In the Communist Party of India (CPI), there is just one leader from Kerala, other than state secretary Kanam Rajendran, who is in the party's central secretariat. And, it is Binoy Viswam, Rajya Sabha MP. Binoy Viswam is also the key link between the state and central leaderships of the party. Apart from the responsibilities entrusted to him by the party in Delhi, he is also tasked with helping the state leadership.
Binoy Viswam was the Minister for Forests and Environment (2006-11) in the V S Achuthanandan cabinet in Kerala. His keen commitment to matters concerning the environment and his keen interest in such issues always made him a politician with a difference. His recent statement on the non-viability of a non-Congress alternative at the Centre had whipped up a storm. In a free-wheeling chat with Manorama's Sujith Nair, Binoy Viswam makes his stance clear on a range of issues—from merger of Communist parties, national political alternative to K-Rail in Kerala.
Q: Your statement that the Left will not be able fill in for the Congress if the latter sees a wipeout has created a controversy. Do you mean to say that the Congress alone can constitute a meaningful Opposition?
A: This is attributing more meaning to what I had actually said. In politics, discourse and discussions are common. In the rush to make news, most of the crucial things I had stated in the said meeting were not reported. I never assumed that only the Congress leadership could perceive and implement an anti-BJP programme. But, the Congress is one party which could, and essentially should, play its part in an anti-BJP movement. I was not lauding the Congress, but was trying to point to the tumult that the party faces now. The Congress forgot Nehru and his ideals as the party raced on the path of liberalisation. This is my charge.
Q: A certain empathy for the Congress was evident in that speech…
A: I am not a Leftist who would want to see the decimation of the Congress. I wish the Left would have been in a place to fill any void created by the Congress. However, the Left is in no such position. In the current scenario, any weakening of the Congress would work to the advantage of the BJP. We do not want a stronger BJP.
Q: There was criticism from within the CPI. Some leaders said that it was wrong to speak of the CPI's stance at a Congress function…
A: A criticism of the Congress should be made in a function organised by that party. I did not make a statement to become popular. I thought it appropriate to make a strong political statement at a function organised to remember a leader of the stature of P T Thomas. I could have spoken of the deep friendship that I had with the late leader and concluded my speech. But, I think, I was doing justice to the leader that P T Thomas was, in making these remarks. Those who jump to conclusions without listening to the whole speech deserve no reply.
Q: How do you respond to the statement that this stance is straight out of the Dange line of thought—of supporting the Congress?
A: I will not play into such misreadings. I am a Communist party worker. I speak the politics of my party. The party was right when it opposed the Dange line of thought and it expelled the leader. The party did not blink and it did not take into consideration that Dange was a top leader.
Q: Is there an inherent issue with Kanhaiya Kumar switching sides and joining the Congress? Is there a hangover, still?
A: The party treated Kanhaiya Kumar well. All leaders showered him with love. In 10 years of joining the party, Kanhaiya was inducted into the national executive, a position which leaders take 40-50 years to reach. I spoke to Kanhaiya on the eve of him joining the Congress. Kanhaiya said he was saddened at the very thought that I suspected that he was about to switch to the Congress. He went to the extent of saying that he had nothing more than the party and had nowhere to go other than the CPI. We saw him at the Congress office at 10 am the next morning.
Q: Isn't that a betrayal of trust?
A: I do not want to qualify it. But he could have told me, at least the previous day.
Q: The CPI(M) believes that the Congress is not a trustworthy and dependable alternative…
A: The Congress is drained of all its glory and hardly has the capability to lead an alternative front. Today's Congress is one among the many parties in the anti-BJP front. All said, the Congress is founded on the principles of secularism and religious tolerance. Also, the Congress is present in every part of the country. Such a party has a part to play in any anti-BJP political front. This is something that everyone should realise. The BJP and the Congress are not adversaries of a similar nature. The Communist parties learned the lesson of not taking on two adversaries at the same time during World War II. There should be a main enemy and, in India, the main enemy is BJP—the party which thrives on the ideals of the RSS. If Fascism takes roots in India, it will be through the BJP. Golwalkar said Germany was the country which had the highest manifestation of nationalist pride. He also said Hindustan had a lot to learn from Germany. What does this imply? The BJP is led by the ideals of Hitler and Mussolini. Congress could be a bourgeoisie party but not a Fascist one. Till the Congress remains secular, it has a role to play in the fight against the BJP. But, the Congress should save itself and we cannot do it for them.
Q: The CPI(M) has been pitching for state-level alliances against the BJP. The party says a national alternative is not relevant now.
A: I think, after the CPI(M)'s party congress, they will not simultaneously strike a non-Congress, non-BJP posture politically. There is no essential difference between the standpoints of the CPI(M) and the CPI. No alternative is viable without the Congress. But, the Congress may not have a place of prominence in the alternative. They are in no position to lead the Front. Congress is not a party to be shunned. A national alternative could form in many ways. The alliances in states could also have an impact on the national alternative. But, we could strike an alliance with the Congress in one state and oppose it in another.
Q: Will the two Communist parties find common ground in their approach to the Congress? Will the CPI(M) come to terms with the CPI stance?
A: Definitely. The CPI(M) doesn't think that the BJP is not the main enemy or that the RSS is non-Fascist.
Q: In West Bengal, the Left struck an alliance with the Congress against the BJP and the Trinamool. What benefit did this bring about? Also, the CPI(M) leaders in Kerala think the alliance in West Bengal caused a dent to the party's stature.
A: One alliance and its failure cannot be deemed the end of the world. We will draw lessons from what happened. Both the CPI and the CPI(M) will examine what happened, any flaws in the understanding of the ground situation, and probable issues in the alliance as such.
Q: It will affect Left unity if the CPI and the CPI(M) take divergent stands on the issue of national alternative…
A: I perceive the CPI-CPI(M) unity as a great reality of Indian politics. The relationship is the hinge of it all. It will not be affected by any peripheral activity. There will be open discussions. I personally think the CPI and the CPI(M) should unite. The LDF government in Kerala is the outcome of the energy we invest in CPI-CPI(M) unity. It is an alternative that we put forth to India that the BJP constantly plunders. We will save it at any cost. The government of Kerala is the CPI's as much as it is the CPI(M)'s.
Q: The Left withdrew support to the UPA-1 government at the Centre in spite of all the anti-BJP arguments. Wasn't this a mistake? The rift with the Congress started there…
A: During the last phase of the UPA-1 regime, there were some issues in the alliance. The government deviated from the ideals of the Left. This is when the Left withdrew support. But the withdrawal of support on the basis of the nuclear agreement was something which could have been done after more thought. The Left should have withdrawn support on issues affecting the people more, like unemployment and price rise. This thoughtfulness was lacking then. This would have chimed well with the common man. The nuclear issue was something that only the 'intellectuals' understood.
Q: After your statement, some Congress leaders had reminisced of the old Congress-CPI unity. Do you think an alliance government equivalent to that could never be formed again?
A: There is nothing to say on that political nostalgia. The achievements of the C Achutha Menon government are exemplary. No government after that could replicate it. We took corrective measures as the alliance did not go well.
Q: The SilverLine project has caused a direct confrontation with the Opposition. Do you think this project is essential for the development of Kerala?
A: The Left Democratic Front government will not proceed with any project without allaying the fears of the common man. There is nothing more that I need to say.
Q: You are a keen environmentalist as well, apart from being a politician. After the 2018 floods in Kerala, there is a need to tread carefully with regard to development activities…
A: Yes, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said after the floods that a new Kerala would be built. The new Kerala would not be the same as the old one. This statement contained everything. The CM said all that a Communist Chief Minister should say.
Q: If the SilverLine project restricts the flow of water at various places, wouldn't that cause floods?
A: Everything is contained in the statement that all the fears of the people will be allayed.
Q: This said, the government is still going ahead with land acquisition and laying of demarcation stones. Will this stop?
A: This government is not one that induces terror in its people. It takes into consideration the people's will and this is the essence of the Left.
Q: You have certain concerns and that is why you stayed away from the delegation that met the Union Minister concerned for the project…
A: Please drop this. I do not intend to discuss this further.
Q: The progress attained by China is often highlighted by CPI(M) leaders in their speeches. How do you perceive the Chinese model of development as a Communist leader?
A: There is no one model to be followed blindly. We do not follow the Chinese or the Russian models but we do take and adopt what is suitable. We have quarrelled quite a bit on these nations. In that sense, the old China and the Soviet Union no longer exist. The Chinese economic progress has even left the US surprised. The massive gap between the rich and the poor and corruption are the weak spots that these countries admit to. We are guided by India's experiences, not China's.
Q: Do you think the people of the country would accept a party that makes pro-China statements, especially when that country makes explicit threats on the border with India?
A: We are the Indian Communist party. If China poses any threat, we will stand with India. Wars cannot resolve disputes. Border disputes have been there for many decades and there should be dialogue to resolve issues.
Q: The Raveendran 'pattayams' are in the news again. Isn't there a need to put an end to the issues that these 'illegal' 'pattayams' pose, once and for all?
A: Revenue Minister K Rajan has made it amply clear that these 'pattayams' have no legal validity. Those who have these 'pattayams' cannot apply for building licences. So, the government is trying to give fresh 'pattayams' to all those who are eligible. The leadership of the CPI(M) and the CPI had resolved to stand by this decision. It should be kept in mind that the Western Ghats and its rivers, streams, ponds, and forests are essential for the livelihoods of people living there. This is something that the farmers of the region would understand better than anyone.
Q: When COVID raged, many parties, including the CPI, deferred its public functions and meetings. The CPI(M) also should have ideally done the same ahead of the court's intervention…
A: I think the CPI(M) did the right thing by stopping midway the district meetings that had already started.
Q: The CPI(M) district meets have witnessed criticism against the functioning of the police. Some CPI leaders had made it public too. How do you see these criticisms?
A: It has been a practice at CPI and CPI(M) party meetings to point out shortcomings in the Left government. Administrative changes do not happen at one stroke and this is true even if the UDF is in power. Communists perceive the police as the instrument of power of the state. It is a guarantee of the Left that its Ministers would not be corrupt. We do not claim that all officers would become corruption-free during our regime. But, we will constantly try to rectify and modernise the system.
Q: The CPI used to act as a corrective force in the LDF. Now, is it turning out to be a B-Team of the CPI(M)?
A: We do not go by attributed images and perceptions. Our politics has an innate strength—when in power and outside it.
Q: The CPI seems to have been embroiled in the Mullaperiyar tree-felling controversy. You don't seem to have responded in spite of your environmental concerns…
A: No one is embroiled in anything. It is the party's stated agenda to protect the environment and forests. The Revenue Department had issued an order keeping the best interests of farmers in mind. The order was withdrawn when it was being misused by a lobby which wanted to cut trees wantonly and for profiteering. Why is that side not being seen. We have not tried to justify what happened.
Q: You were the face of the party as Forest Minister during the V S Achuthanandan government. Later as CPI's central committee member and Rajya Sabha MP, you shifted base to Delhi. Would you be returning to Kerala politics?
A: We are all party workers. We go by what the party says and we do not have a choice. It is for the party to decide.
Q: Party positions and posts play a crucial part in the Left scheme of things. Is it only natural to think that you would be the party's state chief in future?
A: It may not be right to think that way. The Communist parties do not forecast in such a manner.
Q: In April, the Left will get two of the Rajya Sabha seats that will fall vacant. Would the CPI have one more MP other than yourself?
A: The LDF has the political maturity to take decisions in this regard.
Q: CPI-CPI(M) merger and unification are some of the ideas that have been floating around. Do you see a merger in future?
A: The CPI has never used the word 'merger' and please do not bring it up as an idea propounded by the CPI. The idea put forth by us is the unification of Left ideologies and ideals in India. It is not something that will happen in a day. We will pursue the core idea [unification on the basis of ideology]. This is especially so because the issues that led to the 1964 split of the Communist Party have all been addressed, resolved, or become irrelevant in due course. The CPI and the CPI(M) have been working closely and their policies on key national and international issues too are convergent. I believe that the theory and practicality of Marxism will keep us united.
Q: Do you mean to say that the issues that caused the 1964 split have all become irrelevant?
A: Yes. In that scenario, the natural progression is unity. We cannot say when that would happen. The motto is: Workers of the world, unite! The basis of Communism is unity and not disintegration. The split was a degenerative idea.
Q: The CPI(M) do not seem to take the idea of reunification seriously…
A: That may be the CPI(M)'s politics. That does not annul our political certitude. The unification though has many takers in the CPI(M) as well. The delay in achieving unification impacts the achievements that it could bring about. But we will wait patiently for a consensus. This does not mean that we will go begging at someone's door. This stance is a natural extension of the CPI's political thought and stance.