It is a veritable one-man army that is leading the ruling Left Democratic Front's campaign in Kerala. Known for his stern manner and relentless campaigns against corruption, 89-year-old Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan speaks the language of the Opposition even in power. He tells C. GOURIDASAN NAIR that the election in Kerala is a battle for the poor and for clean governance. Excerpts from an interview:
Why should the people of Kerala vote for the Left Democratic Front (LDF) a second time?
To save Kerala from the hands of the corrupt. You have seen the corruption scandals at the Centre and the many corrupt deeds of UDF leaders when they were in power. They ate up Rs.1,76,000 crore in the 2G spectrum allocation. Then there was the Commonwealth Games scam, the Antrix-Devas deal, the Adarsh flat scandal and many more. Has the Prime Minister moved even his little finger against the corrupt? No.
In Kerala too, Congress and UDF leaders were neck-deep in corruption when in power. Aren't we hearing shocking revelations by their own people these days? [Leader of the Opposition] Oommen Chandy's involvement in the palm oil deal was brought out not by us, but by a Congress leader.
Now another Congress leader has disclosed he was removed as Minister in the UDF government when he refused to abet corruption in the implementation of an expansion project in the public sector Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited. Their leader Balakrishna Pillai is already behind bars. Many others will follow him to Poojappura [Central Prison] very soon.
We also want to protect the dignity of women. I have become an enemy of these people because I have been uncompromising in my fight against the forest, lottery and sexual mafias.
But the Opposition is asking why you have been unable to do anything about this despite being in power for the last five years?
We have pursued all cases that have come to our attention. As I said, we have initiated fresh investigations on the basis of new revelations in the Kozhikode ice cream parlour sex racket case, into Oommen Chandy's role in the palm oil deal, and many such cases. These things cannot be done in one day.
We have not compromised on corruption and we have gone after every mafia. I have myself taken up the lottery scam with the Centre. The lottery mafia was looting the hard-earned money of the poor.
Did the Congress do anything to check it when it was in power? Haven't we put an end to it? Can you now show me the sale of illegal lotteries anywhere in the State? The money the poor workers used to spend on illegal lotteries is reaching their homes now.
I asked for a CBI investigation into the lottery scam. Did [Home Minister] P. Chidambaram agree to it? Did [Prime Minister] Manmohan Singh agree to it? They are trying to evade the issue citing technical reasons because they want to protect the lottery mafia. We are telling the people about all this.
What is the main plank on which the LDF is fighting this election?
Ours is a secular political fight. We have not compromised on our principles or commitment to secularism during the last five years. We were attacked by vested interests because of our commitment to equality and merit in higher and professional education. We have always focused on the poor in all our actions. The Congress promised rice at Rs.3 a kilo three years ago, but did nothing about it. We promised rice at Rs.2 a kilo to the BPL families, and we have been distributing rice at that price for the last two-and-a-half years to around 40 lakh people. When we wanted to extend it all cardholders, the Congress went to the Election Commission against it. Now the people of Kerala have been denied the benefit of the scheme. The Congress will have to answer for all this.
There was a lot of confusion about your candidature. There were also media reports that you were initially denied the seat and got it only when the CPI(M) Politburo intervened.
Our party has an elaborate system for candidate selection. We hold discussions at various levels before finalising our candidate list. This time too, the party held discussions at different levels. The final list was announced on March 18 and my name was there in it. What transpired in between and whether there was any move to keep me out are all speculation.
Why is the Opposition singling you out for attack? Is it because of your constant refrain that if voted to power, you will put many more behind bars?
They know very well that I will be playing a key role after the elections. Isn't it clear that they are attacking me because of this fear?
I have become an enemy of these people because of my uncompromising fight against the forest, lottery and sexual mafias