Q. Why did you decide to attend the seminar on federalism organised on the sidelines of the CPI(M) Party Congress when Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Mani Shankar Aiyar had backed out on the instructions of their party high command?
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury invited me for the seminar and I accepted the invitation a month ago. The state Congress leadership put pressure on the high command to bar party leaders from participating in the seminar. But I’ve decided to attend it since federalism is a burning issue for non-BJP-ruled states, including Kerala. I don’t understand the logic behind the ban. Is the CPI(M) politically untouchable for the Congress at a time when the BJP is trying to throttle the non-BJP-ruled states, is violating the Constitution, and its government at the Centre is bypassing its obligations? The Congress is also a victim of the prevailing political situation. The issue of federalism needs to be debated, and I believe a political collective should emerge from among Opposition parties to protect the rights of the people. I decided to participate in the seminar to express my views as a humble Congress worker, who is pained by the threat to federalism from the BJP and its Hindutva agenda. Federalism and secularism are two sides of our democracy.
Q. There is speculation that you are joining the CPI(M).
(Laughs) I’m not a migratory bird in politics. I started as a grassroots worker with the Congress in the eighties while I was a professor of chemistry at the Sacred Heart College in Thevara. Now, I’m 75, and working every day, and delivering the responsibilities entrusted on me to the best of my abilities. What additional thing could I seek by joining the CPI(M)? I will live and die a Congressman. For me, participating in a CPI(M) seminar is not the first step to joining that party. I’m not a politician who eyes opportunity in every offer.
Q. CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan announced that you will never get politically orphaned for attending their seminar.
Thanks for the offer, but I’ve made it clear that addressing the CPI(M) seminar is not a political opportunity for me. I’ve good relations with leaders and cadres beyond political affiliations. I believe all secular forces should join in the fight against the communal agenda of the Union government.
Q. The state Congress has said you will be expelled if you attend the seminar.
I’m a member of All India Congress Committee (AICC). The Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) cannot initiate disciplinary action against me. Should speaking at a seminar on the challenges to federalism invite disciplinary action? In that case, Rahul Gandhi shared a platform with Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan recently in Chennai on the birthday of Tamil Nadu CM M.K. Stalin. Stalin, too, is addressing the CPI(M) seminar in Kannur. Congress presidents and prime ministers have had close ties with CPI(M) leaders like Jyoti Basu, Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Sitaram Yechury. Yechury made a great contribution in the drafting of the common minimum programme of the first UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government at the Centre. Have these leaders made a historical blunder by sharing political platforms with Left leaders? I’m least worried about what the PCC is going to do against me.
Q. You have had close ties with the Gandhi family for almost five decades. Why didn’t Sonia Gandhi understand your logic for attending the seminar?
It was perhaps under pressure or due to misinformation from others. I’ve decided to attend the seminar. Let’s see what the future has in store.