Dhaka, Bangladesh
For the BJP, the Left is its principal enemy: Pinarayi Vijayan

For the BJP, the Left is its principal enemy: Pinarayi Vijayan

By Stanly Johny

Kerala's Chief Minister on his policy priorities, the rise of the BJP, and the need to build a resistance against attacks on our constitutional values Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been in the forefront of the opposition to the Centre's decision to ban cattle trade for slaughter. He's already written a letter to the Prime Minister seeking a reversal of the decision and another to all other Chief Ministers urging them to oppose the move and called for an all-party meeting in the State to discuss its response to the notification. When The Hindu met him at his North Block office in the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram last week, news on the controversial Environment Ministry notification was still fresh on TVs. "How can people eat beef now?" was his first comment while sitting on a sofa placed on the right side of his large office room. Asked if this poses any legal or constitutional issues given that the power to make laws on cow slaughter lies with State legislatures, Mr. Vijayan said, "it appears so. We have to look into the notification in detail." The photographer asked him if he could sit on the larger sofa adjoining the wooden wall where a huge Kerala mural painting is hanging. "For what?" he asked, with a broad smile, and then sat firmly on the chair, gesturing that he's ready to take questions. You are one the two Chief Ministers of the CPI(M) in the country. Tripura is a much smaller State. So obviously, there's a larger focus on your government. Does it put any additional pressure on you? I don't feel any such pressure. We see this as part of our public works. We have clear policies on each issue. And we are working according to those policies. For us, it's the normal way of functioning. It doesn't add any additional pressure. A non-state view of Kerala The Left governments in Kerala are known for some flagship initiatives, be it land reforms, literacy campaign, people's planning or welfarism. What is your government's flagship programme? The motto of this government is not to focus on any particular agenda but on Kerala's comprehensive development. As part of this, we have taken sector-wise initiatives. These programmes in total will change the face of Kerala. We are sure that such initiatives, like the programmes implemented by the previous Left governments, will have a place in history. Can you be little more specific? If I start pointing out initiatives, there are quite a lot of them (smiling). Kerala has a good education system. It's widely accepted. Still, there are some issues in the State's public education sector. Our priority is to fix these problems. The plan is to make all classrooms, from Standard 1 to Plus-2, smart classrooms. Schools in the public sector will become high-tech educational institutions. Once this is rolled out across the State, a student studying in a public school will have the same facilities as in any advanced school in any part of the world. Similar changes will happen in the healthcare sector as well. Kerala has made big achievements in the healthcare sector. We plan to strengthen it further. The first is to establish a system of family doctors. Also, all the main hospitals in the State, including medical colleges and taluk hospitals, will have the best healthcare facilities. We have also taken measures to control prices of drugs. Drugs should be available for cheap prices for patients. We have already launched the Aardram initiative that will revamp the public health system in the State. LIFE (Livelihood, Inclusion, Financial Empowerment) is another major scheme the government has launched that aims to make Kerala a zero homeless State in five years. Kerala is already doing better in healthcare and education sectors. But what about agriculture? The State is heavily dependent on other States for vegetables and other food items… We understand the problem. It's the people's right to eat healthy food. That's why we are promoting bio farming. The plan is to revamp Kerala's agricultural sector through these measures. We want the State to be self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit. When the agricultural sector is revived, farming will spread to more fertile areas which are now lying idle. There are concerns about the state of economy as well. Unemployment is high. Kerala doesn't have a big industrial sector. You had promised millions of employment opportunities during the campaign. How are you going to fix the economy? Kerala is not a resource-rich State. This is a big challenge. Only if you have resources, you will have sound industries. To overcome this challenge, we have launched KIIFB [Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board]. We are planning to spend ?50,000 crore for different development initiatives through KIIFB. Different projects will be prepared by the respective departments, but financial assistance would be provided through KIIFB. But will industries come to Kerala? Critics say the State is not business-friendly and its militant trade union culture is driving away investors… That's not right. Look at the facts; has any industry in Kerala been shut down because of this militant trade unionism? Has any industrial house operating in Kerala complained about facing problems in doing business because of the unions? There are several wrong campaigns going around about Kerala. This is one among them. We are going to announce a new industrial policy to bring in more industries into the State. Ease of doing business is our motto. Kerala will become one of the best States that provide facilities for industries to come up. When your government is going ahead with these plans, you will have to seek cooperation and assistance from the central government, which is led by the BJP. Your party [CPI(M)] has been very critical of the BJP and particularly of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. How is your equation with the Centre? Do politics play a role in the Centre-State relations? It has two sides. On one side, there are political differences over the policies of the Central government led by Narendra Modi. We have made it clear many times. At the same time, the State had certain issues with the Central government. One among them was that an all-party delegation wanted to meet the Prime Minister a few months ago to apprise him of certain issues the State is facing. But we were not given permission to meet him. Most political parties in Kerala were critical of the Prime Minister's decision. Usually Prime Ministers don't take such a position of not meeting a State delegation under the leadership of a Chief Minister. Despite such criticisms, the government-to-government relationship between Kerala and Centre is on a firm track. For example, we had gone to Delhi as soon as the Left Democratic Front government took office [in May 2016]. We met several leaders, including the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister asked us if we could launch an Ayurvedic institute in Kerala as there's lots of interest in Ayurveda in the State. He promised the Centre's help. We are now actually planning to establish a world-class Ayurvedic Institute in Kerala. This idea was part of our programme, but what expedited the decision was the Prime Minister's question. So we expect this venture will get the Centre's help. We have made some other suggestions as well which were approved by the Centre. So we can say there's a cordial relationship between the State and the Central governments. These two aspects make up our policy towards the BJP and the BJP-led government at the Centre. As the CPI(M)'s Polit Bureau member, how do you look at the rise of the BJP? It has an absolute majority at the Centre, it keeps winning State elections… If you look at the current political climate in the country, we are going through a very dangerous phase. Because the BJP is not just a political party, like other political parties. What distinguishes the BJP from other parties is that it's controlled by the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh]. The BJP is a party that's bound to establish the RSS's policies in the country. We have seen that on several occasions. It's clear that the RSS is directly taking key decisions on behalf of the BJP. RSS policies are not compliant with our country's interests. The RSS doesn't accept secularism. There were occasions when even Union ministers attacked the reference to secularism in India's Constitution. This launches a direct threat to secularism. The danger this poses to a pluralistic country like ours is huge. A strong resistance has to be built against this attack on our constitutional values. But at the same time, we can't overlook the fact that the Congress party, despite its nationwide presence, is incapable of building this resistance. What we see now is that several Congress leaders are joining the BJP, including national leaders, State committee presidents and even former Chief Ministers. So we can't trust the Congress in this anti-BJP resistance. Both the Congress and the BJP are representing extreme right-wing politics. Be it liberalisation, globalisation, or privatisation, the Congress was in the forefront of implementing them. The BJP is following the same economic policies. Since there are no major differences in economic policies, both of them represent a common sphere. That's why the BJP is not seeing the Congress as its main rival. For the BJP, the Left is its principal enemy. The Left is not a powerful force nationally in today's India. Still the BJP is scared of the Left. You can see that in Kerala and Tripura, the only two States where the Left is in power. In Tripura, the BJP is trying to assemble all anti-Left forces on one platform to fight the Left. This means their primary target is the Left. At the same time, both the BJP and the RSS are trying to trigger communal issues in society and through that gain political dividends. What we have to do it to mobilise people from across the spectrum against the RSS. All democratic forces have a role to play in building such a resistance. Do you mean electoral alliances? A resistance movement need not be an electoral alliance. This is a political approach to tackle an immediate threat. When we are talking about electoral alliances, policy issues are involved. You can't have electoral alliances with people who you can't agree with on key policies. But when the country faces a danger, we have to stand together and face up to that danger. The BJP is growing in Kerala as well. It is no longer a political untouchable. It has an MLA for the first time in history. Its vote share jumped and is getting equal media space with other parties. The BJP is doing all kinds of political stunts in Kerala, but they still haven't gained public support. They won a seat in the last Assembly election [in Nemom, Thiruvananthapuram] with support from Congress voters. The Congress had traded votes with BJP [in Nemom] for the BJP's support elsewhere. There was some arrangement between them. But it's true that the BJP is getting high media space in Kerala disproportionate to its actual strength, maybe because their party is leading the Central government. But just with that, we can't say the BJP is growing in strength in Kerala. Does it upset you that your party's legislative presence keeps shrinking nationally? Each State unit is trying to revamp the party base. The major setback we suffered was in West Bengal. But the Bengal party has taken steps to address its challenges and we see that it is having a good impact. In other States, ours had already been a small party. But some alliances had weakened us further in some places. We have realised our mistake and are now trying to strengthen our independent activities. But irrespective of our national strength, only the Left can stand up to the communal forces in the country. That's why the BJP and the other right-wing parties keep attacking the Left. But how are you going to do that in States others than Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura? Though we have only limited presence in other States, the strong position we take nationally will have positive responses in all places. So we have to see how to build a common position across parties. You just said the BJP is not like other parties. Do you mean the BJP is a fascist party? See, the difference is that the RSS is controlling the BJP. The RSS's ideology is the same as what Hitler implemented in Germany. Their organisational structure is Mussolini's fascist organisational structure. So when an organisation with fascist organisational structure and Nazi ideology leads a party, its dangers are huge. That's why we see fascistic tendencies in today's India. But the BJP leadership both at Centre and in State says it's the CPI(M) that attacks its cadres in Kerala. Many people, both CPI(M) and RSS activists, have been killed since your government came to power. What did you do to end this cycle of violence? The RSS has tried to destroy the CPI(M) in Kerala in several ways. One among them was physical attacks. It's been a long time since horrific physical attacks started in Kerala. The LDFgovernment has tried from the beginning to bring an end to this violence. We brought together the related parties for talks. Such talks had [a] good impact. Though some incidents took place even after that, we plan to continue the same approach. The government wants the related leaderships to sit together again, discuss issues of differences and jointly work towards creating a peaceful environment in the State. In this regard, we had talked to [the] RSS leadership. Their response is positive.

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