Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy’s second term ends this May. His stewardship of the Congress-led United Democratic Front government has had a
successful run till very recently when bar owners, who lost business after closure of non-five-star bars in April 2014, turned against the government and a woman entrepreneur exposed the indiscretions of ruling politicians. But Mr Chandy has a brave face on and, in this interview with John Mary, gives the impression of being more sinned against than sinning.
You had the upper hand in all elections since the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, but you got a rap on the knuckles in the civic polls in November. The Left Democratic Front (LDF) won 550 of 941 gram panchayats, while the United Democratic Front (UDF) bagged 365. Does this augur well for the Assembly elections due in May?
The rebel menace and individual personality factors adversely influenced the outcome of polls. But in district panchayats and municipalities, where contests were more political, results were evenly poised (in district panchayats LDF and UDF won seven seats each while in municipalities the LDF won 43 and UDF 42).
Haven’t the bar scam and allegations of a nexus between your government and the Team Solar Renewable Energy co-director, Saritha S. Nair, affected your image? How would you counter the perception that there is something rotten in the high echelons of government?
The entire corpus of allegations stem from a loser’s plot. During the previous LDF government, the solar fraudsters had a free run. We prosecuted Biju Radhakrishnan (also director of the company and Ms Nair’s live-in partner) for murdering his first wife and he has been convicted.
Similarly, the lady has been booked for fraud in many cases. They never accused me of anything till very recently, which points to a political plot. I sat for 14 hours before the commission of inquiry. Their counsel had the opportunity to quiz me but did nothing. All their evidences are forged. People see through their games and are fully aware of their antecedents. I trust the people.
Do you think the allegations, timed carefully to coincide with the run-up to elections, was to put the government on the mat?
What could we have done when the media wants breaking news, not exercising the conventional rigour to check the source of allegations and examine whether they are objective, which means verifiable? The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Opposition also lapped up the fraudsters’ cock and bull stories. When this lady (Ms Nair) alleged in 2014 that she was offered Rs 10 crore at the behest of CPI(M), to bring down my government, I did not use it against the Left.
The Opposition went after a CD, looking for salacious content and drew a blank. The Opposition was hugely embarrassed for chasing a non-existent CD. The same fate awaits them with regard to other ludicrous allegations. (Ms Nair had also named Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Farooq Abdullah to cheat gullible clients.)
The CPI(M) has dumped real issues. They forgot to agitate to reduce the bus fare in proportion to the fall in fuel prices. We reduced the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation ordinary bus fare by `1. So at what cost are they chasing the parade of lies?
You denied seeing Ms Nair in the Assembly but later admitted before the judicial commission to have met her thrice.
There’s been no discrepancy. I’ve maintained a steady position. My stance before the commission and my previous statements do not clash.
Do you regret your liberal approach in engaging with the public, a chief minister giving unfiltered access to all and sundry? Hasn’t this helped give undesirable elements a free run in your office?
It’s my style. I am always in the midst of a crowd. I meet individuals but very seldom secretly. Crowds always energise me and I never get tired of listening to people’s grievances and finding solutions. What scares me is to find myself alone.
Why did you take so long to remove erring personal assistants, three of whom have been close to the solar scam accused? It was as if you were afraid to proceed against them.
What have these people brought up against the personal assistants? Mere phone calls. Everything else is fiction. Let the commission probe and give its verdict.
Can mega projects be a substitute for radical steps to bring immediate relief to underprivileged sections?
Our motto is “development and care”. Mega projects are part of the infrastructure build-up for the future, be it SmartCity Kochi, Kannur International Airport, the international container terminal at Vizhinjam, light metro and high-speed rail corridor. We care for the marginalised, which is why we focus on welfare. Some 40 lakh people benefit from government aid in one way or the other.
How united is the Congress on the eve of Assembly polls? What made Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi call a moratorium on infighting at least till the Assembly elections are over?
Mr Gandhi was very happy and satisfied with his recent visit. His call for unity need not be misunderstood because there are differences in a large organisation. Poll time is not the occasion to overplay differences and lose the elections. Please read his message in context.
Do you welcome the poll tie-up or alliance between the Congress and Left Front in West Bengal? It may be politically expedient at the national level, but will it not benefit the Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala?
We welcome any move by the party’s national leadership to forge alliances in different states for the larger benefit. We are not at all afraid of a Congress-Left nexus in West Bengal. It will not cast its shadow in Kerala. Here battlelines are clear and we can take on the Opposition without a wee bit of dilution in our resolve to expose their anti-people stances.
Do you think the CPI(M) has given up on its policy of strident opposition to government programmes such as SmartCity, Vizhinjam and high-speed rail corridor and made a tactical shift lest it turn the public against them?
They have realised that people’s anger will be focused on them if they oppose such projects. They first oppose anything new and regret it 20 years later. They opposed tractors and busted computers. Their attitude has been a drag on the state’s development pace.
How realistic are you about coming back to power?
I’m supremely confident that the UDF will return to power.
Don’t you foresee a national role for yourself, like your predecessor A.K. Antony?
It is for the party to decide how responsibilities are to be shared by each individual.