Not a crime to write, says Oommen Chandy on row over letter to Cong prez. Then a rider – kerala
Former chief minister Oommen Chandy, 76, next week completes an uninterrupted tenure of 50 years as a lawmaker in the Kerala assembly, a milestone that Congress workers will celebrate at an event to be opened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi via videoconferencing. A senior leader known for his simplicity, Chandy remains the biggest crowd-puller of the Congress-led United Democratic Front that believes a victory in the assembly elections due eight months later is within striking distance. Chandy became a legislator at the young age of 26 and a minister in the Karunakaran government in 1977. The two-time chief minister spoke to the Hindustan Times on a number of issues including the latest letter controversy, the Congress’ prospects and who will lead it in next assembly elections. Excerpts:
You are a Congress Working Committee member. The party is in the middle of a letter row. Do you think it was unwarranted?
Party leaders writing to their president is not a crime. But the way it was leaked out is bad. They sought a full-time president and organisational elections. It is time to leave that issue and give a united fight. There is no leadership crisis at all and all want Rahul Gandhi back in action. I feel this controversy should have been avoided. The party is supreme and it will have to be strengthened.
Do you really think Rahul Gandhi will be back to lead the party?
Yes, I think he will be back soon. He is the right person to lead the party now. In electoral politics there will be ups and downs. But the captain will have to hold on to the fort till last. We need a strong party to take on the authoritarian regime of Modi. The county needs a strong opposition. Rahul is the only right leader now. He is fit for a long marathon and he will reinvigorate the party. He has to groom young leaders and inject fresh blood. He will have to be given a free hand.
You were made an AICC general secretary but you prefer to remain in Kerala?
Not true. I am in charge of Andhra Pradesh. I am on my job and two secretaries are assisting me. I could not visit the state since February due to prevailing conditions. I will do what the party asks me to do.
Are you in the reckoning if the UDF storms back to power?
I am happy at what I am. People and the party gave me more than I deserved. Usually in Congress, the party high command takes a final decision after talking to the legislators. There is no dearth of leaders in the grand old party. As opposition leader, Ramesh Chennithala’s track record is excellent. The party high command will take an appropriate decision as and when required. The party never proposes a leader before the election.
What are the chances of the UDF?
I feel it will be a repeat of the last general election when the UDF got 19 out of 20 Lok Sabha seats. The present regime is very unpopular. You can’t govern the state with publicity stunts alone. Unemployment is at its peak but many people are appointed through backdoors. Youth are agitated.
When you were in power you were targeted in the solar scam? Some from your own party turned against you then?
I am a strong believer. I believe in God. My conscience was clear from day one. I didn’t do any wrong. Witch-hunting is really bad in politics. Discussions and debates are fine but violence and mud-slinging are bad. I don’t like to compare the solar case with the present (gold) smuggling scandal. All I will say, we have to check decay in politics. Senior leaders will have to take a role in this.