Ernakulam Junction railway station, platform number 3. It is close to 1pm and commuters are craning their neck to catch a glimpse of the Kochuveli-Amritsar Express train chugging into the station. The loudspeaker crackles into life. “This is Pinarayi Vijayan,” a recorded voice in Malayalam says. “Let us vote for responsible and humane development. LDF will come to power and everything will be all right.” Just a few feet away from me is the man who promises to bring about that change. He does not bat an eyelid. His face does not betray any expression. A person close to him suggests that there was no need of that announcement when the man himself was around, and he smiles. That is Pinarayi Vijayan for you. Measured and assured in whatever he does. Be it explaining the CPI(M)'s outlook on national and state issues, or wading into his party's critics, sharp words shredding their logic into pieces. Everything is measured and apportioned. Even anger.
On board the Amritsar Express, the man whom many expect to be chief minister if the Left Democratic Front comes to power, opened up about his vision for Kerala, views on development, prohibition, the BJP's chances in Kerala and corruption. Excerpts from an interview:
What do you mean by 'responsible and humane' development? How is it different from the development model of the UDF government?
The UDF government never bothered about development. They only succeeded in setting back the state in all sectors. Take the case of Kochi Metro. Because of the UDF government's inefficiency the work is not yet complete. When the LDF government completed its term in 2011, we had covered a lot of ground regarding the project and had finalised E. Sreedharan as the man who would helm it. He was the only one in the country who had the expertise to do it. Yet, the UDF government was adamant that they would start the project afresh, without Sreedharan. Then, when they found that popular sentiment was against them, they brought him in. Nearly eight months were lost chasing the controversy. The urgency was missing and that's the reason why the metro is still not running.
Preliminary discussions about the Kannur Airport began when the LDF was in power in 1996. The UDF government that succeeded ours in 2001 sat on the project for five years. When we came back to power in 2006, the project again took life. We acquired land and made provision for roads. If it had been continued with the same zest, the first flight would have landed in Kannur by now. Instead what have we got? Normally, an airport is inaugurated once all the facilities, including the tower, are ready. In their hurry to inaugurate it, the government got the air force to land a flight. This is ridiculous. We had conceived the Vizhinjam port as one built and run by the state government. What the UDF has done is against the interest of the state, and would incur loss to the exchequer.
But the UDF is projecting development as their biggest achievement.
What they did was to destroy the traditional industries like coir and cashew. Joblessness is rampant here. In fact, whenever the UDF government comes to power, the traditional industries run into a crisis. The employees in the sector want the LDF to come to power.
The UDF ignored even the public sector enterprises. The Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceutical is a case in point. When the LDF came to power in 2006, we decided to purchase drugs produced by the loss-making enterprise and it came out of the red. The UDF overturned the decision, pushing it into losses.
The lack of farsightedness has affected almost all sectors including health care and education.
What will be the focus of LDF if you come to power?
We will focus on development that is based on social justice and equality. Agriculture will be a major focus area. We will encourage people to use modern techniques and equipment, and will ensure decent price for the produce so that more people are attracted to the sector. When the prices come down, we will procure the produce from the farmers, paying them at the point of purchase, and set up air conditioned storage facilities.
In the traditional sector, we will go for branding the products and make them covetable.
How would you react to the UDF's challenge on the prohibition front?
While the Congress is talking about prohibition in Kerala, in neighbouring Karnataka, their government is making a killing on the sale of liquor. Some Congress-governed states in the northeast have lifted prohibition after they realised the failure of the policy.
We are all for abstinence, and would work closely with organisations working towards it. Bringing down consumption of liquor is our focus, not prohibition.
What effect will the SNDP-promoted Bharath Dharma Jana Sena have in the elections?
The RSS wanted to drag the Ezhava population into its fold and is using Vellappally Natesan for that. It will not work because no follower of Sri Narayana Guru, who dreamt of a society without caste divisions and religious animosity, can be associated with the RSS, which promotes religious hatred. The BJP is looking at removing Backward Castes, to which the Ezhava population belongs, from the reservation list if one is to go by what Prime Minister Narendra Modi says. How can SNDP followers agree to that?
Surveys are predicting a seat for the BJP, possibly Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram.
The BJP will not get a single seat from Kerala. Kerala society will never accept the BJP and RSS, whatever the surveys say. They promote caste and communal politics and our social fibre will withstand that. They were hoping to promote the good days promised by Modi government, but can't find them.
How would you explain the CPI(M)'s relationship with the Congress in West Bengal?
We have no tie-up with the Congress. In fact, the party congress in Visakhapatnam had decided against it and there has been no change in that policy. We are very clear on this: we can have no association with parties that support liberalisation. In West Bengal, there is a movement against the murder of democracy. We are fighting the dictatorial policies of the Trinamool Congress. So is the Congress. That is it.
Your stint as electricity minister during 1996-98 has been lauded by experts.
I cannot claim credit for the turnaround in the electricity sector. It was a LDF government initiative and all employees contributed to it. When we came in, there was 4.5 hours power cut during day for domestic users and one hour in the night. For industrial users, it was 95 per cent power cut. We turned around the situation with help from the staff.
Will the solar scam be an election issue?
People are fed up with corruption. There have been many scams and solar is just one of them, and the chief minister was at the centre of all this. So it is natural that it will have an effect.
This is the first assembly election after the Revolutionary Socialist Party (B) parted ways with the LDF. How will it affect the LDF's chances in Kollam district?
It will have no effect. RSP will be wiped out in this elections. We will win all the seats there.
How will you encourage entrepreneurship and investment in the state?
We will have to change a lot. People have left the state blaming inordinate delays in getting clearances. Our focus will be on time-bound sanctions, but at the same time we would promote only those enterprises that suit Kerala, that will not harm our environment.
How do you keep up with the changing world that allows instant communication?
I use some of the new tools for communication, and I keep track of the social media activity on my iPad.