policies. In 2014, people were hell-bent on unseating the UPA and so the NDA government came to power. The NDA government also followed the same policies of the UPA. Now, in 2019, people's woes have only increased. They are now thinking of unseating the NDA government due to its anti-people rule borne out of neo-liberal policies. BJP will definitely lose this election this time and a secular government will emerge. Such a government should strive towards mitigating the woes of the people. However such discussions on government formation will have relevance only after the election.
Q: The UDF is very confident of a stellar performance this time. They have devised a '20/20' slogan to wrest all seats. How do you view the resurgent UDF?
This slogan is due to a mindset that is unable to come to terms with reality. Congress and its leaders in Kerala are not able to gauge the decay within themselves. They are pursuing policies which are anti-people and are facing isolation. We, on the other hand, are achieving more support of the people.
Q: Will the upcoming election be a referendum of the LDF government?
During a general election, the performance of the respective state government will be assessed by the voters. If you look at the state, you can see change all around as opposed to the five-year misrule of the previous UDF government. Definitely, the benefits of that change will prove helpful for the LDF this time. Besides, a large section of people, who were not with us in 2016 have united with us. That's why we are confident of improving the 2004 tally of 18 seats.