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The Rediff Interview/K Karunakaran

April 10, 2003

After loyally serving the Congress party for nearly 60 years, veteran Congress leader and former Kerala chief minister Kunnoth Karunakaran has taken the party leadership head-on.

Karunakaran's decision to field rebel candidate -- his supporter Kodoth Govindan Nair -- against two official Congress candidates for the forthcoming Rajya Sabha elections invited immediate action from party president Sonia Gandhi.

On Gandhi's orders, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president K Muraleedharan -- who is Karunakaran's son -- expelled Nair from the party. The Congress high command also warned Karunakaran of disciplinary action against him if his nominee contests the election.

But a defiant Karunakaran says his nominee will contest and win the Rajya Sabha poll. He also accused his archrival and state Chief Minister A K Antony of trying to finish his political career.

In a conversation with Deputy Managing Editor George Iype Karunakaran spells out why he decided to antagonise the Congress leadership.

Why did you put up a candidate for the Rajya Sabha election defying the party high command's orders?

The two Congress candidates from Kerala for the Rajya Sabha election were announced without consulting me. I decided to nominate a candidate of my choice after the high command disregarded consensus politics, which is core to the Congress party.

Did you speak to Sonia Gandhi about the need to nominate a candidate of your choice?

No, I did not talk. Why should I? If the party leadership does not care for the service I have done for the party all these years, why should I talk to anyone? There was ample time for the Congress leadership to talk to me and settle things out. But now it is too late.

Do you think the party high command sided with Chief Minister Antony in the selection of Rajya Sabha candidates?

Naturally, yes. That has created all these problems.

But Antony says you have been opposing the Congress-led government in Kerala for no reasons.

For no reasons? I oppose anything and anybody when I see things are not on the right track. What has the Antony government done for Kerala for the last two years? Absolutely nothing. The policies of the government have been detrimental to the development of Kerala. The government has even misused the police force and clashed with poor tribals.

I would like to say if Antony hopes he can continue to rule Kerala by intimidating my followers and me it is a futile hope.

It is said your son, who is also the KPCC president, has now sided with the Antony faction. Is it true?

I do not know. As far as I know, he is a good politician and is doing his duty well as the KPCC president.

Are you surprised at Sonia Gandhi's decision to quickly expel your Rajya Sabha nominee from the Congress?

No, I am not at all surprised. It is quite natural that the party suspended Nair who is a rebel candidate. I put him up with the full knowledge that he would be thrown out of the party.

Now that the party high command has expelled your candidate, will you pull him out of the Rajya Sabha race and patch up with Sonia Gandhi and Antony?

There is no question of pulling my candidate out of the fray. We are going ahead to fight it out. We are sure we will win the Rajya Sabha election. I have got enough supporters in the party to ensure Nair's victory.

Are you ready for any compromise with the party leadership?

No, I am not ready for any compromise. It was natural justice that the faction I lead in the Congress in Kerala deserved a Rajya Sabha seat. My stand has evoked sympathy among Congress leaders and workers. A compromise is possible only if the Congress president takes the initiative by withdrawing one of the official candidates. Anyway, the MLAs who support me are strongly with me as they have experienced the insult and neglect shown to them all these days.

Antony has appealed to you and your followers that if the crisis in the Congress prolongs, the Marxists will exploit it.

Antony has appealed to all Congressmen not to fall in the Marxist party's trap. As a politician who has been fighting the Marxist party for decades, I cannot agree with Antony. It is Congress president Sonia Gandhi and leaders like Antony who have decided to cooperate with the Left parties in the next general election. It is they who are in the trap of the Left parties, not me. But now that Antony has publicly mentioned it, it is easy for my Rajya Sabha candidate to win.

You mean to say you will get the support of Left Front MLAs in the Rajya Sabha election?

Let us wait and see.

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