'If Pinarayi Vijayan gets another term, Kerala will be a state where everybody has a house.'
"Kerala has faced five calamities in the past five years -- COVID-19, the Nipah virus outbreak, the Okhi cyclone, the worst-ever floods that the state ever experienced, torrential rains and landslides. When you are afflicted with natural calamities every year, it is not easy to carry on development projects."
"It is a miracle that Pinarayi Vijayan's government was able to tackle natural calamities while parallelly implement the remarkable development activities. This is public knowledge and hence people have confidence in the LDF."
M A Baby, Kerala's former education minister and a member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist politbureau, tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih that the ruling Left Democratic Front's performance will be the reason for their return to power.
The first of a two-part interview:
It is being said that the LDF government will make history and win a consecutive second term, the first time in Kerala since 1977. As a member of the CPI-M politburo ,do you think this is possible and why?
The people of Kerala can assess how the LDF government has addressed the problems of the people. We have faced up to the COVID-19 pandemic effectively.
There are many BJP-led state governments and a few Congress-led state governments in India, but only the LDF government in Kerala has provided treatment for COVID-19 completely free, including providing food.
During the lockdown, the Kerala government provided material assistance to people. 88 lakh families are getting free rations and essential commodities ever since the lockdown was announced.
Kerala is famous for its social welfare schemes. When the previous UDF (Congress-led United Democratic Front) government stepped down after the election, there arrears up to 10 and 18 months in some welfare schemes.
The LDF government could have said that we will not take responsibility for this delay, but that was not our attitude. We cleared all the arrears and ensured that people got their pensions and received welfare schemes assistance in time.
Five years ago this was in the range of Rs 650, now it is enhanced to Rs 1,600 and people get it regularly.
Secondly, during the UDF government only 34 lakh (3.4 million) people benefited out of this, now the number of beneficiaries has gone up to 5,9,95,000.
In the education sector, 45,000 smart classrooms were created over the last 5 years. Over 6 lakh students joined government schools or government aided schools from unaided schools.
Hospital facilities were enhanced. Education and health are the basic requirements of people, and there has been stellar performance by Pinarayi Vijayan and the LDF government in these two sectors.
Every state government is struggling to mobilise resources to develop infrastructure, but the LDF government has done projects not only from within the budget resources but also from outside the state revenue.
We wanted to mobilise Rs 50,000 crore (Rs 500 billion) for roads, bridges, infrastructure development. People said this is a dead dream and will not be implemented, but instead of Rs 50,000 crore there is infrastructure development worth Rs 60,000 crore (Rs 600 billion) happening in Kerala through the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board.
In her latest Budget (Union Finance Minister) Nirmala Sitharaman copied it and is claiming to do something similar in Delhi.
There is remarkable progress in the work done by the LDF government in various fields, including social welfare schemes.
In North India, Dalits are being shunted if they go anywhere near a temple, but in Kerala Dalits are given training to become pujaris.
In short, people are satisfied with the LDF's performance and want to give them another five years.
Do you think the CPI-M and LDF will be able to win more than the 58 and 91 seats they did in 2016?
We don't want to make any tall claims. A few months ago we had local body elections. The district panchayat has half the number of assembly voters.
Of the 14 district panchayats, the LDF won 11, the UDF won 2 and there was a tie for the 14th panchayat.
Based on that we have nearly 100 assembly constituency lead, but I am very frank to admit that this is not going to be translated in the assembly election because state elections are a different ball game, there are other factors. Yet, we are very sure that we will improve our performance. We will go beyond 91 (Kerala has a 140 member assembly).
What makes Pinarayi Vijayan a successful CM?
His eyes reach every person in the state.
He understands the problems faced by the people of his state. For example, housing is a major problem. 280,000 lakh houses have been constructed during Pinarayi Vijayan's period.
Kerala will be the first and only state in India where the housing problem has been solved. We have achieved more than 50% and if he gets another term there is no doubt that Kerala will be declared a state where everybody has a house.
Apart from this, all the electricity connection applications received has been addressed to and total electrification has been achieved in Kerala.
We already have 100 per cent literacy.
In the area of sanitation, Kerala is open-defecation free.
Monthly review meetings are held on all schemes started by the state government attended by the chief minister and other state ministers. He follows it up very meticulously.
In the past 5 years we were faced by five calamities -- COVID-19, the Nipah virus outbreak (2018), the Okhi cyclone (2017), the worst-ever floods that the state ever experienced (2018), torrential rains and landslides.
When you are afflicted with natural calamities every year, it is not easy to carry on development projects side by side.
It is a miracle that Mr Vijayan was able to tackle natural calamities and gave confidence to people while parallelly he was able to implement remarkable development activities. This is public knowledge and hence people have confidence in the LDF.
How will the gold smuggling case affect the LDF's chances? Has it tarnished the CM's reputation?
There is an effort to misuse the gold smuggling case to tarnish the reputation of the CM.
As soon as the gold smuggling case came out, Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to the prime minister that all suitable measures should be taken to bring the real culprits to book.
It is almost a year and the central investigation agencies have totally failed to identify the people who sent the gold through the diplomatic bag, the beneficiaries and those involved.
The BJP minister of state for external affairs from Kerala, V Muralidharan, said that gold was not sent through the diplomatic bag, whereas the finance minister replied in Parliament that it was sent through the diplomatic bag.
Central agencies are misusing this particular incident to tarnish the LDF government and CM's image without any ground. This is a wild allegation and calculated propaganda against the government.
It is not going to affect the government's image or the LDF's chances in the election.
What makes the Left in Kerala different from the Left elsewhere in India?
We have been at the forefront in dealing with the problems of people. We are pro-people.
We have a tradition of being in the forefront of the Independence struggle. We have a great social reform movement in Kerala, the working class and peasant's movement, rationalist, progressive movements, along with literary and scientific movements.
This has built people's confidence in us.
How will the CPI-M in Kerala avoid the errors of their counterparts in West Bengal?
The continuous rule of the Left Front in Bengal led to an element of lethargy among the people. People have new aspirations and demands which the Left Front government in Bengal was unable to address.
All sections in West Bengal were united against the Left -- from the extreme left to the extreme right forces, they rallied together.
The Left carried out land reforms, but some cases of land takeover for industrialisation were not properly carried out and did not have concurrence of the people.
Reactionary political forces exacerbated the situation and unleashed propaganda which adversely affected them.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com