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''BJP can't put India under their thumb'

May 15, 2021 12:15 IST
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'The BJP will not be able to create dictatorship of the kind it is perhaps dreaming of.'
'We have Bengal as the biggest example.'

"Strong-arm tactics won't work. India is too diverse and big a nation for that."

Paul Zacharia, the well known writer and political columnist, discusses the election results and its consequences for India in an interview with's Shobha Warrier.

Zacharia had told Shobha a fortnight before the April 6 election that the Left Democratic Front in Kerala under Pinarayi Vijayan had more than 50% chances of coming back to power.


'Bengal verdict was the most exciting event after 1947!'

IMAGE: Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with her grandniece Azania, nephew Abishek Banerjee's daughter, after the TMC's triumph in Kolkata, May 2, 2021. Photograph: Photograph: Swapan Mahapatra/PTI Photo

Were the assembly election results on expected lines? Did any result surprise you?

The Kerala results were very much on expected lines. There was no surprise so, there was nothing exciting about the result.

Not even Bengal?

Bengal, of course, was the most exciting election in the last 50 years in Indian politics. I may be exaggerating a little, but I would go on to say that the Bengal verdict was the most exciting event after Indian Independence 1947!

No exit poll predicted a TMC sweep of this sort...

That is because all exit polls were doctored to please the ruling dispensation. When Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are sitting in Delhi, nobody would want to say that they were going to lose and the the TMC was going to win in a big way.

I am sure at least some would have had the right reading, but they would not have wanted to stick out their neck and get into trouble.

After the results were out, Prashant Kishor, who guided the TMC to win, said that the Election Commission was partial and acted an extension of the BJP...

The Election Commission was simply an agency of the BJP; you can call it a BJP Commission or something like that.

It is just an arm of the BJP; nothing more, nothing less.

It is very unfortunate that one of the key Constitutional institutions of India has been destroyed by a set of people sitting in the Election Commission. They have done massive damage to the nation.

The Madras high court calling the Election Commission 'irresponsible' and saying that it should be 'charged for murder' was more appropriate to its role in the elections.

'BJP misjudged Malyalis'

IMAGE: Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Pinarayi Vijayan will take the oath as Kerala's chief minister on May 20, four days before his 77th birthday. Photograph: ANI Photo

Coming to the Kerala elections, what do you think made Pinarayi Vijayan create history?
Is it his strong man image or his handling of various crises like the floods, Covid, etc, or a weak Congress without a leader or the aggression shown by the BJP?

I would say all these points contributed to his victory.

The LDF made it very clear that Pinarayi would be the chief minister if it were elected. There was no doubt about this in the minds of the people.

And people certainly wished to know who the leader would be.

And the Congress could not project any name as its chief ministerial candidate. That was a big failure on their part.

The word 'strong man' is not a very apt description of Pinarayi Vijayan. I would describe him as a determined administrator who thinks about making positive changes in Kerala and take steps, right or wrong.

One of the major things that went against the BJP was the way the central government used the enforcement directorate, customs and other agencies to harass, humiliate and if possible criminalise people like Pinarayi Vijayan on idiotic cases like gold smuggling.

Let me stress the word, idiotic. This backfired in a very big way.

Malayalis are not fools to believe these cases. They know very well that if Pinarayi Vijayan wanted 30 kilos of gold, he can have 300 or 3,000 kilos of gold by making just one phone call. People are not fools to believe that he would take the trouble to smuggle in 30 kilos of gold!

I think the ED and co underestimated Malayalis. And they very foolishly believed the mainstream media's celebration of the case was the reality. They couldn't understand it's suicidal to take the mainstream media seriously because it is just a marketing setup. Even the big people who control these agencies in Delhi didn't understand this.

Next, these people were talking about the polarisation of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, etc. But in Kerala there was only one polarisation: Secular. Majority of the Keralites were against this rubbish about Christians are against Muslims, Muslims are against Hindus, etc perpetrated by the BJP.

This theory was demolished and thrown into the garbage in this election.

Two other major issues took up by the BJP were Sabarimala and Love Jihad. But it didn't seem to work as even BJP state president K Surendran) lost his Konni seat where Sabarimala is located...

Love jihad promoted by the RSS was laughed away right in the beginning itself.

These two were the most discussed issues in Kerala...

The RSS created this myth and the media bought it lock stock and barrel.

Even a baby knows that out of the three-and-a-half crore(35 million) Malayalis, a Muslim boy falling in love with a Hindu girl or a Muslim girl doing so with a Hindu boy cannot be more than a couple of dozen instances in a year.

And mind you, they don't call it love jihad when children of prominent industrial families, political families, or families of senior officials inter marry; then they say, it's wonderful social harmony.

And Sabarimala is the typical example of false mythology created by the media. Out of the 10 lakh or so people who come to Sabarimala every year, not even a couple of lakhs are from Kerala. The rest are from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra.

For the Malayali upper caste Hindu, there is only one central deity and that is Guruvayoorappan. Sabarimala was never an emotional issue here.

You mean the BJP misjudged the Malayalis?

The BJP misjudged the Malayalis because they live by their closed-circuit ideology. They have not been able to see beyond the box.

What really happened was, the mainstream media in Kerala projected it as the most important Hindu issue in Kerala. The lie of the local media was borrowed wholesale by the national media and Sabarimala became a catchword. I hope at least now they'll stop mimicking the Kerala media. In this matter at least or they'll keep making fools of themselves!

IMAGE: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi at a roadshow in Kerala, April 1, 2021. Photograph: Congress Kerala

Before the polling, you told me that the presence of Rahul Gandhi would make a difference in the prospects of the Congress. Though his campaign was quite spirited, it did not create any impact.
Does that mean the days of Keralites being soft on the Nehru-Gandhi family is over?

I don't think so. Kerala is still a good place for Congress. It is just that the Congress in Kerala is an inefficient and unmotivated organisation. It could not make use of Rahul Gandhi's presence. So, it is the inherent incompetence and lack of commitment to the people of the Congress in Kerala that led to its utter failure.

I will not blame Rahul Gandhi for the party's defeat.

Had Oommen Chandy been projected as the Congress's chief minister candidate, or for that matter anybody, do you think the result would have been different?


Oommen Chandy would have had more acceptance. In most surveys, Ramesh Chennithala had only the support of 5% or 10% of the population.

Ramesh, it seems, is not chief ministerial material in the eyes of Malayalis. But I feel it differently.

Do you think the biggest takeaway of the assembly elections is the total decimation of the Congress, having lost Assam, Kerala, Puducherry and Bengal?

If you look at the national picture, you can call it almost a total decimation of the Congress.

But in Kerala, I would say, the biggest takeaway is the total decimation of the BJP. They lost even the one seat they had.

Do you see a revival of the BJP happening?

Miracles can happen. I am not saying the BJP will go away. They will be here and they will keep trying.

The BJP in Kerala is the creation of a few television channels and newspapers. And that's going to be their biggest curse. They actually believed in how the channels and newspapers projected them! Yes, some 12% people voted for them.

But losing the one seat they had is a major setback.

I will say it again, it is not in the nature of Kerala to take this kind of communal rubbish. This is the state where three communities co-existed very comfortably for nearly 1500 years. So, the BJP's loose talk will not work here.

If there was one person in the BJP who could understand the communal equation of Kerala beyond the BJP's poisonous Hindu versus Christian vs Muslim point of view, maybe things would have been better. They have only people like K Surendran who is just a creation of Kerala's top TV channels.

Yes, there was one person who understood the present and the future of the BJP in Kerala, and that was O Rajagopal. He also understood the communal equation very well. But he has been banished.

About the Congress. Do you think this is the beginning of the end of the supremacy of the Nehru-Gandhi family?

Yes, if it has not already happened, it should happen now. Because the Congress is still the most important political formation in India. It is still the only force that can unite India.

But if new people don't come up to lead the party, the Congress will be gone.

What are the lessons to be learnt from these assembly elections?

The BJP should realise that it is impossible to put India under their thumb the way they want. Strong-arm tactics won't work. India is too diverse and big a nation for that.

It will not be able to create dictatorship of the kind it is perhaps dreaming of. We have Bengal as the biggest example.

Even neglecting the Covid situation, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah spent almost a month in Bengal, and what happened?

Their strategy may work in the Hindi heartland... but even there, things are changing. And God alone knows what is going to happen in UP!

From here, we are going to UP. What do you see happening there?

I see a very ominous silence in UP. People are watching, listening, hearing, reading and thinking.

Yogi (Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ajay Mohan Bisht also known as Yogi Adityanath) has never been in democratic politics, and he hasn't understood anything about running a state even in a semi-democratic way. He has created a very poor record in matters concerning human rights. All this will tell on his future.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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