How do you assess the past five years of the LDF government?
The LDF came to power (in 2016) on the back of concocted stories. They said corruption was rampant in Kerala and that they would jail us when they assume office. In the last five years, they have done nothing. In the first Cabinet meeting, they annulled all the decisions taken since January 1 that year. Over 700 (government) decisions were annulled. They had all been taken to benefit the people. And then, at once, barring 103 of the decisions, they gave the go ahead for the rest. So, people thought that those 103 decisions were taken in a corrupt manner and hence withheld. They waited for two more years. When the issue came to the Assembly, these 103 files were sent to government departments with a note saying ‘for appropriate action’. A vigilance inquiry was not ordered in any of the cases. There was nothing.
In the solar scam, they created a lot of noise. The high court intervened and removed the letter (written by the accused in the solar scam case) from the commission’s report. The letter was everything and it was removed. No steps could be taken. After taking a statement from her, they filed a case against me and K C Venugopal. Police officials had opposed registration of a case because they knew there was nothing. After filing an FIR, it has been over two years…under non-bailable sections. We could be arrested any day. I decided that I will not go to court and take anticipatory bail. Venugopal also agreed with me. I decided to take Kapil Sibal’s counsel and do what he says and Venugopal said he would consult with Abhishek Manu Singhvi. They agreed and said it’s the best option. “If you have the courage, do it, I will give you full support,” Sibal said. The case still remains like that. Now, it’s been handed over to the CBI, we won’t oppose it. We know there is nothing in it. The LDF made such a big allegation and yet they have not taken any action in the last five years.
On the development front, they have been a big zero. Take any government in Kerala and they would have some big achievements to highlight. During K Karunakaran’s time, there was Nedumbassery airport, international stadium etc. During A K Antony’s time, all the progress in Thiruvananthapuram took place. During the last UDF government, we had Vizhinjam port, Kannur airport, Kochi Metro, Smart city etc. There’s not a single highlight in of the LDF regime. They borrowed huge sums of money through KIIFB (Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board) and have drowned Kerala in debt. In independent India, all governments together have incurred debt of Rs 1.06 lakh crore, LDF alone has incurred Rs 98,000 crores. The Light Metro projects in Kozhikode and Trivandrum were finalised during the UDF regime, but LDF has done nothing on it. When we flew in the first aircraft at Kannur airport, E P Jayarajan (the outgoing industries minister) was protesting outside the airport, saying the runway was not long enough. Have they extended the runway by even one metre in the last five years? No.
In the most recent budget, they allocated Rs 5,000 crore for land acquisition as a formality. The Vizhinjam port stands delayed by three years. If it was the UDF, it would have been completed last year itself. In Kochi Metro’s case, what was planned during the UDF regime has been completed, but nothing more has been done in terms of expansion. In Kannur airport’s case, only the work on the terminal was pending which was inaugurated. The people know about all of these things. The two big achievements they talk about are distribution of food kits and social welfare pension. Both claims are untrue. While they gave away the food kits, they stopped distribution of free rice. The UDF government had given free rice to even APL card holders. LDF is now selling rice for Rs 2/kg. On social welfare pension, I have all the records.
The CM claimed at a meeting in Puthupally that when you government left, pension for 18 months were not distributed. The pension amount has also been increased to Rs 1,600 from Rs 600, and the LDF says it would be Rs 2,500 if the they return to power.
In 2014, one of the pensions was for Rs 500 per month under the Indira Gandhi Desiya Vardhyakyakala scheme. There were some others for about Rs 700, Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,200 per month. In 2016, we hiked them to Rs 1,500. The (LDF) is lying. In the last year of our term, we issued a government order to disburse Rs 246 crore to clear all backlogs. Thomas Isaac (outgoing finance minister) while responding to a question in the Assembly said that pension dues existed between November 2014 and January 2015. Just three months. That’s because of technical problems related to bank accounts and wrong details entered by beneficiaries. The rest of the dues were cleared. In those days, these pensions were paid through panchayats, but due to elections, they (panchayats) stopped paying and there were complaints that people weren’t getting their pensions.
The LDF has no conscience. If panchayats and municipalities don’t cooperate, what can we do? We gave the funds at the last minute just before elections, we can’t take it back. We cannot think of telling panchayats not to disburse funds saying it could cost us in the election. We cannot even imagine saying it.
The CM says that UDF leaders constantly criticise KIIFB, but are not averse to implementing development projects through KIIFB in their own constituencies.
Only one project was planned in my constituency (through KIIFB) which was later shelved due to technical reasons. The Cherthala-Mathura road has been a long-standing demand. So, I put down the Kodimatha-Puthupally stretch of the road for the KIIFB project. But I later got a letter saying the project was not technically feasible. There is a river here which has many tributaries. The soil along the river has a tendency to sink. But many roads and bridges here have been built in the past also. It just has to be done carefully. But they cancelled the project citing this reason. It was the sole KIIFB project sanctioned in my constituency.
Do you think the results of the recent panchayat elections, in which the LDF had an upper-hand, could be reflective of the trend in the upcoming assembly elections?
Not at all. The LDF has always had an upper-hand in local body elections in the state because the UDF ends up with a lot of rebels among candidates. When the candidates are good and there are no rebels, only then can the UDF win. But both these issues have been a problem for us. In the 2020 election, we have not suffered major losses compared to 2015 election. We have grabbed control in 23 more panchayats this time and in municipalities, the tally is almost equal. In corporations, we had only one out of six in 2015, and we still have only one. But the difference between the two fronts was in block and district panchayats.
In your own constituency, seen as a Congress stronghold, the LDF now controls six out of eight panchayats. How did that happen?
The rebels were a problem for us. We lost power in some of these panchayats by just one or two wards. It was not a landslide win for the LDF. In the district panchayat elections, there were no rebels so we won in all six divisions.
What factors will help the UDF in the upcoming polls?
Ours has been a good candidate list and some of the developments in each constituency have even surprised us. In Shoranur constituency, which we expected to lose this time, we have fielded the Youth Congress state president. A recent Manorama survey has said that we would win the seat by around 2% votes. We don’t know if it’s right or wrong, but the trend has surprised us. He’s a very popular candidate there. Our manifesto has great popular appeal. We asked the people directly what their demands were. A committee was formed and Congress MPwas deputed to talk to various sections of people and build the manifesto. Our major promise is NYAY, a pet project of Rahul Gandhi which we will turn into reality. It has been started in Chhattisgarh. We will create a special fund for it and we will implement it.
One of the much-talked about repercussions of the candidate list was the resignation of Mahila Congress chief Lathika Subhash, who is now contesting as an Independent. There are only 10 women in the list of 92 candidates. Isn’t that too less?
It’s more than what we generally have on an average. The case of Lathika Subhash was very unfortunate. She deserved the seat and the party was willing to give her the ticket as well. But she took the stand that she only wants Ettumanoor. The Congress was interested in fielding one of our own there and we tried. But the Joseph faction was adamant that their party traditionally fought that seat. If it was a Congress seat, we wouldn’t have given it away at any cost. But she spoke of an alternative seat only when I returned to Kerala from Delhi after the discussions over candidate selection. We had already fixed candidates in those seats.
There were reports that you might contest from Nemom to take on the. But that didn’t happen and you are staying on in Puthupally which you have represented since 1970. The BJP’s allegation is that the CPM and Congress have an arrangement where they field weak candidates against their strong leaders. So, a young DYFI leader who lost to you by 27,000 votes last time is fielded again and there’s a weak Congress candidate against CM Pinarayi Vijayan in Dharmadom.
The CPI(M) has carried out all kinds of experiments here in Puthupally. There have been strong candidates, including those who were former Congress leaders. When I won this seat in 1970, it was a Left stronghold. I defeated their sitting MLA. Then leader of the Congress KM Chandy had given me the ticket and he told me, “We are not giving you the seat thinking you will win. Even if you end up in second position, we will consider you as having won.” At that time, the Congress was split and the Indira faction of the Congress was on the other side. I had no hope that I would win, but I eventually fought and won. All the progress seen here has been achieved post 1970. The candidate this time, Jaik C Thomas, is a strong candidate and last time, when he was my rival too, my victory margin had come down by 6,000 votes. So, isn’t he strong? In Puthupally, I have always viewed its people above caste, religion and political lines. I don’t discriminate and the people have showed me the same love back.
At the national level, how crucial is winning Kerala for the Congress?
This election will be a turning point in Indian politics and pave the way for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. We are expecting a good response in all states. There will be a strong anti-BJP sentiment, helping the Congress as it works towards 2024. In Bengal, (we allied with the Left) because we are very firm on opposing the BJP. The BJP is the biggest enemy in the country and to fight the enemy there, we don’t have any other options. We have taken up the fight even though we are well-aware of the inconvenience (in allying with the Left).