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'Chintan Shivir has become a tamasha'

By SHOBHA WARRIER
May 13, 2022 17:05 IST
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'Rahul Gandhi wants a group under the name 'new generation'. But look at the people who surround him.'

IMAGE: Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi arrives to attend the party's Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir, in Udaipur on Friday, May 13, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo/ANI Pics Service

He is a member of the All India Congress Committee. He is also a member of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee. He is a former Union minister from Kerala.

But he is going to campaign for the Left Democratic Front candidate in the by-election in the Thrikakara assembly constituency in Kerala.

The senior Congress leader who is openly challenging the Congress leadership in Kerala and at the Centre is K V Thomas.

"When the prime minister is working 24 hours a day, the leader of the Congress party is going somewhere else. Then, how can the party function?" Thomas asks Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.

 

What is your reaction to the reports that you were being expelled from the KPCC...

First, I am not informed of the so-called expulsion from the KPCC. I heard it through the media only.

Second, as I am an AICC member, any action against me can be taken only by the AICC. And, the AICC has not given any press statement.

Only (Congress General Secretary) K C Venugopal and (KPCC President Kumbakudi) Sudhakaran, who are in Udaipur, sat over a cup of tea and decided that I am out!

See, this has become the character of the Congress now. See the stage it has deteriorated to.

Look at the Chintan Shivir that is happening now. Who are the people being called? What is the criterion?

Many senior leaders like P J Kurien are not invited. Kapil Sibal is not going.

This Chintan Shivir has become a tamasha, as usual.

You said you were still a Congressman but would campaign for the LDF candidate. Why did you take such a decision?

I am a Congressman in spirit, in culture, and in my behaviour. That's because I am born and brought up in a Congress family.

I took up the responsibility as the president of the 7th ward of the Congress committee at the lowest level in 1968.

From there, I became the general secretary of the INTUC (Indian National Trade Union Congress, the Congress's trade union wing) in Kochi, and organising secretary of INTUC under C M Stephen (the late Congress leader from Kerala).

Later I became a KPCC member and also an AICC member.

So, I have taken various responsibilities in the Congress.

But now, I am isolated not only by the leaders in Kerala, but even by a leader like Rahul Gandhi.

In 2019, I was denied a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha elections. They took the decision without informing me.

And I had been continuously winning elections for seven years as a parliamentarian.

Rahul Gandhi said I should pave way for the new generation. Okay, I agree. I am 76.

But people older than me were given tickets both in the Parliament and assembly elections.

They then said, they would use me in the organisation.

Did you feel insulted when a person who have been winning elections, was denied the ticket?

Of course. I have been winning continuously and they were losing continuously!

I came up from the ward level; I was not dropped down from the sky unlike some other people.

What happened was both the leaders in Kerala and Rahul Gandhi were trying to isolate me.

You are one of the senior leaders from Kerala. Why do you think the other Kerala leaders wanted to isolate you?

Because I don't belong to any group.

Till 2004, I was in the Karunakaran group. In 2004, in the Rajya Sabha election, Madam Gandhi (Sonia Gandhi) supported Thennala Balakrishnan, the then KPCC president.

But Karunakaran and his son K Muraleedharan didn't want him. Then, Madam Gandhi chose Vayalar Ravi who was supported by A K Antony.

I disobeyed Karunakaran who was my political guru and my mentor throughout my career because the Congress had taken such a decision.

What I wanted to say is, I was a disciplined Congressman.

But after that, I took a decision not to be part of any group.

From that day onwards, I was getting isolated because I was neither with the Karunakaran group nor with the Antony group.

Do you have to be a part of a group in Kerala if you want to survive in the Congress?

Yes. Not only in Kerala, throughout the country, it is the same story.

Even Rahul Gandhi wants a group under the name 'new generation'. But look at the people who surround him.

There are people like Antony who took the key of power at the age of 32, but he is 80 years old now.

Look at Oommen Chandy who is over 70.

Sudhakaran, the KPCC president, is just one year younger than me.

So, why this discrimination against me?

If the party decides to expel you, will you still say you are a Congressman?

Yes. Because the Congress is not just an organisation; it is a culture, it's an inner feeling, it is a character. That is the great tradition of the Congress.

Do you think your attending the CPI-M conference in Kannur is being used as an excuse to isolate you?

I attended the Kannur conference of the CPI-M which was on the Centre-state relationship.

I wrote to Madam Gandhi when I got the invitation to speak at the conference, but the local leaders were against the idea of me attending.

When K C Venugopal told me, Shashi (Tharoor) has agreed not to go, so you also need not attend, I told the central leadership that I would not go.

But from the next day onwards, the local group leaders started attacking me through phone calls and social media. They used very nasty words against me. I have till then not heard any Congressmen use such words.

That was when I got angry and I said I am going to attend the conference. After that, I started getting threats like if I attended the conference, they would cut off my legs, and I would be removed from the party, etc.

But nothing happened. They sent a petition to the Congress president asking her to remove me from the party. Antony went through all the documents and decided that I would continue as the AICC member and also KPCC member. My digital membership also was accepted.

So, I am still a Congressman.

Now, by campaigning for the LDF candidate, are you not trying to provoke the party leadership?

I am trying to follow the principles of the Congress party. Just look at the history of the Congress party. There were differences of opinion between Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose.

There were differences of opinion between Jawaharlal Nehru and some other leaders.

This is nothing new in the Congress. I am not the first Congressman who is opposing the leadership.

I oppose the Kerala leadership because I feel Kerala needs development and we should support such projects.

Why did the people of Kerala elect Pinarayi Vijayan again? Because he did a lot of development for the state, and also worked for the people during the covid times.

On the other hand, the Congress in Kerala is opposing every development project for the sake of opposing. Why don't both the LDF and UDF (the Congress-led United Democratic Front) sit together and find a solution for the important development schemes?

The party should not fool the people.

You mean, political parties should not play politics when it comes to development activities?

Exactly. That's my main motto, and that's why I am campaigning for the LDF candidate.

The Congress of today is slowly disappearing. Don't you feel the party is doing hara-kiri?

But I will not leave the Congress and I will also not split the party.

The fact is, today the leadership at the Centre is very weak.

When the prime minister is working 24 hours a day, the leader of the Congress party is going somewhere else. Then, how can the party function?

When the Congress does not want to carry everybody together, how will it grow?

Do you feel from the time Rahul Gandhi took over as the leader, the party has been sliding down?

See, I have seen the party functioning from the time of Indira Gandhi. During her time also, there were groups and people opposing the leadership. But she handled everyone, and she knew how to carry together all the groups.

In those days, we had leaders like G K Moopanar, K C Pant, K Karunakaran. Do we have leaders of that calibre today in Delhi?

All experienced people like Ghulam Nabi Azad were kicked out.

What do you see as the future for the Congress party?

The Congress has to lead all the political parties if you want to fight the BJP's communalism. Unfortunately, there is no leader in the Congress.

Do you feel it is time somebody outside the Gandhi family leads the party?

The party leaders have to sit together and find out a way. The family still has a lot of influence within the party. It is the binding force.

Unfortunately, the present leader, who is from the family, is not as efficient or as effective.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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