''Both the CPM and the BJP have one agenda, and that is to keep the Congress out.'
'That's why they are coming together.'
Ramesh Chennithala, the Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala assembly, was on a tour of the entire state just before the election dates were announced.
Once that was over, it was a hectic three weeks for him meeting ticket aspirants, and holding discussions with various senior leaders before rushing to Delhi with the list to get the final nod from the Congress high command.
This interview with Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier happened after relentlessly chasing Chennithala for more than two weeks and countless phone calls, but once Congress leader and journalist got connected, he was as friendly and courteous as always.
The opinion polls say the LDF (Left Democratic Front) has an advantage and there is a high chance of getting voted back to power.
You covered the entire state of Kerala under Aishwarya Keralam Yatra. How did you find the mood of the people?
I am sorry to say most of these surveys are paid ones, and there is no credibility in any of them.
For example, when there was this Alapuzha by-election, the surveys predicted the result in favour of the Congress, but we were defeated.
Then in the Parliament election, the surveys gave us only 9 seats but we got 19!
That's why I am saying these surveys have no credibility.
The government of Kerala has pumped in a lot of money to the entire media in Kerala so that they gave favourable surveys. I would say the entire media in Kerala is completely biased.
But we have no problem about it as we know the entire population is with us even though the media is not with us.
After the Aishwarya Keralam Yatra, after meeting the people of Kerala in the length and breadth of the state, I am confident about our victory. The UDF (Congress-led United Democratic Front) also is confident.
The next reason is once the Congress released the list of candidates, the entire scenario got changed. 65% of our candidates are new and young faces.
There is a generational shift in our choice of candidates. This was the idea of Rahul Gandhi, and fulfilled by us. This has given a huge impetus to our campaign.
You mean the morale of Congress workers is not affected by the adverse media and the opinion polls?
Absolutely not. In fact, the list of candidates has infused more vigour in our workers. None of us including Congress workers do not believe in these manipulated surveys.
Above all, I have realised after the Aishwarya Keralam Yatra that people are also looking for a change, and they are all rooting for us. That is the mood of the people which the surveys did not capture.
A senior leader like P C Chacko quit the Congress party accusing the party of nurturing groupism.
He said the seats were divided between your group and Oommen Chandy's group. What is your response to this?
If you look at the list of candidates, nobody will say that groupism played a role in the choice of candidates.
Every single candidate was chosen based on merit and their capacity to rise to any situation. Nobody can question the credibility of any candidate. You can ask anyone.
It is a well-balanced list and the communal combination also is excellent. In fact, our list has been welcomed by everyone.
That's not what P C Chacko says...
Where did P C Chacko go after quitting the Congress? He went and joined the NCP. A person who has changed his party in no time, is accusing us. We don't give any importance to his accusations.
Is groupism not a reality in the Congress?
I agree there is groupism in the Congress in Kerala. It started not today, but it has been there for the last 40 years. It all started as the K Karunakaran and A K Antony groups. Today, we have Oommen Chandy's group and my group.
Won't groupism destroy the party, affect the spirit of the workers?
Though we have our two groups, it will never affect the prospects in the election as all Congressmen work in tandem, together, and unitedly for the success of the party.
There is absolutely no fight between the two groups. Both the groups have only one aim, and that is the victory of the UDF.
While you are campaigning during the elections, there is no Chandy group or my group; there is only the Congress.
Won't groupism indirectly help the BJP in its agenda of a Congress-mukt Kerala?
Not at all. There is no friction between Oommen Chandy and I. We are working together. Our groups are working together. There is absolutely no problem in the Congress.
All of us are in an upbeat mood as we believe we can come back.
In 2019, the UDF swept the Lok Sabha election, but in the recent local body elections, the result was the opposite. What changed between 2019 and December 2020?
Every election is different and what works in one election may not work in the other.
While the Parliament elections were fought on political lines, things like friendship, family background, local situations, etc prevail in the local body elections.
Like the Parliament elections, assembly elections are also fought on political lines.
Recently the LDF convenor made a statement that the UDF was controlled by the Muslim League. Is there any truth in it?
There is absolutely no truth in the statement. The association between the Indian Union of Muslim League and the UDF did not start yesterday. The Muslim League has been a part of the UDF for the last 45 years.
Till now, they had not made such an allegation. Why say such things now? It is because they want to polarise Kerala society as Hindu and Muslim.
When they saw that they would not get any support politically, they wanted to communalise Kerala society. That's the reason behind such an allegation.
But it will not work in Kerala, I assure you.
A few days ago, a BJP member, Dr R Balashankar, alleged that there was some understanding between the LDF and the BJP in three constituencies in Travancore. Do you think this is happening?
Yes, it is happening. The BJP wants a Congress-mukt Kerala. And the CPM wants to continue for another five years.
So, both the CPM and the BJP have one agenda, and that is to keep the Congress out. That's why they are coming together.
The LDF is putting up weak candidates wherever the BJP wants. That's what is happening in this state.
What is your strategy to fight this kind of an understanding, if it exists?
We will expose the truth before the people. Let them decide who is fighting the genuine battle.
On one side, they are talking about secularism, but in reality, they are working hand in glove with the BJP. Is it not hypocrisy?
Will the BJP projecting E Sreedharan as the chief ministerial candidate have any impact on the people of Kerala?
I don't think so. No doubt, he is a good man, a well-respected person, but politically he has no base. People know that very well.
There is talk about which way the Hindu votes go. Will it go to the BJP? Or if they feel that there is an understanding between the LDF and the BJP, will it go to the UDF?
Nobody will accept this kind of an alliance between the LDF and the BJP. So, not just the Hindus, but Muslims and all secular people will vote for the UDF.
Those who are against the (LDF) government will only support the UDF.
The BJP had only one seat in the assembly. This time, they will not be able to retain even that.
There are two groups and two leaders in the Congress in Kerala. There is Oommen Chandy, a former chief minister, and you, the Leader of the Opposition in the present assembly. If the UDF comes back to power, who will be chief minister?
The party high command will decide who the chief minister will be. We will accept whatever decision the high command takes.
Not the MLAs?
Their views also will be taken and conveyed to the high command.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com