Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan is in the midst of a fierce battle for survival as the state readies for the polls. Vijayan is eyeing a second term, which is against the general political cycle of the state. He spoke to Ramesh Babu on a range of issues. Excerpts:
Of late you have repeatedly said the Union government is out to weaken your government and portray it in bad light. It happened when you are sure about a second term; why do you say that?
Attacks on the LDF government in Kerala started in July 2020, as we were gearing up for the panchayat elections. Accusations were made on the government by BJP leaders regarding matters which fall under the purview of the Centre. The opposition in the state lapped them up. It translated into a full-fledged media trial and witch-hunt by investigation agencies. That is why I’ve said that there is an orchestrated effort to topple us. However, it needs to be noted that the first person who accused the CMO has now backtracked. I don’t want to name him now.
You wrote to the PM for a central agency probe into the gold smuggling case and initially you said the investigation was in the right direction. Where did it go wrong?
Yes, I did. Smuggling of contraband articles including gold is a serious offence that adversely affects our economy. So, I had requested for a comprehensive inquiry. But, as soon as a proper investigation seemed to be closing in on the real culprits, it came to a standstill. And then, the focus was shifted towards our government’s policies and projects.
You often say the Congress and the BJP talk in the same voice in Kerala. But your party is in alliance with the Congress in West Bengal and neighbouring Tamil Nadu?
I do, and that is based on their actions. We have umpteen examples across the country which would justify people perceiving the BJP and the Congress as two sides of the same coin. However, there is no fascist organisation like the RSS to control the Congress, so as to realise their goal of a Hindu Rashtra. Hence, where they are genuinely opposed to the BJP and the Left can use such allies – albeit cautiously – we do.
What are your government’s biggest achievements in five years?
I would present them in three broad areas. One, development. We aimed at infrastructure projects worth ₹50,000 crore in five years. We are at ₹63,200 crore already. Two, welfare. From ₹600 per month, welfare pension has been hiked to ₹1,600 per month. Plus, we have ensured that nobody went hungry even during this pandemic. Three, saving lives. As you know, Kerala has been battered by disasters one after the other. Yet, in protecting our people we have cut no corners. There are several other specific programmes like LIFE, Aardram and so on. But I’m not getting into the details right now.
Unlike West Bengal, the party’s foundation is very strong in Kerala. It is the only Left government in the country. Would you foresee a united move to oust it?
As a government, we have been pursuing an alternative to the existing models of development, welfare and governance. You see, we have published a progress report every year and been accountable to the people. We have promoted co-operatives and protected PSUs. For us, food, education, health, pension, housing, connectivity, development and so on are rights of the people, they are not handouts. So, naturally, people would want such an approach to be emulated elsewhere too. And those who have scant regard for the principles of democracy and our Constitution that governs us, they would surely want to oust an alternative that challenges their very existence.
The BJP has been trying to get a foothold in Kerala and it used all opportunities including Sabarimala for this. Is Kerala fertile for saffron forces?
Kerala is a land known for and committed to secularism. We think in terms of humanity, not in terms of faith. Therefore, communal forces will never be welcome here. I don’t see any future for it.
Looking back, do you feel the emotional Sabarimala issue could have been tackled with caution? The party was forced to do a campaign later saying we are with the believers and a minister expressed regret the other day?
We have always been with the believers. Just look at the allocation we have made for Dewaswom boards. We have even provided enough funds for temples that ran out of income during the lockdown. In fact, we are implementing the Sabarimala Master Plan with higher allocation than earlier. So, I don’t think anyone can blame us saying that we’ve not been with the faithful. And, as far the government is concerned, we have to abide by the judgments of the highest court; we are constitutionally bound to.