Dubai: In less than two days, when the South Indian state of Kerala will head to polls, it will be a litmus test for the Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his political leadership.
The 72 year old veteran Congress politician has had a tumultuous five years heading the UDF (United Democratic Front) government that has been rocked by allegations of corruption. Even the Chief Minister’s office was dragged into the sleazy ‘Solar Scam’ involving a woman named Saritha Nair, who has accused Chandy and his minsters of having taken millions of rupees in bribes to expedite government permission for a solar project.
Much mud has been slung on Chandy and his government with Nair even claiming she was sexually exploited by the ministers in the government.
Chandy, however remains unfettered by the “baseless allegations,” and is betting his stakes on his government’s achievements on the developmental front — the Kochi Metro project, Smart City and the Kannur Airport topping the list.
But a rejuvenated LDF (Left Democratic Front) in the state and the newly emerged NDA coalition between BJP and BDJS is putting Chandy on a sticky wicket in a state that is traditionally anti-incumbent while electing a new state government. During the heat of campaigning just two days before elections, Chandy talks to Gulf News over telephone about his party’s swelling support, corruption allegations, the BJP’s impact in the state and women’s security.
Q: Anti-incumbency is the norm in Kerala. Will the trend continue this election or are you confident of winning a second term?
Anti-incumbency will end in Kerala by this election, and UDF will make history. I am confident people will vote us back to power. I don’t see any anti-incumbency trend in the state. People have recognised the developmental works and welfare programmes UDF have implemented during the last five years. The fact that UDF has won all the civic elections in the past five years is ample proof that people are with us.
Q: But haven’t the corruption allegations dimmed your popularity and the prospects of UDF?
Allegations and reality are two different things. Anybody can raise allegations but there is no base or believability in any of those. The UDF has a zero tolerance towards corruption. Levelling allegations against leaders for political gains is a dangerous trend that should be discouraged.
Q: Are you specifically speaking about how your name was dragged into the Solar scam?
You should understand that in the Solar issue, the government has not lost a penny nor has the accused gained anything from the government. It is a clear case of cheating against some private parties. All the complaints against the woman [Saritha Nair] were thoroughly investigated and a total of 33 charge sheets have been filed. She has already been found guilty and punished on one count. The government has no links whatsoever with the scam.
Q: Can the Third Front floated by BJP-BDJS (Bharat Dharma Jana Sena) alliance make an impact in Kerala? Do you think they will be decisive in this election?
They will fail to make any impact. BJP cannot establish its roots in Kerala as the political milieu in the state is not conducive for the saffron party. In 1977, the Marxist Party and the new avatar of Jana Sangh had contested elections together and they failed. If they could not open an account in Kerala then, there is no chance they will be able to do it now.
Q: Do you think UDF will benefit from the Third Front as BDJS will take away LDF’s Ezhava vote bank?
Congress is confident in our own strength and support base in the state. The most important thing for us is the unity in the party and in the UDF alliance. We are contesting this election as one strong team.
Q: But won’t infighting in the party rear its ugly head once you are back in power?
Did you see any infighting in the last five years? Our unity is our biggest strength. All our leaders understand that and they are standing with the government.
Q: Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an election rally two days ago compared infant mortality rates among tribals in Kerala to that of Somalia. How do you respond to the comment?
It is the most callous statement a PM can hurl against Kerala. It was a plain lie. There is no situation like that anywhere in Kerala. He has cooked up facts to attack us politically. I take serious exception to the statement, and my government is planning to file a complaint with the election commission.
Q: Even two weeks after the brutal rape and murder of a poor law student in Kerala, the state police have failed to trace the culprit. Does it worry you that the issue is getting politicised?
I am extremely saddened by what happened. A heinous crime like that should have never happened in our state. It is a bigger sin to politicise the issue. Yes! It is worrying that police have not been able to nab the culprit yet. I think they are facing some limitations in investigations at this stage. Meanwhile, the government has announced Rs1 million (Dh55,024) compensation for the family, and also a job for the deceased’s sister.