May 17, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Former Kerala Congress chief Vayalar Ravi

'The people's mandate has frightened us'

A K Antony's election as leader of the Congress legislature party was smooth, but the reciprocal appointment of rival group leader K Karunakaran's son K Muralidharan as president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee came through after some rough weather.

Although the anti-Karunakaran groups were resisting his appointment -- on the grounds that he was too 'partisan and immature' to lead a complex party unit divided into five groups -- they were unable to prevent it. It is said that Muralidharan's appointment was part of the understanding the Congress high command had with Karunakaran for supporting Antony's candidature as chief minister.

Former KPCC president Vayalar Ravi, under whom Muralidharan worked as general secretary during 1991-95, too feels he is a bad choice.

Ravi, who played a key role in turning the crucial pro-Communist Ezhava votes towards the United Democratic Front, discussed the post-poll situation in an interview with D Jose.

How do you view the move to elevate Muralidharan as KPCC president?

I have no objection if it is part of the deal accepted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. We are bound to abide by the decisions of the party high command. Since the Karunakaran group has accepted her choice of chief minister, others are expected to back Muralidharan.

Do you think he is fit to be party president at this juncture?

We have our apprehensions about his impartiality. A PCC president should be above partisan considerations. Muralidharan has used his position in the past to promote the group headed by his father. If he fails to shed his partisan approach it will spell doom for the Congress in Kerala.

The party is badly in need of young, dynamic people. Unfortunately, the youth have been keeping away from the Congress as they do not see any future in the party unless they are affiliated to any of the existing groups. This situation should change. The party should open its doors to young people with vision and dynamism to reinforce its position in the 21st century.

Muralidharan had once called for the public bashing of A K Antony. Do you think there will be proper coordination between the government and party if he becomes president?

The Congress has been voted to power with a historic mandate. The mandate is for bettering the lives of the people. If the party president tries to create problems for the government while it is striving to fulfil the aspirations of the people, he will be out.

We cannot afford to play petty politics. The huge majority the people have given us has frightened us.

What, according to you, are the factors that helped the UDF get a landslide victory?

The major factor I see is an Ezhava consolidation in favour of the UDF. This is evident in the victory of several UDF candidates from Thrissur to Kollam. The pro-LDF Ezhavas shifted their loyalty to the UDF as a result of the attacks on their educational and religious institutions in the past five years. The Nairs have also supported the UDF.

The LDF has alleged a massive transfer of votes by the BJP to the UDF. How far has the BJP helped you?

Every party has its share of unattached votes. The unattached votes of the BJP might have come to the UDF. We also have got the unattached votes of the LDF. Otherwise how has the LDF vote share has come down from 45.88 per cent in 1996 to 43.7 per cent. They might have got a substantial chunk of the BJP's unattached votes in 1987.

But the LDF has been accusing you of an open alliance with the BJP.

This is a charge they make against us in every election. They used it this time also to woo the minority vote. But the people have rejected the allegation with contempt.

How important are communal factors in Kerala elections?

The politics in Kerala has strong roots in castes and communities. Every party plays the communal card for electoral gains. In fact it was the CPI-M, which started it off by aligning with the Muslim League. Rival fronts are competing with each other to woo communal organisations. In this election, we fared better than the LDF.

How do you justify the tendency shown by communal organisations to claim a say in politics?

We cannot blame them. It is the result of the neglect of the genuine interests of the communities by successive governments. Almost all the major communities in Kerala have their interests in the education and health sectors. What they want is protection for their institutions. If the government fails to protect them, they will certainly vie for a place in politics.

The government should encourage the communities to play a bigger role in health and education. After all they have played a big role in the achievements made by Kerala in these two sectors. No government can ignore this factor.

What do you think the priorities of the new government should be?

The first priority should be to prepare the ground for private investments. There should be a sincere attempt to remove the apprehensions of people regarding labour militancy.

There is no point spreading statistics about reduction in strikes, loss of man-days due to lockouts, etc. The government should tame labour. The task should begin with the taxi operators at the airport.

If the government is able to generate confidence among investors that they can set up units in the state without any impediments, massive investments will flow into the state from non-resident Indians and others. This will revitalise the economy and solve the massive unemployment problem.

You have been a strong critic of globalisation and privatisation. Do you think Kerala can survive by opposing them?

Ours is not a blind opposition to globalisation and privatisation. We will definitely take the positive aspects of globalisation and privatisation. But you cannot be blind to the reality that public-sector units and small-scale industries cannot survive in the competitive atmosphere created by globalisation. We cannot just allow them to die.

The government should take steps to protect them. Most of the problems faced by PSUs can be solved if the government stops the political interference in their functioning.

Privatisation is not the answer for the poor performance of PSUs. Many PSUs privatised by the central government have failed to become efficient. They have only added costs and passed the burden to the people.

What would be your role in the UDF?

I will act as a corrective force. I will keenly watch the performance of the government and intervene whenever they deviate from the promise we have given to the people.

Design: Dominic Xavier

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