As seat-sharing talks are underway in the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the run-up to the assembly polls in Kerala, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) state general secretary K P Abdul Majeed says his party will contest in more seats. He also hinted at the possibility of replacing candidates for the elections slated for April 6.
In a candid chat with Manorama Online, Majeed blamed the ruling CPM-led front of raking up communalist issues with electoral motives. "The LDF (Left Democratic Front) government is resorting to communal propaganda since it has nothing else to show to the people by way of achievements," Majeed stated.
The veteran League leader also stated that the UDF will expose the graft cases of the government including the shady deals behind the now-scrapped deep-sea fishing project concluded with a foreign firm. He also dismissed with “due contempt” BJP leader Shoba Surendran's invite for the IUML to join hands with her party.
In 2016 the IUML had contested on 24 seats (including those of independents) and won 18. Aren't you demanding 30 seats this time?
The seat-sharing talks are only underway. It is expected to be completed by this weekend. We have sought more seats. It's too early to reveal the numbers. Nevertheless, we are expecting more seats to be allotted this time. The seat-sharing talks will conclude without any hassles.
It was way back in 1996 that the IUML considered fielding a woman candidate, Kamarunnisa Anwar, for the first time. After that, women were never fielded by the party. Will there be one this time?
The party is yet to select candidates. The choice of the candidates would depend on the finalisation of the sharing and allocation of constituencies by the UDF. Women's League has sought representation. No decision has been taken on all these matters as of now.
(Kamarunnisa Anwar had lost to a CPM candidate from the Kozhikode-2 constituency in the 1996 state polls.)
How far beneficial has been the Aishwarya Kerala Yatra conducted by the Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala for the UDF?
It was more successful than expected. It has been a morale booster for the UDF. The Yatra has infused hope in the UDF about returning to power. Starting from Kasaragod, the march had received resounding reception in all the constituencies and witnessed overwhelming participation by the public. The arrival of Rahul Gandhi proved to be a shot in the arm for it.
Will the UDF attack on the Pinarayi Vijayan government gain momentum in the coming days?
It has been proved that the allegations levelled by the opposition and the opposition leader against the government were true. This has been proved in the case of the government's deal for a deep-sea trawling project also. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan claimed the other day he couldn't recall meeting any representatives of the US firm EMCC. Usually, it is difficult to meet the chief minister. He meets five or six persons a day. It is strange that he doesn't remember meeting the EMCC representatives who would have met him after getting an appointment!
If (former CM) Oommen Chandy, who always spends most of his time in the midst of people, makes such a claim we can understand. Everybody knows Pinarayi Vijayan is lying.
The backdoor appointments in government agencies, regularisation of temporary workers, the ongoing strike by PSC job aspirants and the crisis faced by fishermen and similar issues will benefit the UDF in this election.
What is your response to the allegations of A Vijayaraghavan, the interim CPM state secretary, that Congress leaders' Panakkad visit favoured communal politics?
This government has nothing much to speak about its achievements; hence it is harping on communalist and casteist issues. If his government has done anything for the people he should highlight that. What is there to complain about Congress leaders calling on a leader of a constituent party of the UDF? Is that an instance of communalistic conduct? Those who raise such allegations are simply echoing and doing what the BJP is executing at the national level. Such controversial statements would create an adverse impact on Kerala's social environment.
In Kerala electoral politics is carried out democratically. During electioneering manifestos are released by the contestants and then the issues that concern the people are debated upon. Unfortunately, they are speaking about caste, religion and communalism instead. The ruling party is resorting to this type of campaigning as it is not hopeful of winning the polls and retaining power. I feel such conduct would only harm the CPM.
What will be the main poll plank of the League and the UDF this time?
Corruption, nepotism, misrule, secret deals and policy decisions which were against development. All these are enough to be taken up for our campaign. There is no need to speak about communalism. The voters can infer rightly if we talk about the shortcomings of the government.
The government claims it has dealt with COVID-19 effectively. Is that so?
The claims of the government have been exposed. At present, COVID-19 is widespread and intense mostly in Kerala. Covid testing is not comprehensive in the state. The government under-reported statistics including that of Covid deaths and made it appear as if everything is fine. As the government was desperate to get applause it propagated that Kerala has been in the forefront in dealing with the virus.
In the first phase, the government assured that steps would be taken to provide quarantine facility and food for the infected people. But soon, the government made people, even those who were returning from abroad, to quarantine themselves at home.
The government is yet to provide Rs 8 crore to the Manjeri Medical College Hospital for providing facilities for COVID-19 treatment.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had made it clear that the virus will not spread from the body when a patient dies. The government ignored this advisory and made the people suffer. When COVID-19 patients died the relatives were not even allowed to see the body. There were other restrictions like barring the bereaved to perform the last rites in accordance with their faith. This was something unheard elsewhere in the world.
Though a decision was taken to hand over the bodies to relatives, still bodies continued to be dumped 10 feet down.
Moreover, it's only in Kerala that a sum of Rs 1,700 is charged for COVID-19 testing. In Hyderabad, the test can be done at a much lesser cost.
The IUML has a sizeable votebank among the NRIs. How has been the government's approach towards them?
If we look at the situation arising out of the pandemic alone we can conclude that this government has been against the NRIs. The government barred them from returning home as a result of which they suffered in no small measure. Nearly 8-9 people live huddled in a room in many places (abroad). The government didn't take any measure to bring them home. The NORKA remained a mute spectator. Several NRIs died. But did the government extend any compensation to their bereaved families?
The state and central governments are also doing nothing to ensure that the non-resident Keralites get their right to vote. The state government has no commitment to the welfare of Keralites living abroad. The schemes announced for the welfare of overseas Malayalees who have returned to the state and that for settling their debts have not been fulfilled.
Do you accept the claims made by the government about significant developments in healthcare, education, housing and roads?
All these are mere publicity. What did they do for improving basic facilities? You can realise it by comparing the number of bridges constructed by the Oommen Chandy government and the LDF government. This government entrusted more tasks to the RDS Projects which constructed the controversial Palarivattom bridge. A consortium comprising the RDS secured the construction contract for the overbridge at Kazhakuttom Junction and the Alappuzha and Kollam by-pass roads.
The government was unwilling to conduct the load test on the Palarivattom bridge. Instead of black listing the company, the government only tried to make the (UDF) minister a scapegoat.
The government has profusely spent on advertisements. The next government will have to take burden for the expenditure incurred on such extravaganza. By such actions the government is trying to make-believe what it has not done so far.
The LDF government projected the deep-sea fishing deal as an achievement in its advertisements. It was only a stunt by the government to deceive the people by claiming that the LDF rule brought about development. The government was forced to withdraw the advertisement when it became a controversy.
BJP leader Sobha Surendran has announced that if the IUML is willing to join the NDA it would be welcome. Are there any such moves?
We haven't taken Sobha Surendran's statement seriously and we dismiss it with contempt. Though a BJP leader, Sobha is not in line with its leadership. We've no idea why she has offered such a bait! The question of the IUML siding with the BJP doesn't arise at all. At the national level we are campaigning against the BJP by bringing together all the opposition parties including the CPI (M). The BJP has ruined democracy, secularism, the Parliament and the Judiciary. When we are putting up such a fight how is it possible to cooperate with that party? The minorities can never go along with the BJP. The BJP is autocratic.
Would (IUML leader) P K Kunhalikutty's return to Kerala politics help the party?
We asked him to return to Kerala politics hoping that the UDF could benefit. It is easy to send anyone to Delhi (as an MP). But Kunhalikutty's presence is required here to strengthen the UDF and help the front to return to power. The IUML state committee requested his return to Kerala politics as it's difficult to take up the affairs of the state and those at the national level simultaneously. Subsequently, the suggestion was accepted by the national committee.
The LDF had criticised the IUML for joining hands with the Welfare Party during the local body polls. Will there be a similar understanding for the Assembly polls?
It was not an alliance, we had only an adjustment. We've no hesitation in saying this openly. Our adjustment was only for the local body polls. There will be no links with the Welfare Party for the assembly polls. But whatever we do will be done openly.
During the local body polls we had an understanding with the Welfare Party in 32 panchayats. During the previous local body polls (in 2016) the CPM too had an alliance with it. They jointly ruled several panchayats in Malappuram district. Didn't (CPM leader) Paloli Mohammed Kutty say in a press conference that there is nothing wrong in joining hands with the Jamat-e-Islami?
Even as you level allegations of corruption against the LDF government, your own party legislators face corruption cases. How will you counter it? Will (ex-minister) P.K.Ibrahim Kunju contest again?
The case relating to the Palarivattom bridge was probed by the Vigilance department and set aside. Yet Ibrahim Kunju was arrested. It's yet to be decided whether Ibrahim Kunju would contest this time. As for M C Kamaruddin, (the Manjeshwaram MLA), he was the chairman of a business venture (Fashion Gold). Several accused in the same case are protected by the CPI (M). They were not arrested. Didn't Nilambur MLA P.V.Anwar's business collapse? The cases were slapped against our leaders and MLAs with a political motive.
Will you contest this time?
Panakkad Hyderali Shihab Thangal, (the state president of the League), decides on the candidates. I'm associated with Thangal as the general secretary of the party for over 10 years.
Congress leaders Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala are jointly leading the UDF campaign. Who among the two could become the CM?
The Congress does not announce its chief ministerial candidate before the polls. The CM choice will be announced by the party high command after the polls. As the main constituent of the UDF, whatever decision is taken by the Congress, IUML will stand by it. We don't have to make any suggestion on this matter.
Your response to the Cabinet's recent decision to withdraw all the cases, except grave ones, in the wake of the protests against the entry of women in the Sabarimala temple and also over the CAA?
The government's stand is clear on the Sabarimala issue. Didn't the government send women in disguise, accompanied by police, to the temple and thus violated its custom? Each place of worship has its own customs. The right thing for the government to do would have been to acknowledge the custom and stand with the devotees. The state government and the Centre didn't take efforts to bring legislation in this regard. It was only because the UDF took a firm stand that the government came forward to withdraw the cases.
The CM had announced the CAA will not be implemented. But cases were registered against all those who participated in the anti-CAA protests. Not only the cadres of the Muslim League, even prominent people from the cultural sphere were booked for addressing the protesters. Even as the government says it's with the minorities it is registering cases against them. On all such issues, the government has double standards. People will realise all these.