Days after joining Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), former Congress veteran P C Chacko said that NCP chief Sharad Pawar has more acceptability than Rahul Gandhi as the leader of a future coalition at the national level. Speaking to Outlook, Chacko said that the Congress in Kerala is riddled with factionalism and its senior leaders have no hesitation in joining hands with the BJP to defeat the Left parties.
Q) You left Congress ahead of the Assembly election. Why did you join NCP which is a part of the CPM- led LDF in Kerala?
I am comfortable with the ideology of NCP. Moreover, I reckon that in the coming days, Sharad Pawar has a bigger role to play in the national context because he shares a good equation with DMK’s Stalin, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, and Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal. There is a strong possibility of him becoming the leader of the UPA in the future. Probably, he is the only national leader who has a good rapport with all regional party leaders, who are going to be the key players in the next Parliament.
Pawar has more acceptability than Rahul Gandhi as the leader of a future coalition at the national level. I am aware that regional leaders including Mamata Banerjee and Stalin have more faith in Sharad Pawar than any other national leader.
My relationship with NCP goes way back to the 80s. I was part of the Left Front government in Kerala in 1980. We were a breakaway faction called Congress (S), which subsequently became NCP. From the time of the freedom movement, the principles and values of the national movement are inherited by the NCP.
Q) Will you be more active in state politics now?
After a long innings in state politics, I moved to Delhi in 1991 after becoming a Member of Parliament. Since then, I have been part of national politics. I will continue to stay in the national scene under Sharad Pawar’s leadership.
Q) Why do you say that Congress is in shambles in Kerala?
The party is handling its internal matters in the shabbiest manner. It kept waiting till the last minute to put up a weak candidate against CM Pinarayi Vijayan, who is contesting from Dharmadam. It is clear that BJP’s candidate C K Padmanabhan will get the Congress votes. People may think that in this constituency, they have made a last-minute decision and bungling, but this is the game of former CM Oommen Chandy. Congress leadership in Kerala whether it's Ommen Chandy or Ramesh Chennithala, they have no hesitation in having secret deals with the RSS-BJP leadership.
Q) Even BJP’s lone MLA O Rajagopal has admitted that in the past, parties such as Congress, Muslim League, and the BJP have come together to defeat the Left parties. Do you think they have agreed on similar pacts in this election too?
I think so. Rajagopal has also admitted such understanding in the past. Congress leaders are not ideologically committed and they are ready to enter into any pact for power.
When Congress leader K Karunakaran won Nemom in 1982, he won with nearly 60,000 votes. When BJP’s O Rajagopal won Nemom in 2016, Congress got only 13,000 votes. Where did all the Congress votes go? Even though I was with the Congress during that time, I was never part of any decision-making in the party. However, I have raised the issue of vote erosion in party forums many times, though I didn’t get a reply. Yesterday, Rajagopal made it clear that he won on Congress votes from Nemom.
Q) Did you receive any communication from the central leadership after quitting the party?
I didn’t receive any communication from the party after I quit. I didn’t want to bargain with the high command. Before quitting the party, I had met Rahul Gandhi at Thiruvananthapuram airport and informed him that the senior leaders in Kerala are not handling matters smoothly. I have also requested him to hold discussions with senior leaders. However, Rahul Gandhi prefers to believe Oommen Chandy blindly. He could have consulted senior leaders like V M Sudheeran and others to find out about the mess about candidate selection. He didn’t do that. There was no interference from the high command. I didn’t have any other alternative than resorting to this decision.
Q) Where do you see the Congress-led UDF heading in this election?
The UDF is fighting to keep the post of opposition leadership in this election. For that, they should have at least 10 percent MLAs in the House. Now Congress has 21 and their ally Muslim League has 18 members in the Assembly. Congress is not sure whether they can maintain 21 seats this time. Muslim League may emerge as a bigger party in the next election.
Q) Why were you unhappy with the Central leadership?
I am unhappy because the party was not playing the role of an effective opposition at the national level. I went to Rahul Gandhi with a proposal of seat-sharing with AAP for the Delhi election. He wasn’t very keen on the proposal. I also had another proposal for Haryana, Punjab, and Goa, which could have got us at least 15 seats. But Sonia and Rahul Gandhi weren’t keen. I don’t see interest from the national leadership in waging a collective fight against the BJP. Rahul Gandhi’s tweets are nice, but that alone won’t save the party.
Q) Do you think Rahul Gandhi was able to impress the electorate with a new style of campaigning by indulging in fishing, sea diving, and truck driving?
It’s good that he’s an unconventional politician. He will be able to impress the youth with such a campaign. People enjoy all that. But that’s not the kind of politics the country needs now. I don’t see Congress making any gains in the upcoming state elections. In Kerala, LDF has the advantage and in Tamil Nadu, the DMK alliance will win. In Assam also, the opposition has an edge now. In West Bengal too, TMC has the edge.
Q) Why didn’t you join the G-23 leaders then? Do you perceive any split in the cards?
I met many of the G-23 leaders in Delhi. I know many of them are frustrated. They hold the same view as mine. They are also dismayed that Congress is in cold storage and that they aren’t working. I can’t predict whether the party is heading for a split. It depends on how the leadership handles it. The G-23 leaders didn’t demand anything which is unrealistic. They didn’t question Rahul or Sonia. They want Congress to improve and they are hoping against hope.
Despite all that, the leadership is inimical to them. They should be taken into confidence. Last week they gave a star campaigner list to the Election Commission, in which Ghulam Nabi Azad’s name is missing. He has been a star campaigner for the past several years.