'Congress has a history of making adjustments with communal forces': Pinarayi Vijayan

The Kerala CM talks on the need to fight both BJP and Congress


Interview/ Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala chief minister


In April 2021, as Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was leading the CPI(M)’s assembly poll campaign to win a second consecutive term, a spirited debate erupted in Kerala over an epithet that party workers had bestowed on him. Vijayan, they said, was “the captain” who successfully steered the state through crises―cyclone, floods, the pandemic, and so on. Critics sneered that it was against Marxist principles to promote a cult of personality.

That Vijayan played a pivotal role in the CPI(M) retaining power in Kerala is undeniable. Now, in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, too, the CPI(M) is relying on him to help the party avert the risk of losing its status as a national party. The CPI(M) needs to win at least 2 per cent of seats in the Lok Sabha (11 seats) from three states to retain its iconic hammer, sickle and star symbol in 2026. Hopes rest heavily on Kerala, the party’s last bastion in the country.

The state’s electoral dynamics poses a challenge, though. The CPI(M)’s primary opponent in Kerala, the Congress, is also its national alliance partner. There is a direct fight between the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front in all 20 seats in the state. This means Vijayan and the LDF must strike a balance in opposing the BJP and the Congress.

In an extensive email interview with THE WEEK, Vijayan spoke about issues ranging from the CPI(M)’s political strategy in and outside Kerala, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s candidature in Wayanad, and the Union government’s “misusing” of investigative agencies. Excerpts:

44-Pinarayi-Vijayan-and-Shailaja Captain in action: Pinarayi Vijayan with K.K. Shailaja, former minister and the CPI(M)’s candidate in Vadakara, at a campaign event in Kozhikode in March | Vidhuraj M.T.

Q/ Your party is part of a coalition that aims to bring down the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. How do you strike a balance between criticising the Congress in Kerala and allying with it at the national level?

A/The broad platform against the RSS-led BJP is an effort to save India’s secular, democratic character. The RSS plans to declare India as Hindu Rashtra as part of its centenary celebrations next year. To prevent that, the BJP has to be kept out of power at the Centre.

The fight against the BJP is being fought under the leadership of opposition parties in the states, and the Congress is a junior partner in that fight in almost all the states. But, when it comes to Kerala, the UDF is in opposition to the LDF. They echo the same sentiments of the BJP against the LDF. As long as the Congress in Kerala continues to enable the BJP here, how can the left not criticise them? 

You often speak about the role of the left parties in fighting “fascist forces”. How do you plan to strengthen the left’s presence nationally, especially when the CPI(M) itself is facing the risk of losing its national party status? 

Workers, farmers, youth and students have all come out in protest against the misguided policies of the BJP-RSS combine over the past 10 years. It was the workers’ protests, under organisations such as the CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions), that prevented the Union government from privatising our ordnance factories. It was the farmers’ protests, in which the AIKS (All India Kisan Sabha) played a lead role, that forced the Union government to repeal the farm laws it passed. They even had to withdraw from joining the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) because of strong objections from workers and farmers. In the recently held students’ union elections in Jawaharlal Nehru University, the left panel which includes the SFI (Students’ Federation of India) trounced the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad).

All this underlines the fact that the Left and its organisations are already being strengthened at the grassroots level through their participation and leadership in the people’s movements. As far as the CPI(M) is concerned, we are really optimistic. We will be doing much better this time than in the last few elections.

Q/ Observers say a crucial question the CPI(M) has to address in Kerala is: ‘Why vote for the CPI(M) when the Congress is the principal opposition party?’

A/Throughout the country, there is an exodus to the BJP from political parties including the Congress. In fact, many of the current BJP leaders are former Congress leaders. But the left stands as a real alternative. The people are sure that we will not join hands with the BJP, no matter how much money or muscle [they show].

Also, if you look back at the first term of the United Progressive Alliance, when the left gave outside support to the Congress, there were seminal interventions that enabled the strengthening of the Indian democracy. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and the Right to Information and Right to Education Acts, were all results of such interventions under the common minimum programme that we devised. However, there were no such initiatives during UPA-II, which was not supported by the left. The people realise that the left’s presence in Parliament has to be sizeable to ensure that there is a meaningful change in Indian democracy.

As far as the people of Kerala are concerned, they have been seeing how the MPs from the UDF have been silent in Parliament on issues pertaining to Kerala. In fact, these MPs have even sided with the BJP in several instances, taking an anti-Kerala and anti-people stance. At the same time, despite a reduced strength, the left has taken principled positions in Parliament, and stood up for the rights of the state and its people. That is exactly why the people of Kerala are going to repose their faith in the LDF this time around.

Q/ Do you believe the north-south divide has widened during Modi’s rule?

A/Let us not belittle it as a north-south issue. It is a matter of the entire country and its federal structure. We are seeing constant attacks by the Union on the rights and powers of the states. The Union is repeatedly enacting laws on subjects under the state list in the Constitution. International agreements are being entered into on matters that affect the states, without even consulting the states or informing them. The fiscal autonomy of states is being eroded. All this is antithetical to the Constitution and its basic structure.

Q/ Rahul Gandhi’s candidature was cited as a major factor behind the LDF rout in 2019. Do you think Rahul Gandhi will be a non-factor in the polls this time?

A/Absolutely; he will only be evaluated based on his performance as an MP from Kerala. People in Wayanad are seriously asking questions about his presence and interventions in the Lok Sabha, especially on issues that mattered to them the most, like human-wildlife conflict, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Investigation Agency [probes] and Ayodhya. If the Congress’s topmost leaders are actually keen on fighting the BJP, they would contest directly against BJP candidates. What is the message given to the public when even their topmost leaders are reluctant to do so?

Q/ Congress leaders allege that the CPI(M) has entered into a pact with the BJP in some seats.

A/Everything is yellow to the jaundiced eye. The Congress has a history of making adjustments with communal forces, right from the days of the ‘Co-Lea-B’ (a tacit alliance that the Congress, the Muslim League and the BJP were said to have formed in the 1990s). Leaders who orchestrated such shameless communal alliances have themselves confirmed the existence of such an alliance. Even in this election, there are hints that such an understanding is there in some places.

Q/ You have alleged that the BJP is using Central agencies against opposition leaders. Do you fear that what happened to the Aam Aadmi Party and Arvind Kejriwal would happen to you and the CPI(M)?

A/When authorities at the Centre are bent on misusing investigative agencies as a weapon for political retaliation without any regard for the rule of law, anything can happen.

Q/ UDF leadership seems confident that there is strong anti-incumbency against your government, and that it would help them win all 20 seats. 

Anti-incumbency is against the RSS-led BJP government at the Centre, and those who aid it. The UDF will be forced to accept this reality when the people deliver their verdict.

Q/ The CPI(M) has been at the forefront of the legal fight against electoral bonds. Do you think the fact that the Congress accepted contributions through electoral bonds has weakened the INDIA bloc’s stance against the BJP on this issue?

A/On the issue of electoral bonds, there is no difference between the BJP and the Congress. Both have amassed funds from cronies. If the BJP secured more than Rs8,400 crore using their power at the Centre and in the states, the Congress secured more than Rs1,900 crore, despite being in power in only a handful of states.

We have all seen how Central investigative agencies going after companies has resulted in subsequent contributions to the BJP through electoral bonds. We have even seen companies that won contracts from BJP governments contributing to the BJP via electoral bonds. There is even the curious case of a company related to a BJP MP from Andhra Pradesh [buying] electoral bonds for the Congress, and securing projects from the Congress government in Himachal Pradesh.

Payments for contracts are made from the public exchequer. Those who win contracts are paying a fraction of it to political parties as kickbacks. So, in essence, public money is being siphoned off by companies and political parties utilising electoral bonds. It proves the stance we have maintained right from the outset, that electoral bonds will only legalise corruption.

The left’s criticism stands vindicated with the Supreme Court verdict. It was the CPI(M) that approached the court against it and secured the verdict. When there was dilly-dallying in upholding the essence of the verdict, we approached the court again and again. Despite attempts to delay information on electoral bonds being made public before the polls, we now have details of who donated to whom, and when, and how much, and all that.

Q/You have announced that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act would not be implemented in Kerala. Do you think CAA will be a crucial poll issue here?

A/It is definitely a crucial poll issue, not just in Kerala but across the country. A few years ago, we said electoral bonds were unconstitutional, and approached the judiciary. We were proven right. Now we are saying that the CAA is unconstitutional, and have once again approached the judiciary. We will again be proven right.

Q/ The Social Democratic Party of India, an offshoot of the banned Popular Front of India, has pledged support to the UDF. The Congress took time to declare that it did not need the support. Do you think the SDPI’s backing of the UDF will be detrimental to the INDIA bloc?

A/The Congress was unable to outrightly say a firm ‘no’ to the support offered by a communal outfit like the SDPI. In fact, they even welcomed it initially. If, [in spite of the fact] that SDPI members are the main accused in the murder of Congress members, [Congress leaders] were in two minds about declining the support, it is a sure sign of how low they are willing to stoop.

The left is clear in its stance. We are against communalism of all sorts, whether majoritarian or minoritarian. We have never minced words in stating that, and we never will.