A K Antony is one politician who usually sets the agenda on the state’s political sphere, before most elections. The Congress Working Committee member elaborates on why the Congress and its pre-poll allies will emerge as the single largest block to form the government at the Centre in the post-election scenario. In an interview with Express Chief of Bureau ANIL S, Antony, who holds the record for being the Defence Minister with the longest unbroken tenure in the country’s history, tears into Narendra Modi Government for attempting to politicise the armed forces.
Q: The Indian National Congress is trying to make a comeback this time. With the second phase of polls now over, how do you assess the Congress’ prospects?
A: The Congress and its pre-poll alliance will be the single largest claimant to form the government. I’m sure the tally of BJP and its pre-poll allies together will be much less, compared to the Congress front. However, it’s too early to predict the exact victory margin.
Q: The Congress has been moving ahead with the single objective of unseating Narendra Modi from power. Can you elaborate on the factors that could favour Congress?
A: The fight is not against any individual. Our main agenda is to prevent the formation of a government backed by RSS ideology. It is a fight between ideologies. The concept of India evolved over the centuries.
The Constitution seeks to protect the ethos of being an Indian. It is the only country in the world where there is no discrimination against any caste, creed or religion. The last five years have proved there is an overwhelmingly threat to this idea. The BJP want to bring in uniformity, but India exists and thrives because of its diversity.
Q. The Congress has been alleging the BJP labels all and sundry as anti-nationals.
A: They are the ones who tried to sabotage the freedom movement. History clearly records how they worked in tandem with the British. And now they have the temerity to label others as anti-national. I have served as Union Defence Minister. The Indian Armed Forces are apolitical. Do not politicise the Indian Armed Forces. People look up to them in times of calamities or national emergencies. They are there for us 24 x 7. They belong to all. That these people are trying to appropriate the Indian Armed Forces for their own is what is actually anti-national.
Q: How do you see the efforts by the BJP-NDA Government to take credit for all that the armed forces have achieved in the last five years?
A: During our time, all need-to-know details of operations undertaken by the Armed Forces were made public either by their spokespersons or respective chiefs. Political leaders did not come into the picture. Making public sensitive details does not bode well for the country’s security. During every government’s tenure, both covert and overt operations are undertaken by the armed forces, but one doesn’t brag about it.
Q: The Rafale deal has kicked up a controversy against the Modi Government. As a former Defence Minister what’s your take on this?
A: Why can’t they just constitute a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into it? What have they got to hide? They now have a majority in Parliament, yet they are reluctant to face a probe.
Q: Will the Congress be open to bargaining by regional parties in the post-poll scenario?
A: In West Bengal, we were not able to forge a pre-poll alliance, but in Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Bihar, J&K, we are part of a pre-poll alliance. About how exactly it will work out, we will look into later.
Q: CPM boss Sitaram Yechury had mentioned about how Congress was not ready to strike a pre-poll alliance with the Left in Bengal, though the CPM was open to the idea.
A: Initially, our state unit was not willing, but they finally agreed to it. But later, differences of opinion cropped up.
Q: Kerala is now the only state where the CPM-led Left indeed has a presence. Do you believe the Left, given the current national scenario, is losing its relevance in the country’s political landscape?
A: It’s definitely not because of the Congress. The Left should undertake a soul-search as to why they seem to be losing its presence in the current political scenario. There was a time the Left was considered an alternative to the Congress. When Panditji(Jawaharlal Nehru) was the PM, CPM stalwart A K Gopalan was the Leader of the Opposition. The Left recently staged a long march in Maharashtra, but they haven’t fielded a candidate from the state.
Q: How do you assess the present Kerala political scenario?
A: The situation is similar to 1977. And the Left may win a few seats, but the BJP won’t win any. Keralites are an intelligent lot. In the case of Sabarimala, why didn’t the Centre issue an ordinance to safeguard the traditions of the hill-shrine? The BJP kept mum when the case was on in the Supreme Court. Now, PM Modi claims they will safeguard all religions, once he is voted back to power. Why couldn’t he do it in the last five years? The Congress was the only party that filed a review petition in the apex court.
The CM on the other hand, was so hasty in implementing the SC verdict that he ended up hurting devotees’ sentiments. So in the electoral contest, the People’s Court should punish the BJP for both the Centre’s inaction and subsequent violence unleashed by RSS in the state, while LDF should be punished for the Chief Minister’s abetment to this violence.