Shashi Tharoor, MP, one of Congress's star campaigners in Kerala along with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi for the April 6 assembly elections, is confident that the winds of change are blowing in favour of the United Democratic Front (UDF). He says the ground realities, which he could feel during his campaign tours across the state, is contrary to the results of the pre-poll surveys, which predict another term for the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government. Hours before the campaigning ends for the assembly polls, which many believe is a do-or-die battle for the Congress, Tharoor talks to Onmanorama. Edited excerpts:
In two days, the people of Kerala will vote to decide who should rule the state for the next five years? Which way is the wind blowing, to quote one of your tweets?
I have been through the state for the last three-four weeks now and I'm confident that the wind is blowing in our direction. The traditional rivalry between the LDF and UDF meant that normally the sitting government will always be overturned by the opposition. That's partially a reflection of the Kerala voters' impatience with each formation and government. This time, various election surveys have suggested otherwise, but from our campaigning on the ground, it's very clear that what the surveys claim is not what is visible in terms of public reactions and public conservations. I'm very confident that the UDF is winning.
One after the other all opinion polls predict another term for the Left front. Doesn't it suggest a common trend?
There are two crucial questions regarding the surveys. They are, how large is the sample and when was the question asked. Look at the most recent survey, the one that got the most attention because it was from the most popular television channel, that made a lot of waves at the end of March. When I actually looked at the dates the questions were asked, they had started it from March 18. That's problem number one. Problem number two is they went to only 50 out of 140 constituencies and within those they interviewed only an average of 200 people per constituency. If you look at that, you realise what a terribly small sample is that to judge the prospects of an election in which 140 seats are at stake.
Also, very clearly there are local factors at various places which are going to give you a slightly more challenging result. The former British PM Harold Wilson said a week is a long-time in politics. Since they began conducting the opinion polls, two and a half weeks have gone by and now a few more days are left. My own view is in that time a lot of things would have changed.
You have been campaigning across the state like never before. Can we assume that you are ready to take up some bigger role in state politics?
In both my previous elections, I had campaigned at the request of individual candidates. (About taking up a bigger role) I'm not a candidate here. The job already entrusted to me by my party and the voters of Thiruvananthapuram is to represent them in parliament, which I'm doing. The party has also given me some national responsibility as the chairman of the All India Professionals Congress and as the chairman of a parliamentary committee. I have got plenty of work.
When it comes to Kerala, however, I was very happy to lead the consultation for drafting the manifesto. We have come up with a well-consulted popular manifesto. I have perhaps spent a little longer on the campaign this time but it's all the same sort of approach essentially. At the end of the day, one has to be loyal to the party structure. If the party wants me to do something, I'm available. But I have a job to do and I'm doing it as best as I can do. I'm also helping those of my colleagues who are contesting this time to get elected to the assembly and form the new government.
The CPM is projecting itself as a very progressive and secular force. But you keep accusing them of following a 19th-century redundant ideology. Do you really believe that Marxism is redundant? What's the Congress' alternative?
Congress stands for, I suppose, what the Marxists would call social democracy, which believes in free institutions in both economy and politics which Marxism does not. Marxism believes in the dictatorship of the proletariat. We don't believe in dictatorship of any kind whether of the proletariat or of the crony capitalists whom Mr (Prime Minister) Modi likes so much. We believe in democracy, pluralism and inclusion. We also believe that if we give freedom to the people to prosper and make money, then the revenues coming to the state must be distributed to those who are left out or the poor so that they too can be participants in such a society. You make consumers out of the poor by giving them help. and that's all our Nyuntam Aay Yojana (Nyay) programme is about. (Nyay, the main promise in Congress' manifesto aims to provide Rs 72,000 to the poor per year).
The Marxists are following a discredited 19th-century ideology that the entire world has discarded. China is the only country in the entire world that calls itself communist and they are running a nakedly capitalist system. We now have to focus on the 21st century and we have to go beyond these old tired dogmas of the past.