INTERVIEW | Tharoor capable of even becoming PM, his colleagues will not let it happen: NSS chief

G Sukumaran Nair, general secretary of the NSS tells TNIE why Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor is his current favourite and why Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan is on his hit list.
G Sukumaran Nair, general secretary of the Nair Service Society (NSS)
G Sukumaran Nair, general secretary of the Nair Service Society (NSS)

The Nair Service Society (NSS) has played a major role in Kerala’s socio-political history ever since the Vimochana Samaram (Liberation Struggle). Though it swears by the ‘samadoora sidhantham’ (policy of equidistance), its political inclinations have never been a secret. G Sukumaran Nair, general secretary of the NSS, is one who never minces his words. He tells TNIE why Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor is his current favourite and why Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan is on his hit list. Edited excerpts:

Mannam Jayanti is a prestigious annual celebration of the NSS. As NSS vows to keep ‘equidistance’ from all political parties, political leaders are not usually invited to inaugurate jayanti celebrations. What was the reason for inviting Shashi Tharoor?
Tharoor is a tharavadi Nair. He is a global citizen. We hoped to get a glimpse of his vast knowledge and brilliance. Moreover, he is someone who blurs political boundaries.

But Tharoor is a Congress MP…
Yes, he is a Congress MP. But he is someone who points out the issues within the party. Also, he is someone who stands with the common man. So, there is no need to see him as a mere Congressman.

Some Congress leaders, who earlier had a good rapport with NSS, left the venue without attending the function. Tharoor himself said that ‘one Nair can’t stand another Nair’…
(Chuckles) Yes, I too noticed that. Some Congress leaders did not like Tharoor’s presence. It only shows the poor attitude of certain Congress leaders.

Is it correct to say that ‘one Nair can’t stand another Nair’?
(Laughs) I have heard it from the Acharyan (Mannathu Padmanabhan) himself. I think there is some truth to it… (Chuckles, again).

That tendency is more among Nairs in the Congress?
If you look at those contesting for CM’s post in Congress, you can see that… (Laughs out).

V D Satheesan had said that he would not go and fall at the feet of community leaders for votes. Is that why you did not invite him?
I dislike him not just because of that. Something which he said had hurt Nairs more. He once said, “One should not lie down when asked to sit.” It was a rude thing to say. Such language is unacceptable. That was very insulting to the community. We will never forgive him.

What must have prompted Satheesan to say so?
Satheesan said that after he won the Paravoor seat in the Assembly election.
But he has to win the next election too…
That is something for him to worry about. 

Is it true that he had come and met you before the election?
He had called on me twice. He spent nearly two hours with me just before the 2021 Assembly elections.

How do you assess Satheesan’s performance as opposition leader?
Is there an opposition in Kerala?

So you think Ramesh Chennithala was better?
Both are birds of the same feather. I don’t want to say more.

SNDP leader Vellappally Natesan had once told us that Nair-Ezhava unity is no longer possible. Do you share the same opinion?
Hindu unity is not possible as long as reservation exists. But he is the one who scuttled the unity efforts.

You both shared a good rapport once. What transpired between Vellappally and you?
He had agreed to give a statement that the issues of unreserved categories also need to be addressed. But he changed his stance.

NSS is a strong proponent of economic reservation…
Only the rich have benefited from the reservation. Many who travel in Audi cars still avail of reservation benefits. Can it be justified?

But isn’t caste pride still a reality? An economically backward upper-caste person still holds a better position in society than the rich in reserved categories…
No longer. That is a thing of the past.

So you say a Nair and an Ezhava have equal status in Kerala society?
All are equal in society. If you look at the caste of the wives of many top-notch politicians belonging to OBC, you can see that they all are Nairs.

So you think casteism is disappearing from Kerala?
Yes. Here caste pops up only when it comes to reservation.

Will you implement economic reservation in NSS institutions too?
NSS is not collecting taxes from Nairs. But the government is collecting taxes from all, including you and me. We give free education to all.

When NSS demands economic reservation, can’t it implement the same in its institutions?
NSS never demands money for appointments. Many offer money voluntarily. Everything is accounted for in NSS.

How is your equation with the present LDF government?
We do not find any good things about this government. The only request we made was to make Mannam Jayanti a holiday under the Negotiable Instruments Act. But the government did not heed our request, just because Mannam led the Vimochana Samaram (Liberation Struggle). This is at a time when both the birth and death anniversaries of Sree Narayana Guru are holidays. Please don’t think I am against it. Guru totally deserves it. But doesn’t Mannam too deserve similar respect?

RSS ideologue M S Golwalkar had once visited the NSS headquarters. But the current NSS leadership does not share a friendly relationship with the BJP, that proclaims itself as the only Hindu political party...
I don’t believe that the BJP is here to protect Hindus. If the BJP was genuine, the cases against Sabarimala protesters would have been history by now. A single phone call by the prime minister would have ended the whole issue. But the BJP is not doing it. That is because backward Hindus in Kerala think Nama Japa Yatra was wrong. Samadooram from all political parties is our policy.

Though you profess samadhoora sidhantham, a Congress bias is evident. What is the reason?
Congress, though of not much use to anyone, has a culture and manner. But don’t call me a Congressman because I say this. (Laughs).

Do you think BJP is closer to Congress in culture?
No. Both LDF and BJP are similar.

You had said people yearn for regime change on the day of the Assembly election. But people didn’t heed your words…
I said it when reporters asked me. I still believe that. LDF won the election only because of the inefficiency of the Congress.

Why did the UDF lose the 2021 elections?
They lost because Ramesh Chennithala was projected as CM. It would have won had it stuck by Oommen Chandy.

But you were the one who had placed Chennithala in thakkol sthanam (key position)...
Yes, I did. But what did he do after getting the key position? He ditched NSS the very next day and said that nobody should brand him as a Nair.

A joke doing the rounds about Congress politics is that four Nairs are fighting for the CM post…
I agree with that… (chuckles)

Will any one of those Nairs get the NSS support?
Let people decide that.

Not even Tharoor?
I invited him to correct one of my statements about him being a Delhi Nair.

But why did you call him so?
That was the impression I had at the time. Many Congress leaders were against him then.

Do you think Tharoor is now a tharavadi Nair?
Tharoor is capable of even becoming the prime minister of the country. But his colleagues will not let it happen.

There are certain people who think that Tharoor has now come down to the stature of a Nair from that of a global citizen…
Only those who think about caste all the time will say this. If I openly recommend a Nair for a key position, that will be the end of his career. That is why I am not doing so.

Why is it so? Is there any general antipathy towards NSS/Nairs in Kerala society?
Yes, almost everyone is jealous of Nairs. Because we are a strong community though we are fewer in number.

NSS played a crucial role in the Vimochana Samaram. These days many see it as a mistake...
No, I don’t think so. It was a correct move.

Did NSS have better access to government when the UDF was in power?
Yes. UDF always had an open mind. They used to listen to us. But LDF doesn’t.

But there are more Nairs in the LDF government and leadership than in Congress…
That is their strategy. But they are of no use to the community. If a Nair approaches them even for rightful things, they don’t offer any help. Then how can they be called Nairs?

NSS units were earlier manned by Congress leaders. But now most of the units have BJP leaders. Have you noticed this change?
BJP has always tried to capture NSS units. But they will not win. Congress would not have got even this many seats in the 2021 elections if Nairs hadn’t voted for it. While all other communities  — Christians, Muslims and Ezhavas — ditched the Congress, we stood by them.

Does NSS see any political party which it can identify with?
Every political party, including the BJP, is trying to attract the votes of backward castes and minorities. Nobody is bothered about the forward castes because we are fewer in number.

BJP is a party that rules the country. But it is still not able to make a foothold in Kerala. Do you see a future for the BJP in Kerala?
Politics can change in a day. A single word from someone can change the whole scenario. Did anyone foresee BJP becoming this powerful in India?

When we talk to BJP/RSS leaders, they say that the biggest impediment before the BJP in Kerala is not the minorities but NSS and SNDP. Is that true?
We are not against any political party. We always maintain a policy of equidistance. I know RSS inside out. I was an RSS man for 18 years. But I realised that NSS is a better place for Nairs than RSS.

When former NSS general secretary P K Narayana Panicker died, Pinarayi Vijayan, in his condolence message, praised NSS for playing a decisive role in checking the advance of RSS in Kerala…

Many organisations in Kerala have become hereditary in nature. But not NSS…
That is the speciality of NSS. From Mannam’s time, that is the policy of the NSS. We are proud of it.

There was a recent controversy when Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan did not get up for Guruvandanam…
That was because he knows all Ezhavas are CPM sympathisers… The same person celebrated Christmas at his place. That is because he wants to win over that community now.

Your equation with the CM does not seem to be a good one…
He had invited me to the Christmas party. But I declined the invite.

Among the CMs, who were your favourites?
E K Nayanar, C Achutha Menon and K Karunakaran.

Among them?
E K Nayanar. 

Not K Karunakaran?
He was only all smiles. But Nayanar was not like that. He was very frank and straightforward.

Why is NSS not active in Malabar?
Malabar is more political than the south. All community organisations are weaker there.

If you look at Kerala’s socio-religious scenario, one can see an unusual rapport between Nairs and the so-called ‘upper caste’ Christian communities. What are the reasons?
That proximity has been there for a long time. Christians have adapted well to Hindu culture and ethos. It is not easy to differentiate between a Nair woman and an upper-caste Christian woman.

BJP claims that Christians are getting closer to the party. Do you think the statement holds water?
Yes, it does. Not all Christian groups, though, but some.

Do you share their concerns about ‘love jihad’?
I don’t believe in it. People across religions are marrying each other. It is wrong to single out a community.

You are called ‘Pope of Perunna’…
I only coined it. (Laughs...) If Catholics call their head the pope, then being NSS general secretary, I am the pope of Nairs (chuckles).

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