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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Q&A: A.K. Antony

'It will be a clash of ideologies'


For the last one year, the Kerala Chief Minister, A.K. Antony, has been bogged down by problems in the Congress. Rarely has he found time to comment on national issues. After a rather painful process of re-establishing unity in the party's Kerala unit and thrashing out issues relating to selection of candidates for the 17 seats the Congress is fighting in Kerala, Mr. Antony, a CWC member, appeared to be in a mood to look at national issues. Excerpts from his interview with Girish Menon:

What are the basic issues on which the Lok Sabha elections are being fought?

The upcoming Lok Sabha elections will witness a clash of ideologies rather than that of personalities. The fight is between the BJP that has been pampering sectarian interests and the Congress that is like an umbrella party which can accommodate all sections and interests. India's main strength has been its unity in diversity. There are several religions, castes, communities, tribes, and languages in the country. To my mind, only a party such as the Congress with a flexible ideology can rule the country. The BJP does not believe in the concept of unity in diversity. If it returns to power, it would only hasten the fragmentation of the country. The advent of the NDA has led to the emergence of divisive forces.

The Congress has been only partially successful in forging a secular front. What are the main stumbling blocks?

Initially, the stumbling block was within the Congress. But the party had to take a realistic stand at a later stage. The Congress has made several sacrifices to forge the secular front. It took the initiative in opening discussions with the DMK in Tamil Nadu. The AICC president, Sonia Gandhi, has also established a good equation with leaders such as Sharad Pawar. With the exception of Uttar Pradesh, the Congress has succeeded in at least creating a situation conducive for an electoral understanding in most States. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, has been the biggest stumbling block to establishing a secular front.

Looking at the all-India picture, how is the Congress going to get the numbers to emerge as the single largest party?

I don't want to comment on the numbers at this stage when the campaign has not fully taken off. The situation has changed since December when the Congress tasted defeat in the Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. It will improve further in the coming days. Rahul Gandhi's decision to contest the elections and Priyanka Gandhi's decision to campaign for the party would certainly electrify the youth. The BJP has touched the peak of its election campaign, which started much ahead of the actual announcement of the elections. The scene will change in two weeks time. The Congress is yet to reach its peak (in campaigning).

Political parties claiming to be secular have differences with the Congress on economic issues ... Is this a block to forging an alliance?

There is no contradiction in this. It is true that the Congress has stood for economic reforms. The difference is that it has pushed for economic reforms with a human face. The Left parties, including the CPI (M), do not mind reforms in West Bengal and are opposed to economic reforms only outside that State. I don't view economic issues as a stumbling block to forging a secular front. This is a long drawn process. The Congress itself took a long time to change its mindset. The Left parties would have to come around sooner than later. There is a major difference between the economic reforms policies of the BJP and the Congress. We are opposed to de-nationalisation and privatisation of national symbols.

Coming to Kerala, what is the most significant aspect of the list of candidates that the party has approved?

The most significant aspect is that all partymen have accepted it. There is hardly any voice of dissidence against the final list unlike in some other States. The candidates have been selected as a compromise of various interests. That is why I stated that the selection was part of a package. Even the ticket distribution in the LDF has been part of a package. The only difference is that the LDF would not openly admit it.

Would the problems in the party be solved if Antony and Karunakaran were to come together?

I make no such claims. The party was on the verge of a split, the first at the State level since 1964. It was the force of circumstances that pushed a section of the party towards a split. The CPI (M)'s propaganda and whispering campaign also did enough damage and at one stage even talked about an alliance. But none of the Congress leaders or workers irrespective of their factional loyalties really wanted to part ways. Both Mr. Karunakaran and myself can be satisfied that we could avert a split. I have always tried to give political space to all sections. I have never allowed a monopoly for any group or individual and have believed in the politics of fairness. This can be seen in every action that led to the unity. Of course, the Karunakaran faction too responded favourably.

Will the performance of your Government be an election issue?

There is a vast difference in the political situation in the State when compared to 2002 when the UDF was swept to power. At that time, the people voted vehemently against the LDF rule. Today, both the fronts are evenly balanced. That is why I stated that the Congress-led UDF has a tough fight ahead. But the State Government has several achievements to its credit. Malabar is free of political violence. The area from Thrikkarippur to Nadapuram was once the bed of political violence and murders. Peace has prevailed because of the impartial police policy adopted by the UDF Government.

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