Express Dialogues | Communalism has no space in Kerala: Shashi Tharoor

In a rare instance of unity among the UDF and the LDF, Shashi Tharoor and Pannian Raveendran said the BJP-led NDA will not bag any seat from Kerala.
Pannian Raveendran and Shashi
Pannian Raveendran and Shashi TharoorPhoto | B P Deepu

TNIE: The state has been witnessing an LDF-UDF duel for long. How do you assess the prospects of BJP in Kerala in this election?

Shashi Tharoor: It is true that in Thiruvananthapuram we have a triangular fight. I don’t think BJP has any relevance anywhere else. The fight is between the LDF and the UDF. The BJP’s communal politics has no space in Kerala. They have grown up to 12%. That is the ceiling they have. Our state is pluralistic and our development is inclusive. There is communal harmony and so there is no space for communalism. Even if it is a triangular fight in Thiruvananthapuram, victory won’t be theirs. Narendra Modi’s claim of double-digit seats for BJP in Kerala is possible only when the two digits are zero.

Pannian Raveendran: The people’s representative is there not just to address the problems of Thiruvananthapuram, but to fight for justice. For that, it is important to be secular. It is in this capital city that Sree Narayana Guru, Chattampi Swamikal, Vakkom Moulavi, Ayya Vaikunda Swamikal, Poykayil Yohannan and Ayyankali had their presence. We shall not allow anyone to create division amongst us. The psyche of Thiruvananthapuram doesn’t allow that. A party aligned to communalism has no place here. The BJP will not get any seat in Kerala.

TNIE: Do you think the opposition has a level-playing field?

Tharoor: There is no level playing field. The fact is the government is engaged in a systematic exercise to tilt the playing field even more towards them. You see the freezing of the Congress party’s bank accounts. You are seeing the arrest of a chief minister who is the leader of a national political party. You are seeing the exit of another chief minister because of the threat of impending arrest. You have seen the entire electoral bonds scandal. A clear pattern emerges from the analysis of these figures. People are raided by CBI, Income Tax or ED, and within days, they buy electoral bonds. Clear case of extortion. Or people who bought bonds won major government contracts. A clear case of bribery. What we are seeing is organised loot, licensed bribery and weaponisation of investigation agencies.

TNIE: What’s the relevance of the Left in the Lok Sabha polls?

Pannian: A strong pressure from the LDF is required to ensure a people-friendly and progressive alliance at the Centre. UPA-I is an example of how the 63 MPs of LDF made a difference to the governance. Among the highlights of that government were the employment guarantee scheme, Right to Information, and Forest Rights Act. Now, a state government has had to approach the Supreme Court to get money from the Centre.

Dr Laila Suthan (Principal, Government Girls HSS, Pattom): Did the BJP come to power because a majority of the people think on communal lines?

Tharoor: Dr Ambedkar had said that democratic governments should listen to the opposition’s voice. The current dispensation thinks that they are Bharat and those who are against them are anti-nationals. This is undemocratic. In the past, parties only had ideological differences. Congress, Socialist, Communist, and Swathantra parties were ideological parties which did not bother about religion and caste. Things have changed now. One community is the major vote bank of three or four parties. The party’s slogan is Hindu, Hindutva, and Hindustan. It is unfortunate.

Farsana Parveen (BA Economics student, Government College for Women): You once said University College should be shifted and a High Court bench established in that building. If you and the Congress are voted to power, will you shift colleges and establish hotels or DJ hubs there?

Tharoor: I will not do that. You should understand the context of my comment. The Oommen Chandy cabinet had decided to shift the University College to another building and establish an HC bench there. Anyway, an MP cannot take a decision on the matter. It is the state government’s prerogative.

S S Manoj (Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi): What’s the guarantee that we can start an HC bench here? What’s your vision for Thiruvananthapuram?

Pannian: I don’t think the HC bench issue is a closed chapter. HC bench is our right and we shall fight for it. There is no merit in the claim that the relevance of the High Court would be lost if we set up a bench here. The government cases should come here. There is a lot of developmental potential for Thiruvananthapuram. There should be a master plan, which should be executed with the support of Union and state governments.

Sasidharan Nair (Confederation of Residents’ Associations): The country is facing burning issues of unemployment, poverty and price rise. Will your party give priority to these issues rather than going behind Ram Temple or Katchatheevu?

Tharoor: These three issues are important to the Congress party. The Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra led by Rahul Gandhi focused on these issues. Our soon-to-be published manifesto will have some suggestions to address unemployment and price rise. We are also mooting an apprenticeship programme in which the government gives skill development training for youngsters. If we are voted to power, we will deliver Yuva Nyay, Mahila Nyay, Karshak Nyay and Thozhilali Nyay. For us, a government’s first responsibility is the wellbeing of the citizens of India, not temple construction or creating unnecessary controversies.

The audience that turned up at the Poll Exchange debate organised by TNIE at Hotel Dimora in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday.
The audience that turned up at the Poll Exchange debate organised by TNIE at Hotel Dimora in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday.Photo| Vincent Pulickal

Dr Kayamkulam Yunus (Writer): What is your vision for Thiruvananthapuram, to raise the capital city to international standards?

Tharoor: The Congress should come to power in the state and municipal corporation for the good of the capital city. The Barcelona Twin City project proposal is an example for how narrowmindedness of politicians sabotaged a development project. It was due to my insistence that the Union government included Thiruvananthapuram as the 100th city for the Smart City project. I will continue my efforts to get central projects and funds for the capital.

Maglin Peter (Chairperson, Theera Samrakshana Vedi): How can you compensate for the loss of land, houses and livelihood of fishermen because of the Vizhinjam port project. Several fishermen lost their lives at the mouth of the Vizhinjam harbour due to the port work and subsequent high tides. Fishermen who were relocated for the project are given residential apartments of 450 sq ft. Do you think that is sufficient? What’s your view on the coastal highway that would violate CRZ guidelines?

Tharoor: I took up the cause of Vizhinjam port because of the demand from various quarters. I was vocal about fishermen right from the beginning. Preserving the harbour and building a fish landing station were part of the project’s original plan. The Oommen Chandy government had announced a rehabilitation package worth `436 crore. It was included in the 2016 budget. But the subsequent LDF government did not act on it. My intervention helped 1,300 families get housing through Rajiv Awas Yojana. The coastal highway project, so far, is a fantasy on paper. The state government does not have money to pay pensions to widows. How will it fund this project? We will stand by the fishermen if the project is against their interests. My slogan is ‘Development is for People’.

K G Thara (Former head, Disaster Management Centre): Fishermen of Vizhinjam lost their livelihood. How can the training centre opened by Adani help solve the issue? What’s your concept on ensuring alternative livelihood for them? What were your contributions or mega projects that you facilitated in education or employment generation during the past 15 years?

Tharoor: I’m ready to negotiate with Adani for their intervention in the issue. Also, the state government should rehouse fishermen who want to continue their vocation. Those who have stopped fishing for the time being can resume their job once the work on the fishing harbour is complete. Also, we can set up fishing harbours at other locations like Pozhiyoor.

My intervention helped increase the employment at Technopark from 17,000 to 70,000 in 15 years. I contacted Oracle first and persuaded its CEO to open an office in Technopark. I also facilitated Nissan’s IT hub and Tech Mahindra unit. The Ernst and Young had earlier decided to close down their small unit in Technopark. CM Oommen Chandy and I persuaded them to continue and expand. I facilitated the Torres Downtown project and the third phase of Technopark. My intervention as a cabinet minister helped in establishing a centre of the Central University in the capital city.

Sridhar Radhakrishnan (Environmentalist): What efforts are being made to regain Thiruvananthapuram which has traditionally been CPI’s seat?

Pannian: This election is challenging for LDF. Comrade Pinarayi attended four meetings here. In fact, he started his political campaign from here. Both the CPI and the CPM work in unison. This LS polls is part of the fight against the ruling class of the country. Some say the challenge is greater because one is a three-time MP and the other is a union minister. But there is no superiority in politics if you remember how K Kamaraj was humbled by a young man in a poll. There is no triangular fight. It is a competition between us (LDF) and UDF.

Chandramohanan Nair (Vizhinjam Ring Road Action Council): There has been a delay in awarding compensation to families who gave their land to the Vizhinjam-Navayikulam Outer Ring Road...

Pannian: I’m unaware of the situation. But I will stand for your cause.

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