Kerala CM discusses controversies, elections and liquor policy with Liz Mathew
How will you counter the scandals and corruption charges that have hit the image of the government?
See, no one can fool the people of Kerala. Three bypolls and a parliamentary election were held while the Opposition was raising those charges… If those allegations were true, we would not have won a single seat. We won 12 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. People have understood that the allegations have no basis… We had given them a face-saving opportunity, that there could be a judicial inquiry, but they did not even become a party to it… The Opposition did not let the issue be discussed in the assembly, because they did not want to face the reply I would give. They would give adjournment notices but disrupt the House and walk out without letting it be debated.
But doesn’t the Congress use the same tactic in the Lok Sabha?
The Congress protested when the government was not ready for a debate. Here we were ready for a debate, but the Opposition did not want it.
Have the allegations, including of sexual harassment, affected the way you work?
Not at all. I am a public servant who works with the people. It has been my strength and weakness. Anyone could come to me with a complaint, anyone could take a selfie or a photo with me. There could be some mischievous people too. If I started worrying about possible mischievous elements among the public, I would not be able to function. I would take any decision that I thought right. I am aware some decisions could go wrong but if I realised it was a mistake, I would immediately correct it… But if I started worrying about mistakes, I would not be an effective and efficient administrator.
Was there any moment when you felt you should quit?
In fact, I felt the opposite. Had there been an element of truth in those allegations, I believed I should not continue in the post for even a minute. If someone accused me of behaving differently from my style, I would feel guilty. If someone told me I used harsh words against a person, I would be worried. I am a person who feels tormented if I am convinced I committed a mistake. But if someone raised baseless allegations to drive me out of my position or humiliate me, I would take it as a challenge. If the Opposition had demanded my resignation simply on moral grounds, I would have considered it. In this case, if I had stepped down it would have been an injustice to the truth.
Did your party back you during the crisis?
Not just the party, the UDF and my cabinet colleagues backed me strongly. It has been my biggest strength. In the last five years, none of the discussions in the UDF or in the cabinet came out. Not that we did not have differences; we sorted out all those differences in a democratic way and did not let it become public. My coalition partners and fellow ministers were extraordinarily supportive. That’s the reason this government, with a majority of just two MLAs, could complete five years without any crisis.
If you come back to power, will you retain the same team?
My position is for the tenure of this government. I have no idea about the next term. First it is up to the people to elect us, then the elected MLAs and the Congress high command will take a decision on the leadership.
You have been in politics since the 1950s. How do you see the changes in Kerala politics and the BJP’s emergence?
Standards in politics have touched a nadir. It has come down to a level that one would do anything to win power. There is huge difference between 1970, when I became an MLA for the first time, and now. Manifestos had lot of importance but these days nobody looks at them. All MLAs could carry manifestos and the debates in the assembly were on the basis of that. The importance that used to be given to a party’s policies and programmes is no longer there. Grabbing power is the only motive.
The LDF slogan is “Everything will be set right if the LDF comes to power”.
If you look at the five-year LDF rule earlier, you will get a picture of how they would rule the state. They were on a demolition mission. They destroyed farmland, they demolished everything in Moonnar saying it was government land. If it was government land, we could have taken it over, you did not need to demolish the buildings. Now the government has been asked to give compensation and has appealed in the Supreme Court. When they say everything will be all right, I would like to know what are the things they would set right. We the UDF have a hundred reasons to adopt this slogan: “Let this state grow with another term for UDF”.
Do you agree with the view that a failure of the UDF and the LDF has led to the emergence of the BJP?
Kerala has never stood by and will never stand by the BJP. Kerala’s mindset cannot accept the ideas of the BJP. Kerala has a system in line with the ideas of Sree Narayana Guru who advocated that people rise above caste and religious differences. In such a scenario, the BJP cannot grow.
But will the BJP’s presence be a boon for the Congress?
The Congress fights polls on its own strengths, never relies on the follies of others.
Two major issues appear to be imminent, a fall in rubber prices and the possible return of people from Gulf owing to the fall in the prices of oil. How are you going to tackle these?
The fall in rubber prices is a major setback. But the government intervened with a model scheme to ensure the small farmers got at least Rs 150 per kilo. We allocated Rs 300 crore and spent the entire amount; this year it has been raised to Rs 500 crore. It is a matter of pride for this government because we did not run away blaming the Centre. The return of NRIs will be a serious issue. The crisis in the Middle East will reflect in all sectors. We will have to look into it.
How do you expect your government’s controversial prohibition policy to play out?
Kerala’s is the most practical prohibition policy. Even the Bihar government is sending a team to study it. Because we did not go for an absolute ban all of a sudden but in a phased manner for 10 years. Obviously, many people are upset, I face lot of flak in public meetings. But those who cannot avoid it can get it from somewhere. My own people, when they do not get it in their area, take an auto and get it from nearby places, and raise slogans against me on their way back. We have time to create awareness. We are trying to put pressure on them to reduce their intake.