April 9, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/K Karunakaran

'I will continue to fight'
At the age of 83, no other politician in India is as energetic as senior Congress leader and former chief minister of Kerala Kunnoth Karunakaran. Ever since Sonia Gandhi took over as party president three years ago, Karunakaran has been feeling ignored and neglected in the Congress. But the sulking Congress leader is no longer ready to keep quiet.

Last week, Karunakaran took on Gandhi and his bete noire in the state, A K Antony, by raising a banner of revolt. He resigned from the Congress Working Committee in a huff when his daughter Padmaja Venugopal was denied a nomination to contest the forthcoming assembly election in Kerala.

As the rebellion by the veteran party leader has put the Congress in the state in doldrums, Karunakaran is clear about his set of conditions: Antony should not be made CM if the Congress-led United Democratic Front is victorious; his son K Muraleedharan should be made president of the state Congress and more tickets should be allocated to his supporters.

With the Congress high command refusing to heed to Karunakaran's demands, the factional feud in the party is taking disastrous turns, which many fear could lead to the UDF's debacle at the hustings.

In an interview with George Iype, Karunakaran speaks about how he has been slighted and humiliated by the party high command.

Why did you decide to resign from the Congress Working Committee?

I resigned because I have been humiliated. I have been a loyal soldier of the party all my life. My supporters are the most active Congress workers in Kerala. But when it came to the distribution of assembly tickets, my supporters have been discriminated. Many deserving candidates, including district Congress presidents were ignored and unknown and weak candidates have been fielded. As a sincere Congress worker, I cannot stand discrimination. I feel the Congress leadership has lost faith in me. So there is no point in continuing in the CWC.

Who is responsible for denying tickets to your supporters in the state?

My opponents in the state, led by A K Antony have stabbed me in my back. I will not show any mercy towards them. Antony is solely responsible for all the embarrassment that I have had to face in the last few days.

But it is said that you resigned because your daughter Padmaja was not nominated to contest the election. Is it not true?

It is a lie being spread by the Antony faction. Personally I did not press for the candidature of my daughter. It was not me who proposed her name. It was the people of Chalakkudy constituency who want her to contest the elections. But what is wrong in politicians' sons and daughters entering politics and contesting elections? Doesn't a doctor's son become a doctor? Doesn't an engineer's daughter become an engineer?

But do you agree that the crisis in the party has been created by the denial of a ticket to your daughter in the assembly polls?

Absolute rubbish. My daughter Padmaja's candidature is not a major issue. As per our understanding with the Antony group, we were supposed to get 44 out of the 88 seats that the Congress is going to contest in the election. But look at the final list now! We have got only 34 seats and the remaining have been stolen by others who do not deserve it.

What is your demand now?

Our demand is that the party high command should recast the Congress list and allocate more seats to my supporters who are sure winning candidates.

You declared that you do not want A K Antony to be the chief ministerial candidate.

Yes, that is true. UDF is an alliance of many partners. The Congress is just the biggest partner. How can the party decide that Antony will be the chief minister before the election? Let the polls be over and let the MLAs select their chief minister.

You also said that Antony is not chief ministerial material.

I have already said what my answer is at the press conference the other day. E K Nayanar is the worst chief minister Kerala has ever had. I would not like to see somebody worse than Nayanar occupy the chief minister's seat from the Congress.

Has Congress president Sonia Gandhi spoken to you?

No. She has not spoken to me. I have also not felt the need to talk to her. Last week, I was humiliated when my request for an appointment with the Congress president was turned down. If this is the plight of somebody who has put in 68 years with the Congress, how can the party improve?

Are you upset that Sonia Gandhi is supporting the Antony faction and ignoring you and your supporters in the state?

The Congress can remain united only if the party president looks at the senior leaders as equals. The problem comes when somebody is made more equal than the ones who deserve it.

Don't you feel you have been responsible for plunging the party into a crisis on the eve of election?

I am not responsible for the present crisis. The party high command and other senior leaders from the state knew that the crisis would come up if all factions in the state were not adequately accommodated during the distribution of tickets. So vested interested who want to finish me, deliberately created the crisis.

Don't you think the factional war between you and Antony will affect the UDF badly in the election?

If the party high command does not take immediate steps to resolve the crisis, it could affect us in the election. But let me make it very clear. I am not ready for any compromise till my demands are met. I am old. But I am full of energy and enthusiasm. I will continue to fight against discrimination. I will fight for justice. The fighting spirit is still with me.


Bee in Sonia's bonnet
Sonia deputes Ambika Soni to mollify Karunakaran
Karunakaran refuses to compromise

The Rediff Interviews

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