BJP needs collective leadership to rebound in Kerala, says veteran leader Mukundan

P P Mukundan
P P Mukundan

Veteran BJP leader P P Mukundan, who was the master strategist of the BJP in Kerala in 1980s and 1990s, has always been influential whether he is inside or outside the BJP. Once the most powerful state general secretary of the BJP in-charge of organisation, he is now an ordinary member of the party.

But still, the leaders and the rank and file of the party are eager to hear what their "Mukundettan" says. At the same time, they are turning their back against any attempts made by Mukundan to come back to the party's centre stage. When did Mukundan become persona non grata for Kerala BJP? Who has closed the party's doors before him? What is his assessment about the present leadership which was once nurtured by him. Mukundan opens his mind about all these inner inner-party machinations during the "Crossfire" session with Malayala Manorama special correspondent Sujith Nair.

You wrote a Facebook post that ideological distortions and deviations will not be tolerated by the souls of martyrs. Did you mean that the present BJP leadership is in the hands of such people?
The present leaders have all the facilities and support which we lacked in the past. I was talking about the erosion of values that had crept into the party set-up. We all used to stay in the house of party workers while working at the grassroots. But today, they all live in posh hotels. They have got vehicles. But remember, the poor workers do not own vehicles. The leaders are asking these workers to call taxis. But if these leaders take these workers along with them in their cars, they actually get more time to spend with the workers. A just leader should use all avenues to take workers along with him. Instead of calling it deviation, I would like to consider it as a failure on the the part of present leaders to treat the rank and file as one one among them.

Do you think that the party's rule at the Centre has contributed to the change in the attitude of BJP state leaders?
All these comforts were there at the time of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government (1998-2004). There were no erosion of ideological values then. K G Marar, O Rajagopal and K Raman Pillai were all role models for us. Mararji used to travel in second-class train compartment. In my 15 years of tenure as BP state general secretary (organisation), I went by flight only four or five times. If we travel one day ahead in a train, you can reach the same destination on same time. What mattered is our discipline while dealing with money and other physical infrastructure.

Don't you feel the leaders should change their style in accordance with the changing times? Or do you feel that the transformation from Maraji's sleeper class travel to K Surendran's helicopter shuttle is unwanted?
In organisational matters, what is important is organisation. The decision to contest elections at two places was not taken by Surendran. It was a decision from the central leadership. It was the central leadership's folly that put Surendran in trouble. If he had contested in the Manjeshwaram Assembly constituency alone, he would have won the polls. When he toured both the constituencies in helicopters, voters naturally though that their votes would be wasted if he won in another constituency. That reasoning worked against Surendran in the polls.

Majority of the present leaders of the BJP were groomed when you were at the helm of the party. Are you saying that they have changed now?
Their lifestyle has changed. Those days, we had to enter in the party account book the money spent each day. Then we had to convince the party leadership about the expenditure. We had to even enter the cost incurred for tea and coffee. Every year there was budgeting. The money we used to spend should strictly come within the budget. We used to take food from party workers' homes. Such a collective leadership strengthened the party here. Only such collective action can strengthen the party even now. When Surendran became president, he called me for talks. I told him that enthusiasm alone would not strengthen the party. Both idealism and organisation should go hand in hand.

Did you have any role in bringing Surendran to the top leadership of ABVP and Yuva Morcha?
It was P K Krishnadas who brought him to the scene. Krishnadas, who was a teacher then, took leave for party work. Through him, Surendran came to me. When the top leadership fails and the entire system fails. This is all I want to say about the situation now.

Are you surprised at the sudden transformation in the style of functioning leaders now?
To run an organisation is difficult. Those who venture out at the sea would try to get a good catch. For this purpose, he would knit his nets properly. Surendran should have first done the job of integrating both the new leaders and the old guards and bringing them on one platform. After Surendran became president, elections came one after another. Then came COVID-19. So, there were some limitations. But one should be steadfast in his determination to take the party to newer heights.

You were once close to leaders and workers. But can the present BJP leadership make such a claim?
I don't think there is not much concern about party workers now. I used to consider the death of a party worker as a loss of life in my family. Now, the failure in maintaining such a relationship has deeply affected the party apparatus. Relationship above party lines should be built for widening the party's presence in the state. I was able to maintain good relationship with K Karunakaran, Pannyan Ravindran and Cheriyan Philip. Those belonging to the other political parties are not our enemies. They are political opponents. We should approach today's Communist leader as the one who will be future leader of the BJP.

The leaders are claiming that there are no factions in BJP. Are there two groups in BJP in Kerala?
There is difference of opinion in the party. You can call it any name. There is no single opinion existing in party over multiple issues. Sobha Surendran felt bad about being named as party vice-president and being dropped from party national executive. On the one side, she should not have felt like that. On the other hand, none should have made her to think on those lines.

Do you feel that Sobha Surendran was singled out and hounded?
One should have a strong feeling that he or she is working for an ideology. It is natural that if somebody praises you beyond a point in public meetings, you naturally become elated. That may slowly lead to that person's downfall. I am not saying that Shobha has had such a transformation. When I was doing party work in Thrissur, she was a school student. Recently, she called me and asked whether I had cursed her. When I asked her why, she said that an astrologer had told her that she was suffering from 'Guru Sapam'. I told her I never do that. I advised her to keep quiet for six months on party matters. Both of us have freedom to make such informal talks. She had a feeling that she was not consulted on many things by the leadership. A person should be consulted before assigning him or her any work. But at the same time, one should not be under the illusion that all posts belonged to mine.

Is it the responsibility of the RSS if there is decay in the core values of BJP? Why the party is not led in the right path even when there exists a strong and disciplined machinery like the RSS?

Earlier, none used to desert BJP unlike in other political parties. But a large number of cadres are leaving the organisation now. They are all disgusted. The network is broken. The central and state leaderships have great responsibility in taking corrective action. Compared to Parliament elections, the BJP got three lakhs votes less in Assembly polls. Even the votes polled by CPM and Congress were not permanent. It was ideology that drove the spirit of party workers in Kerala earlier and not the ambition that the BJP would come to power in Kerala. Did anyone believe the claims that the BJP would get 35 seats in the Assembly polls and and E Sreedharan would be become the chief minister of Kerala?

Did the party workers appreciated the leadership's decision to give ministership to Alphons Kannanthanam and a top post to Tom Vadakkan just months after they joined the party.? It is not that they should not be considered. But what is the contribution of Tom Vadakkan to Kerala society? May be he is efficient. But this approach of the leadership is not acceptable to workers. Those who have come to the party in West Bengal are now going back. When Abdullakutty became the national vice-president, he came to me. Then I told him that his appointment was premature. But he said he did not ask for the post. Abdullakutty will become a good leader, but what does he know about BJP's ideology?

Some district unit chiefs were recently removed from their posts. How will you respond to the demands for change in the state leadership?
What is needed is rearrangement. Surendran has proved his mettle. But he needs to be utilised at the most opportune time. Had he been kept away from the post after the allegations he could have earned more credibility and respect. Then he should have come back with more sheen. But he did not do that. Salt is a must in curries. But if it exceeds, the curry will get spoiled. What is important is checking the salt level. People, who have will power, should come to the leadership. The leadership can be in the hands of a team and not individual-based. I knew that the party was going to suffer defeat in Nemom. Just like doctors checking the pulse rate I did the job. I had talked to the party workers who were on the field. My experience in coordinating grassroot level work helped me gauge the mood at Nemom. But the pulse of the workers is not being understood by the present leadership.

Do you think that the state BJP has lost its relevance after the defeat in Assembly polls and allegations of corruption?
There is a feeling that BJP has lost relevance in Kerala. But the BJP has not disintegrated in the state. Its seeds are dormant. What you have to do is to make them grow.

Are you part of the BJP or RSS organisational set-up now?
No. I am a member of the BJP. In RSS, there is no membership system. I am in touch with everyone. They also interact with me.

One of the main allegations against you is that your are criticising the party from outside without having any responsibility.
I was the one who devoted my entire life for the party work. There is nothing wrong in pointing out mistakes when things are not going in a proper way. There are tens and thousands of ordinary workers in the party who value my words. They don't have a forum to speak. So, I speak on behalf of them.

Why the BJP leaders are closing doors on your attempts to come back to the party's centre stage?
I don't how to answer this question. Many leaders, including Surendran, spoke to me. Surendran asked me about coordinating a workers' camp. He had such ideas. But later on, nothing worked out as there were some behind the screen operations.

Is it Union Minister V Muraleedharan who has prevented Surendran's efforts to bring you back to the limelight?
What did Kummanam Rajashekharan do as BJP president. During that period, Surendran and Muraleedharan were not calling the shots. As requested by Kummanam, I reached the BJP headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram. All leaders, including Kummanam, didn't come to the office when I was there. Only two office staff were there. It was a planned insult. Even if Kummanam had gone for election meetings, what about other leaders. Actually, it was not insulting to me. Those who did it should introspect about such behaviour. When the mediapersons asked me about the episode, I replied that why should I need the support of leaders to come to my "tharavadu". I was instrumental in building Mararji Bhavan. I went there again, it was a kind of mental bliss.

How did you feel when V Muraleedharan commented that you could take missed call membership if you wanted?
Such things should be taken lightly as some kind of mischief done by children. Nobody took it seriously. May be a single news item might have appeared in the newspapers about it. I am already a member of the BJP. Then why should I take the membership again. Some people are not able to deliver things. They treat those who are capable of delivering difficult tasks as outsiders and ask them to take missed call membership.

You were once the all powerful organisational general secretary of BJP state unit. How did you become persona non grata in the party?
Even now, I don't have an answer. Nobody in the BJP had told me not to work for the party. When I was removed from the charge of the party, Rajnath Singh was the BJP national president. He asked me once, "what happened Mukundanji?" The BJP central leadership was not aware of the developments. If anyone had talked to me individually about the removal, I would not have felt bad. I never requested anyone to bring me back to the leadership. All the succeeding state unit presidents used to talk about my comeback. The RSS also made it clear that it is the BJP which should take a decision on the matter.

Was it due to the ego clash between you and the then RSS leadership that led to your downfall?
It is better not to talk about the matter. That will not do good to the youngsters coming to the party.

What I meant is did you have issues with the then RSS head Sethumadhavan?
I understood the question. But there is no point in talking about it in public.

How would you react to the allegations of corruption raised against you?
It pained me a lot. If I wanted to amass money I would had done it as there were many avenues. P P Mukundan was not such a person.

When your were called back by the RSS from BJP did you resign from the "pracharak" post?
There is no such practice as resignation in the RSS. I was told to become 'pracharak'. Later, they asked me to step down. The matter ends there.

How painful it was when your close companion O Rajagopal had accused you of having contacts with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim?
I checked with the journalist who did the interview with Rajagopal. He said he did not ask this question to Rajagopal. Then I didn't enquire further. I took up the matter with Advaniji. Advaniji might have talked to Rajagopal. Anyway, Rajagopal issued a statement, apologising for his remarks. It is always easier to throw away someone from the party. But remember, to make a comeback again is difficult for that person.

It seems that the RSS is not yet ready to forgive you for the problems that led to the leadership change in Kerala. Is it the main hurdle for your comeback?
The RSS has not expressed any differences of opinion with me. If they want to utilise me, they can do it. When you enter a house, there will be floor mat with the inscription 'use me'. Like this, there is 'use me' inscription on my back. It is up to them to decide on whether to use me or not.

Many of those now wielding power in the central BJP leadership were either your equals or juniors in the party. Why are they ignoring you?
Many of them talked to me. They know the issues. But they might be thinking if one person is gone, others will come. It is like the epithet, "Innu Njan Nale Nee" , meaning, "Today it's me, tomorrow, it's you".

How would you react to the allegation that BJP votes were sold to Congress under your stewardship? What do you think about the claims of some leaders that they have stopped this practice now?
It is all rubbish. Facing a defeat in a sure seat and winning a losing seat is not new in politics.

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