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September 23, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ K Karunakaran

'A Congress government will certainly be led and headed only by her'

One month of non-stop campaigning for himself, his son and other Congress candidates in Kerala over, senior Congress leader and former state chief minister Kunnoth Karunakaran has now got down to preparing and planning for the exciting days ahead. For now, however, he has taken a break, by going in for a variety of Ayurvedic treatment for all those ailments that accompanies old age (he is 81).

After three rounds of polling across the country, Karunakaran is certain and confident of four things: he will win hands down in Mukundapuram against Communist Party of India-Marxist candidate E M Sreedharan; his son K Muraleedharan will surely defeat Janata Dal candidate and former civil aviation minister C M Ibrahim in Kozhikode; the CPI-M-led government in Kerala will be jolted and will probably lose power by an overwhelming United Democratic Front victory in the general election in the state; and a Congress-led government headed by Sonia Gandhi will come to power at the Centre.

Ever since elections were announced, Karunakaran's critics and Opposition leaders have been accusing the former chief minister of forging a secret understanding with the Bharatiya Janata Party in select constituencies in Kerala, a charge he vehemently denies. "The biggest casualty of Communism in India has been truth. So I always consider them as liars, opportunists and scandal mongers," he told George Iype in an interview.

Are you hopeful that you will win from Mukundapuram, considering the fact that your opponent E M Sreedharan is E M S Namboodiripad's son?

I will certainly win from Mukundapuram. I regret to say that Sreedharan has not been a serious contender against me. He lacks the political qualities and acumen that his father EMS was richly endowed with. Sreedharan's contribution to Kerala has been zero. It is sad that the CPI-M is denting the EMS legacy by dragging his son into electoral politics.

But your son is today a politician because of you. He has also contested from Kozhikode.

That is right. I am not saying that politicians's sons should not enter active politics. They have the democratic right to participate in politics irrespective of whether they are the sons of EMS, Karunakaran or Deve Gowda. If lawyers's sons can become lawyers and doctors's sons can become doctors, why can't a politician's son become a member of Parliament and a minister?

But don't compare my son Muraleedharan with Sreedharan. My son has been an active politician for many years now and he has been a member of the Lok Sabha for six years. He has been doing a number of development activities in Kozhikode for many years. He is now a respected Congress leader from Kerala not because of Karunakaran but because he has the ability and intelligence to become successful in politics. Sreedharan's only active contribution to politics all these years is that he lost the assembly elections last time.

Don't you think it will be difficult for your son to win from Kozhikode because Janata Dal candidate C M Ibrahim is a serious contender?

Not many people have voted for Ibrahim because everyone in Kozhikode feels he is an outsider. He lacks a mass base in the constituency and his party is becoming non-existent in the state. The CPI-M decided to field Ibrahim from Kozhikode because he is a Muslim. But I tell you, Muslims are wiser in Kerala. They will not vote for CPI-M candidates in the state considering the kind of violence that the party cadres have been unleashing across Kerala. Muraleedharan will win hands down in Kozhikode.

Do you expect the Congress to improve its tally nationwide? How many seats do you expect the Congress to win this time?

There has been a strong Congress revival across the country and the party's vote share and number of seats will dramatically go up this time. In Uttar Pradesh, we will surely win at least two dozen seats. In Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party has been a non-starter and therefore it has not affected the Congress votes very seriously. The Congress will similarly make gains in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. I do not want to mention the hypothetical number of seats the Congress would win. Let us wait for the reality on October 6 and 7.

You mean, the Congress will come to power after the election?

I can assure you that despite the publicity gimmicks and election stunts from the BJP, that party will not increase its vote share in the 1999 election, for two reasons. Firstly, people across the country are now fully convinced that the Kargil adventure was deliberately created by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to attract votes. Hundreds of soldiers have died in the name of votes. But the BJP will have to repent because it will only lose votes on account of Kargil.

Secondly, the BJP's alliance partners have been fighting among themselves, and many of these regional parties will not do well in the elections. In fact, the vote share of many regional parties will drastically come down. All this will only benefit the Congress.

Will the Congress be able to form a government on its own?

The Congress may not be in a position to form a government on its own. But certainly, if there are secular allies who are willing to support us, there is nothing wrong for the Congress to lead a government with outside support from others.

Who will head such a coalition government? Sonia Gandhi?

If the Congress is today showing great signs of revival across the country, it is certainly because of Sonia Gandhi. Therefore, a Congress government will certainly be led and headed only by her.

The Congress is not averse to the idea of getting support from the Left parties? Will it not affect the Congress image and standing in states like Kerala and West Bengal?

The Congress is not averse to the idea of the Left parties because they have already pledged their outside support and co-operation to Sonia Gandhi months ago. We are clear about one thing: that we do not want to mix national politics with state politics. There is no harm in the Left supporting a Congress government at the Centre even though the picture in states like Kerala and West Bengal is entirely different. They are two issues which we will tackle in two different ways.

In Kerala, for instance, CPI-M leaders have been perpetuating "dagger politics" ever since the first Communist government headed by Namboodiripad assumed office in 1957. The Congress is still continuing the liberation struggle to save the state from the murder of democracy the Communists are practising in Kerala.

CPI-M general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet has been talking of forming a Third Front-led government after the election.

The CPI-M is behaving foolishly even by talking of a Third Front which no longer exists these days. There is no relevance for a Third Front now in national politics. Politics in India is inexorably turning out to be a fight between two fronts -- one led by the Congress and the other by the BJP. So it is time regional parties and Marxist leaders got rid of their mistaken belief that they can rule the country the way they did in 1996.

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