“We are cooperating whole heartedly with the central government in the fight against COVID-19. But, obviously, the imbalance in power between the central and the state government is posing certain challenges. We have been trying to resolve these issues through constitutional ways. Confrontation with the union government has not been our way. At the same time, we ensure that the state’s interests are not compromised when we opt the path of cooperation with the central government,” says Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in an exclusive interview given to The Federal’s Associate Editor Shahina KK in Thiruvananthapuram.
Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
During the last three years, your government had to encounter a string of catastrophes ranging from the Okhi cyclone to COVID-19. You have been seen as an able leader who converts crisis into opportunities. How do you react to this observation?
Fighting a crisis you are in, with stubbornness and courage is an instinct of everyone. You can convert it to an opportunity only if you confront it. Kerala is collectively doing it for some time now. This is how Kerala is being rebuilt.
The above said observation or evaluation is very true, not for me as an individual but the Kerala society as a whole. We survived the cyclone, Okhi in 2017, two massive floods in 2018 and 2019 and we successfully contained the deadly Nipah virus, not once but twice in two years. As any fellow Keralaite, I too am proud that we are doing it consistently, constantly and collectively which is the most important part.
Do you think that confrontation with the calamities has had an adverse impact on the development of the state? Do you feel that the government would have been able to perform better if we had had a peaceful time?
It is true that we had a tough time tackling the calamities, but we did never compromise on the developmental projects. Let’s take KIIFB (Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board) as an example.
In our election manifesto, we had promised developmental activities of ₹50,000 crore during the whole tenure of this government. We have already surpassed this target well before four years in office, with the KIIFB approving projects estimated for ₹54,392 crore.
In addition to this, as many as 2,19,154 houses were built under the Life Mission project. Infrastructure development projects worth ₹3,000 crore have been implemented in the public health sector through the ‘Aardram Mission’.
Around 45,000 class rooms went high-tech in the public education system during this period. At least 1,43,000 people were granted with Pattas for their land.
GAIL (Gas Authority of India’s ₹3,263-crore natural gas pipeline project), Trans grid (a project aimed to strengthen the transmission and distribution system of electricity in the state), K-FON (Kerala fibre optic network project) etc. were the other major achievements of this government.
These all are examples of the giant leap Kerala had taken in the developmental sector during the last four years. People are well aware that we could accomplish these projects along with fighting a series of crises.
The smiling faces of the elderly people getting the welfare pension and those who start a new lease of life in the new houses built under the Life Mission project demonstrate it. As far as the people are concerned, the achievements are palpable. This government has already proved that the election manifestos are not mere documents but promises that can be fulfilled. We have set an example of good governance in front of the world. We have been releasing an annual progress report of the government from the first year itself.
You were subjected to constant auditing by the media and the critics during your tenure as the state secretary of the Kerala CPI(M) for nearly two decades. On the other hand, you were keeping a fair distance from the media too. Now, your daily press conference has become a topic of the nation. Do you regret now for ignoring or keeping away from the media for so long?
I never had ignored the media at any point. Whenever there was a topic that needed to be conveyed to the people through the media, I have never been hesitant to do that. However, I believe that — be it the Party Secretary or the Chief Minister — it is their prerogative to decide when and what to talk to the media. Even now, my view remains unchanged.
The Home department and the Police are under criticism for a while now, in spite of all the accolades you win as the Chief Minister. The point is that the police go soft on cases involving the BJP/RSS men. Even though your party’s settled position is against the draconian UAPA, there are instances where this act has been used by the Kerala Police. You often seem to be siding with the Police force on such issues. What exactly is your government’s policy on policing? What about the allegation of Kerala Police colluding with the right wing forces?
Our party’s and government’s standpoint on the UAPA is very clear. There is a committee to review the UAPA cases. However, there is a situation in which the central agencies could directly intervene in such cases. The police is bound to act under the existing legal frame work. Hence, the legality will be put above the political affiliation of those who get involved in these issues. The government has not been shy to acknowledge the good work done by the police, and to point out their flaws as well. All the other allegations are, of course, politically motivated and should be treated like that only.
Your political adversaries are ruling the country. Does the BJP government with Narendra Modi in the helm, in any way, affecting the functioning of the Communist-led state government?
The imbalance of power in the Centre-State relationship does indeed cause certain challenges. We have been trying to resolve these issues through constitutional ways. In fighting COVID-19, we have been adhering to the Union government in following the guidelines.
We started the lockdown even before the Centre did. Without going into confrontation, we have been trying to gain maximum benefits for the state through cooperation. However, we ensure that the state’s interests are not compromised when we go for cooperation with the central government.
No other Chief Minister of Kerala after EMS Namboothirippad, the legendary communist leader, has got this kind of national attention like you are now. Do you think that there is a need to get involved more pro-actively in national issues?
In our party, it is the central leadership that normally deals with national issues. However, I have taken the correct political stance in issues regarding the country without fail, and will continue to do that in the future also.
How do you rate the opposition and its leaders in the state according to their performances?
It is up to the people to judge the government as well as the opposition. As far as the issues regarding the survival and the future of the state are concerned, I believe that the government and the opposition should work together.
Kerala’s handling of COVID-19 has been lauded internationally and more and more commentators are referring it as a model for the world. The same thing happened during the Nipah crisis too. What do you think your ‘success mantra’ is, if it could be said so?
There is no such mantra for success. If we have achieved something, the complete credit goes to the people of Kerala who stand together to overcome the crisis. Such a camaraderie had always been there within our society. We have demonstrated such a tremendous sense of unity in tough times.