Pinarayi Vijayan interview: ‘The anti-Kerala stand of Congress, BJP, their communal overtures are our main challenge’

Here are some excerpts from an interview with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Kerala goes to polls in a single phase on April 6.

How do you see the CPM’s Kerala campaign?

Our fight is not simply to retain power. I don’t think we should reduce this election to that. This is a fight between those who are committed to carrying Kerala’s development and welfare forward, and those who will go to any extent to topple it. What people seek from us is the continuity of the policy that combines welfare measures and developmental activities. We are duty bound to cater to it.

What makes you confident about retaining power?

The people are happy with this government. They want this government to continue. They are sure that development and welfare can be ensured only with us at the helm.

I present three broad areas. One, development. We aimed at infrastructure projects worth Rs 50,000 crore in five years. We have already got projects worth Rs 63,200 crore. The second factor is welfare schemes. Monthly welfare pensions have been increased from Rs 600 to Rs 1,600. Besides, we ensured that nobody went hungry even during this pandemic. Third point is saving lives. As you know Kerala has been battered by disasters one after the other. Yet, in protecting our people and providing for them, we have cut no corners. There are several other specific programmes like LIFE (for housing), Aardram (for health) and so on.

In Kerala, successive governments can lay claim to such welfare schemes. What makes your government special?

The first welfare pension in Kerala was introduced by the LDF back in the 1980s, despite severe opposition by the UDF. Subsequently, when the UDF came to power, they did not increase the pension rate even by a single rupee. The previous UDF government left office with a backlog of 18 months in the disbursal of welfare pensions. Then, how can you say that successive governments in Kerala have proceeded with welfare measures? To us, education, health, food, housing, pension etc are matters of right. They are not handouts as viewed by our opponents.

What is the main challenge for the LDF in this election then?

The anti-Kerala stand of the Congress and BJP and the communal overtures by these two forces — this is now felt in the elections as an unholy political nexus between the Congress and BJP. We all know what happened in Nemom last time (the BJP won its first ever Assembly seat there). Now, there is much hype around Nemom but many other constituencies are being overlooked. In Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha and Palakkad districts, one can see the BJP and Congress helping each other.

The BJP keeps talking about ‘Congress-free Kerala’. How do the minorities, which comprise a substantial number in Kerala, see this?

I have not heard any BJP leader say so yet. On the other hand, I have heard Congress leaders saying so. Isn’t their game plan clear? Can we think that the politically aware and sensible people of Kerala will fall for that? And, if the Congress is serious about challenging the BJP, will their leaders continue to join the BJP, even in Kerala?

While you are fighting elections listing your achievements, many of your Cabinet colleagues who worked with you to realise the same are not in the fray.

Our achievements are not the achievements of any single minister, including myself. The achievements are the results of our collective efforts as the LDF. It is not individuals but issues that matter. It is not persons but politics that decide poll outcomes.

There is this criticism that Left politics is not part of the political discourse in this election.

How can anyone say that Left progressive politics isn’t being discussed in this election? Isn’t it Left politics that thinks of development and welfare as the right of the people? Isn’t it the same politics behind the thought that promises are made to be implemented?

For the first time, the CPM has implemented a measure to not field legislators who have completed two continuous terms. Why this condition?

You know how the CPM looks at parliamentary politics. It is only a means to carry out the people’s struggles. Building the party is equally, if not even more important, than shaping government policies. All of our leaders, from EMS (Namboodiripad) and AKG (Gopalan), have balanced both. The criterion of two continuous terms is an effort to ensure that able leaders contribute towards developing the party.

However, many popular candidates have ended up losing out.

As I have said, it is politics (not people) that matter. Our previous Chief Minister (Oommen Chandy) has represented his constituency (Puthuppally) for 51 years now. But, the present LDF government had to take the initiative for infrastructure development of his school (where Chandy studied). So it is not about the terms spent as a people’s representative, but the quality of time spent, that makes a difference. In fact, going into an election with the full knowledge that one will have only two terms to serve them, a legislator is likely to work dedicatedly on all fronts.

The Opposition accuses you of running an autocratic government.

On all major issues that have affected the state in the last five years, we have held all-party meetings and called special sessions of the Assembly. Even in the face of disasters, as the CM, I have taken opposition leaders along with me to take stock of the situation. If they think this is how an autocrat functions, I have nothing to say about it.

Has the Kerala Congress (M) got too much space in the LDF?

The LDF has given it their due recognition. As far as its impact is concerned, I would say that the local body elections results are there (the Jose K Mani faction of the Kerala Congress had helped the LDF wrest several civic bodies in central Kerala, which has traditionally been with the UDF). Let the Assembly election speak for itself; we shall wait and see.

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