The Sabarimala issue should not be politicised and the Congress would disintegrate if the party did not stay united as it has to fight the BJP and the CPM in the state, according to Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee campaign committee chairman K Muraleedharan MLA.
Former Travancore Devaswom Board president G Raman Nair's defection to the Bharatiya Janata Party won't affect the party and the BJP will not gain from it, Muraleedharan told Manorama Online in an interview. Excerpts.
Will the BJP gain from Sabarimala issue?
The Sabarimala issue should never be used to derive political benefit. The trust of devotees should be paramount. Customs and traditions have been existing for ages. There are differences between a custom and superstition. In Sabarimala, entry is restricted only to women of a particular age group. This custom has been followed since long. The Congress and the UDF have always been saying that there shouldn't be any attempt to break this custom.
The Oommen Chandy government had submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that existing customs and traditions should be maintained. However, the LDF government withdrew it, sought entry for everyone and got a favourable order. Since the government is trying to enforce the order unilaterally without taking into consideration the difficulties that could arise in such a situation, many untoward incidents are happening in Sabarimala.
On govt's adamant stance on the issue
We are seeing a tendency on the part of the government to sponsor women who are non believers to go to Sabarimala. These issues are created by the government itself. Before setting out to implement the Supreme Court order, the chief minister failed to seek the opinion of all political parties. When several Supreme Court orders have been languishing in the cold storage, the chief minister was adamant that women of all ages should be allowed entry to the temple. We are opposing that.
The beliefs of devotees have to be protected. Sabarimala is not the lone case. In a Kerala Bhasha Institute book, there is a section that urged women in Kerala not to go to confession. This government is also trying to get entry for women into Sunni mosques. The government is trying to create a rift among all religions.
In the Sabarimala issue, why is the state unit of the party working against the stand of Congress president Rahul Gandhi?
Each temple has its own sets of customs. The Congress in Kerala is of the view that such customs should not be broken across the country at all times. The Congress has been fighting to ensure equality of women at a national level. But in case of Sabarimala, the issue of inequality does not arise. Hence, the national leaders allowed us to take a stand that is appropriate for Kerala in this case.
The Congress had played an integral role in the formation of Indian Constitution. Is it right for the party to reject a ruling by the Supreme Court?
It is not right on the part of the court to interfere in the customs and traditions of religions. Courts have their own limitations. If the law has been interpreted wrongly or if there is a discord between religions, the court can intervene. Here, the court has the responsibility of protecting and preserving the customs and rituals of a temple. Unfortunately, since the ruling is against the temple and its traditions, the Congress has come out against it and is seeking a review petition.
But many Congress leaders like V T Balram have accepted the ruling?
Some people might have their own opinion. But what the party follows is a unanimous decision. The party is following the decision taken by its key decision-making body, the political affairs committee. There are no differences of opinion in this case. The KPCC president has sought an explanation from Balram.
It is speculated that several other leaders will follow G Raman Nair and join the BJP. Is this true?
We are not at all concerned by this. Because, after hunting for several leaders, they only roped in Raman Nair. Raman Nair has not been active for quite long. It is said that he was a member of KPCC executive. But I have never seen him in the executive meetings. We have nothing to lose in Raman Nair. The BJP is not going to gain much through Raman Nair. They won't get even 10 extra votes through him.
Are you happy with the way the Congress is functioning now?
There is a sea change in the attitude of workers after the revamp in KPCC leadership. The opposition was also successful in exposing corruption in the government in the brewery issue. We also successfully opposed the bid to loot government employees in the name of salary challenge. We have successfully highlighted the fact that the government has been a complete failure. We are satisfied with our work in the past two-three months.
What are your plans to fight the challenges from the CPM and the BJP for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections?
First on our agenda is to strengthen party work at the grass root level. This is in the final stages of completion. About 80 per cent of the booths are already active. In the second phase, we have to take our idea to the people. The Lok Sabha polls are fast approaching. We are working to enlighten the people about the central government's governance failures, corruption, nepotism and the threat to secularism in the country.
Today, social media plays a key role in influencing the youth. We will utilise all channels to reach out to people.
Has Oommen Chandy's move to the national level affected the party in the state?
He has been here whenever we wanted him. We are working as a team. You can see this collective leadership in every aspect.
Isn't infighting rampant in the Congress?
If you compare with the past, groupism has reduced considerably. There could be isolated incidents. But that won't affect the party.
Do you belong to any group?
The I group was formed by K Karunakaran in Kerala. We all belong to that group. It is not the time to fight in the name of groups. When Parliament election is fast approaching, there is no need to indulge in group fights.
Why did you take the stand that you won't divulge anything that would tarnish the image of the party when the spy case verdict came?
Times have changed. The Congress is facing a three-cornered fight. Earlier, it was either the UDF or the LDF. This has changed. The BJP's false narratives are continuing on one side. They have the support of the central government. In Kerala, the Congress have to face two enemies at a time. If the party is not united, it may bite the dust. That was why I decided not to say anything against the party.
Who is the main opponent for the Congress - the CPM or the BJP?
For the Congress, the BJP is the main opponent nationally. In Kerala, our main opponent is the CPM. But outside Kerala, we have accepted the support of several secular parties, including the CPM. In Kerala, the decisions taken by the CPM are aimed at helping the BJP. The strategy of the BJP to destroy the Congress nationally is getting the help of the CPM in Kerala. That is how the CPM became our enemy in Kerala. Our actual enemy is the BJP.
What will be the main candidate selection criterion for the Lok Sabha elections?
The party has not thought about it now. It is a decision that has to be taken together. Sitting MPs usually get priority. We do not have the right to decide that. The Congress high command decides if sitting MPs should contest or not. Only when they say no, we need to look at new candidates.
There are complaints that the youth are not getting enough importance?
Young leaders are a priority for the Congress. The Congress fields new faces for all elections. For Lok Sabha polls too, we will consider new faces.