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'Fear of ED, CBI, greed for power makes them leave the Congress'

February 16, 2024 11:04 IST

'Can you believe Ashok Chavan was with me in the senior leaders' meeting one day, and next day morning, he switched sides!'

IMAGE: Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, right, and state Bharatiya Janata Party President Chandrashekhar Bawankule, left, welcome former Congress leader Ashok Chavan, second from left, into the BJP fold in Mumbai, February 13, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Ramesh Chennithala, who is in charge of Congress affairs in Maharashtra, was in Mumbai just before Ashok Chavan left the party.

He returned to Kerala -- where he is the senior-most Congress leader -- to attend the assembly session before going back to Maharashtra again "for a 2-day camp to discuss the preparations for the Parliament election".

In the first reaction from the central Congress leadership to Chavan's exit, Chennithala tell's Shobha Warrier, "."


There were rumours of leaders like Ashok Chavan leaving the Congress, and since you were in charge of the Maharashtra Congress, did you talk to them about this?
Could you find out why they were disillusioned with the party?

There are two reasons behind them leaving the party. One is the pressure from the ED and CBI. Two, greed for power.

As you all know, one person left because he wanted to be a Rajya Sabha member.

Three people left the party; Milind Deora, Baba Siddique and Ashok Chavan.

And, they have been in the party for 40-50 years.

I cannot see any other reason than the fear of ED and CBI, and greed for power for them leaving the party.

The Congress has given them everything. The party made them who they are. Without the Congress, they were nothing.

There has not been any issue to complain for them in the party.

Only the pressure from ED and CBI made them take such decisions. Two of them switched sides because of this reason, and one left to be a Rajya Sabha member!

See, people like us are in the party without expecting any position or power. We are in the party because we have faith in the principles and ideology followed by the party.

These people should remember that the Congress had given all support to them till now.

Can you believe Ashok Chavan was with me in the senior leaders' meeting one day, and next day morning, he switched sides!

Though there were rumours, you didn't get any hint at the meeting?

Yes, there were rumours. But when he was attending the meetings and working with me closely regarding seat-sharing with our alliance partners, how do you expect him to switch sides the very next morning?

Like you, Ashok Chavan also started his political career as a student leader. Last time when I spoke to you, you said, you would be the last person to quit the Congress party....
How do you look at him leave the party?

It is very unfortunate. See, the party made him chief minister two times.

I still remember I only appointed him as vice president of the Maharashtra Youth Congress.

He was a CWC member. He was also a PCC President.

What have we not given him? Everything; everything a political leader can aspire for.

I am of the opinion that he should tell people why he changed sides. But he has not said anything except, 'This is my personal decision'.

IMAGE: Former Congress MP Milind Deora joins the Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde fraction) in Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde's presence in Mumbai, January 14, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

How do you look at this situation> Is it like people abandoning a sinking ship, or the BJP poaching leaders from Opposition parties?

The BJP has created a new culture in the country, making people change from one party to another through pressures from the ED, CBI, etc. I don't understand what the BJP wants.

All I can say is, what the BJP is doing is not good politics.

This aaya ram, gaya raam situation is not good for a healthy democratic political system for the country.

The BJP does not have self-confidence. That's why they are poaching people.

It is not good to pressurise people using agencies like the ED, CBI, etc to change their political stance.

Where will this lead to?

What I see is the end of democracy.

In the last 76 years of India's independent history, so many political parties ruled this country, but have you seen anything like this happen before? It is very bad for the country.

They accused Ajit Pawar of a Rs 55,000 crores corruption scandal but the moment he switched over to their side, the charge disappeared.

That's why I said, the BJP has become a washing machine. You put all the bad linen in the BJP washing machine and they come out clean!

One senior person from Maharashtra who switched sides told a newspaper, 'Now I can sleep peacefully at night.'

This is what is happening in our country. Is it right?

IMAGE: Former Congress MLA Baba Siddique, second from left, joins the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP-Ajit Pawar faction) in the presence of Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, second from right, party MPs Praful Patel, left, and Sunil Tatkare, right, in Mumbai, February 10, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

When they came to power itself, the BJP said their agenda was Congress-mukt Bharat...

Though they are trying hard, it will not happen. There are crores and crores of Congressmen in this country who believe in the party even now.

People leaving the party for personal gains will not weaken the party.

Do you think the absence of a very strong leader at the top is the reason why this is happening?

It is not that we don't have strong leaders. We have very strong leaders in Delhi.

When the ruling party puts pressure on people using central agencies, some find it difficult to withstand the pressure.

IMAGE: Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge with party leaders Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, T S Singh Deo, Bhupesh Baghel, K C Venugopal and others at a public meeting in Ambikapur, Chhattisgarh, February 13, 2024, during the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra. Photograph: ANI Photo

Rahul Gandhi connected with ordinary people in his yatra, but it is not getting translated into votes. Why?

Yes, Rahul Gandhi is well received by people. My thinking is, we have to strengthen the organisational structure at the grassroot level now.

Only then, the goodwill can be translated into votes.

Now that we are in the Opposition, this is the time to strengthen the party at the grassroot level. I feel the party should concentrate on that more.

Do you think the Congress needs a leader who can take on Narendra Modi?

Rahul Gandhi is the only leader in this country who is fearlessly and relentlessly fighting for democratic values and against corruption.

Can you name any other person who is fighting like him?

Rahul Gandhi is the only leader who is doing it, and he is capable enough to fight the BJP.

IMAGE: Ramesh Chennithala, second from left, with Ashok Chavan and Maharashtra Congress President Nana Patole, second from right, at a press conference in Mumbai, January 11, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Will he be contesting from Wayanad again?

We are demanding that he should contest from Wayanad.

Many experts are asking for bringing back paper ballots. What's your opinion on this?

I fully agree with them.

In the entire world, only five countries use electronic voting machines. It is paper ballot for all the other countries.

I am of the opinion that we have to re-introduce paper ballot because so many people feel that machines are being manipulated.

For a vibrant democracy, paper ballots will be helpful.

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