In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, the first one he gave after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Kerala, Oommen Chandy said he was deeply hurt by the decision to keep him out of a function attended by the prime minister and that he suspected the BJP to be behind the move. Excerpts:
How do you feel about being excluded from the statue unveiling function of R. Shankar?
R. Shankar was a former KPCC president and a Congress chief minister. After him, the Congress has never had a CM on its on; all others belonged to the United Democratic Front alliance. When I was invited to the statue unveiling ceremony, I was overjoyed. [SNDP general secretary] Vellappally Natesan had asked me to preside over the function and even sent me a copy of the programme. Later, he came under pressure to drop me. He was hesitant to tell me this, so he conveyed the message through others. But I insisted that he should inform me directly. So he called me up and told me that it was difficult for him to let me attend the function as he was under tremendous pressure. I am absolutely certain that Natesan is not behind this.
Till the prime minister left Kerala, I had shown utmost restraint as I did not want his programmes in Kerala to suffer. I received him in Kochi. Today [December 15], all the ministers went to see him off and we spoke for about 25 minutes. Although I am extremely sad, the grief isn’t personal. To keep the CM out of such a function is an insult to the state.
Do you hold the BJP responsible for the insult?
If you go by the elimination process, the suspicion leads you there.
Was it the state unit of the BJP or the central leadership and the PMO behind it? Home Minister Rajnath Singh said your office had sent a letter saying you were giving the function a miss.
I can't say for sure now at what level it operated. About Rajnath Singh's comments, on the afternoon of December 12, my office issued a press release about me not attending the function, which explained in detail that I was skipping the function because those who had invited me themselves asked me not to come. So, it was quite clear that I was not withdrawing on my own. Then I got a call from the PMO saying that Natesan told them that I would not be attending and asked for my confirmation. After this, the state protocol officer got a call from the PMO, asking whether the CM would attend the function. When he said I would not be attending, the PMO insisted that the response should be given in writing. That was how the letter was sent.
Did you speak to the PM about the controversy?
When I went to receive him in Kochi, I informed him that I would not be participating in his other engagements and would be coming only to see him off. Today, I gave him in writing my views about the controversy. I was determined not to speak out till the PM left Kerala as it would possibly stir up another controversy. He is the prime minister of the country and to show him respect is all about showing respect to India's great democratic traditions.
After Modi's Kerala visit, do you foresee an alliance between the BJP and the BDJS?
Communal harmony is our biggest asset, and a leading force behind that was Sree Narayana Guru, whose vision soared above caste and religious divisions. So I am sure that even if someone tries to do so, it is not possible to mislead the people of Kerala and take them away from the path of secularism and communal harmony. I won't rule out the possibility of an alliance [between the BJP and the BDJS]. But even if that happens, the people of Kerala will not let it gain strength. The reaction to the statue unveiling controversy is an indication of that.