Vayalar Ravi, Congress leader and Union parliamentary affairs minister, says the top Congress leadership is determined to oust the Communist Party of India-Marxist from the Left strongholds of Kerala and West Bengal. He refuses to agree that the country's economy is safer because of the Left's intervention, yet he tells Saubhadro Chatterjee that the Left parties had cooperated with the UPA government except last year's trust vote in Parliament. Excerpts:
The Congress candidates for Kerala are announced. The youngest one is 40 years old. Only one seat has been given to a woman (she refused to contest later). What happened to your plank of giving more tickets to youth and women?
It would have been better if more young people got nominations. Many of us had recommended the present NSUI (National Students Union of India) president of Kerala for a ticket. But he didn't get it. However, many candidates with Youth Congress or NSUI background got tickets.
The Palakkad candidate comes from YC. Alappuzha candidate too, is a former YC president. Anto Antony, another contestant, is a new face. We couldn't find suitable young people elsewhere. But look at the CPI-M. They fielded just one woman and that too from Eranakulam, where she has no chance.
It seems the top Congress leadership is determined to teach the CPI-M a lesson.
In Kerala, after every five years, the Left goes out of power. We want to oust the Left from West Bengal as well. They have done nothing for the state. I give you an example: In Kolkata, you still see hand-pulled rickshaws -- signs of poverty. In rural areas, there is little power. How many schools have they set up during their 31-year rule in that state? The Nandigram episode is a classic case of CPI-M's mafia nature.
You became the parliamentary affairs minister when the bitterness with the Left had started to grow. How was your experience in dealing with the Left in Parliament?
Apart from the Trust Vote, I would say they cooperated.
The CPI-M says that because of their intervention, the country's economy is relatively safe despite the current global meltdown. How?
They stopped the full convertibility of the rupee?
This is a totally false boasting! Some economists might have suggested that, but the government never made an attempt to do it. This was never discussed in any Cabinet. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is aware of the South Asian economic crisis and how some countries collapsed because of their full convertibility.
What are their other claims?
They stopped banking amendments and more FDI in the insurance sector. The CPI-M claims if these had happened, many banks and insurance companies would have collapsed like it happened in the US market and many Indians would have lost their life-long savings.
These are equally baseless theories! In India, financial institutions are well regulated by the Reserve Bank of India and other autonomous bodies. The US lacks such regulations so its financial institutions, crashed. One cannot compare between the situations in the US and India. And look who is talking? Indira Gandhi had nationalised banks in 1969, which today proved to be a major source of strength against the global meltdown. And these comrades joined hands with the grand alliance in 1971 to defeat her.
The Left says the UPA violated the Common Minimum Programme by inking the Indo-US nuclear deal. It was not a part of your CMP.
Did the CMP say we will have a war with US? We signed this deal because we required certain international approvals and clearances. And our deal is not confined with the US. There are agreements with Russia and France. The biggest achievement of this government is that we have clinched these agreements without signing the CTBT. Whatever the Left may dream, India is not Cuba or Venezuela. The CPI-M still lives in the Cold War mindset. China is far closer to the US than India -- there they have no objection.
In the 2006 assembly elections in Kerala, you lost because Muslims voted against you. What gives you confidence that Muslims will vote for the Congress this time?
In Kerala, we have a tie-up with the Indian Union Muslim League -- a party with strong nationalist approach. Some other groups are also supporting us. But the CPI-M is trying to woo rebels of the IUML.
Look at the double standards of CPI-M! Their chief minister had earlier arrested PDP leader Abdul Nasser Madani and handed him over to Tamil Nadu police. In 2001, they accused us for having a dialogue with him.
Now, they can't live without Madani. In 1987, EMS (Namboodiripad) had announced the CPI-M didn't need votes of Mukhris (Muslim clergies) and Kappiyars (parish workers). In the Administrative Reforms Commission's report accepted by the Left Democratic Front government, there is a suggestion about imposing common civil code.
But the Left put pressure on your government to implement the NREGS, Tribal Act and other major programmes.
Both items were our programmes, part of our manifesto. In Kerala, the LDF government is yet to register more than 50 per cent people for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). Largest number of public sector units are closed in West Bengal. Now they are opposing the Foreign Universities Bill. The idea of the Bill is to enable poor students to study under reputed foreign universities, sitting in India.
But the CPI-M will not allow it. They want only rich students to go abroad and avail these facilities.
The CPI-M manifesto says the Kerala model of agriculture debt commission should be emulated to give loan waivers to farmers.
If that is the model, it is dangerous because their government has done nothing in Kerala. I challenge Prakash Karat to show the details of how many farmers have been benefitted by their loan waiver scheme. Today's CPI-M can't help farmers. They are involved in illicit liquor trade and spirit smuggling in Kerala.