PC Chacko Exclusive: 'Requested Sonia and Rahul to intervene; they did nothing'
In a hard-hitting interview with Asianet Newsable, former Congress leader PC Chacko explains in detail the rot that ails the Grand Old Party.
Former Congress leader PC Chacko delivered a crushing blow to the Congress party ahead of the forthcoming assembly elections when he walked out of the Grand Old Party. His reasons for exiting the party echoed the sentiments expressed by many before him.
In a hard-hitting interview with Asianet Newsable, Chacko explains in detail the rot that ails the Congress party. He details how groupism and neglect were allowed to go unchecked by the party high command.
What made you say goodbye to the party you were associated with four decades?
There was more than one reason. This is not an emotional decision. I have been thinking about a decision like this for the last three months. One example I can tell you. We have a candidate selection process accepted since the last many many years in the Congress party and it is a three-tier system.
At the top level, there is a central election committee headed by Sonia Gandhi. They finalize things. Below that there is a training committee upheld by the Congress president. They screen through the panel of names, slot it and make it into one or two (lists) and take it to the central committee. Below that, at the primary level, there is a pradesh election committee that collects all the interested people's name constituency-wise and makes it into a list that is placed before the pradesh election committee.
Pradesh election committee members sit for a day or two. They discuss constituency-wise who has winnability, who is the sitting leader, who contested last time, which candidate should be there -- all these things will be discussed at the primary level discussion. This primary discussion has no substitute. This primary discussion will not happen in the screening or at the central committee. The primary discussion is the first and the foremost thing as far the selection of the candidate is concerned.
I have been insisting on this. They had a meeting. The first meeting was called in a hurry and in that the only thing that was discussed was when should the next meeting be held. That was the agenda and it went on only for ten minutes. In the second meeting, when they met, they said 'the list is not ready so we will discuss the modalities of the selection and something' and the meeting was over. A third meeting should have been there where a list is placed before the committee and a discussion would happen on the constituencies that we can win.
Congress last time had 22 (MLAs). Only if we have 50 seats can we rule Kerala because the halfway mark is 70. Muslim League may get 18 to 20 (seats) and all other parties may get five or six. If Congress on its own has to get to 50 seats from 22, who will discuss which seats we can win? Nobody.
Oommen Chandy took a ticket and went to Delhi. Ramesh (Chennithala) too went to Delhi and was staying in Kerala house. In Ramesh's room, his cronies were sitting and making the decision. In Oommen Chandy's room, his supporters are making the decision where nobody else has any say. And that list is compiled and sent to the screening committee. Screening Committee chairman HK Patil called me for breakfast. He sought my suggestion. I said 'I have not come here for suggestions, I have come for breakfast'. Patil asked me 'why are you not sharing your views?'. I said 'how can I share? Ask them (Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala) whether there was any discussion in the pradesh election committee. If they yes, then I can sit with you.'
That discussion reached Sonia Gandhi too. Then she fired some (leaders) and asked them 'How did you reach this panel? Who discussed this in this panel? Why were senior leaders not taken into confidence?'. But the fact is I requested Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to interfere and ask the Kerala leaders to have a committee and detailed discussion in Kerala. They agreed and said they will do it. Nothing happened.
People like me with 50 years of experience in the party are simply onlookers. Someone else is calling the shots and putting undeserving candidates.
And in this type of situation what can one do? I am not a candidate. I am not an aspirant. I don't have any suggestions for anybody. I don't have my people for support. The fact is that Congress is going down and the Left Front is making inroads; they have an edge. So it (resignation) is not an emotional decision. It was not taken suddenly. This is the inevitable decision.
Like you, 23 other senior leaders raised a banner of protest saying that there is no internal democracy in the party and sought systemic changes. What is your take?
That is very correct, you know. I was not a part of that 23 (Group of senior leaders). In fact, when they (Group of 23) were collecting signatures, I was also called. They are all my friends. I said I am not going to come for the signature campaign. Normally, a signature campaign is taken as an anti-party activity. Why they did it is another matter, but the issue they have raised is a totally constitutional obligation for the leadership.
They said they want an election for the working committee (Congress Working Committee). They said they want an AICC every year. They said we must have a (party) president. The (party) constitution provides for this. And there is nothing wrong. They did not say a word against Sonia Gandhi. They did not say a word against Rahul Gandhi. They did not attack our leadership. They only said what is provided for in the Congress constitution.
Knowing that what they have said is not anti-party, Sonia Gandhi invited some of them for a discussion. Some were thinking that all 23 leaders were going out (exiting). Sonia invited them and there was a discussion. Kapil Sibal, Ghulam Nabi Azad and others said they are not against the party but want an election to the Congress Working Committee.
Some very junior people and personal staff are deciding the party's important decisions and groupism is prevailing at every level.
(Full time) Congress president's post has been vacant for one and a half years. Coordination is not being initiated by Congress. National issues are being ignored. Farmers' agitation is going on and nobody is attending.
The opposition (other parties) feel that Congress should have been more active. This (the issues) is what the 23 people said. I agree with whatever they said in the letter.
Were you sidelined? You have said that Oomen Chandy and Chennithala were calling the shots.
Not me, people like Sudheeran, K Sudhakaran. I had a discussion with all these people. Not that I alone was sidelined. It might be that I alone took the decision to resign. That does not mean all agree with the same. Sudheeran and PJ Kurian issued statements, Mullapally (Ramachandran) said that views should be considered. What does it mean? It means that nobody is opposing what I have said. There are many people, senior people; they are also sidelined.
Other than Oommen Chandy, Ramesh Channithala and their cronies everybody is sidelined.
Do you foresee the UDF performance to be dismal in the next election?
Not good! It could have been good had we presented a proper candidate and done the campaign very well. And now it appears that day by day they (Congress) are going down. How we (Congress) are going to end up nobody can predict, but the chances are not very good.
Why do you think Congress is so fragmented in Kerala?
It is fragmented because there were two groups in Kerala started by Antony and Karunakaran that were inherited by Ramesh and Oommen Chandy. When Antony and Karunakaran were there, they had love and affection for the Congress party in their heart. So even when there was a discussion, a difference of opinion or a fight, they always had a discussion in common. But now it is not there. They are sharing the booty. That is the attitude of these people. Whatever they have stolen, they are sharing.
This is the sorry state of affairs. When A (Oommen Chandy) and I (Ramesh Chennithala) groups are sharing all the office-bearers from mandalam (local) to AICC, the same thing is happening in the distribution of tickets in the assembly and also in the municipality.
We lost the Ernakulam Municipality. We would have won this election with hands down, but there was absolutely no discussion. For 40 years, I have been staying in Ernakulam. But in my own ward, I was not consulted about the candidate. When the mandalam committee has to be decided, it will between A (camp representing Oommen Chandy) or I (Ramesh Chennithala). They will not think about who the competitive person is. It has degenerated into a state where there is no Congress, only groups are there.
Did you not try reaching out to the Congress high command before taking this step?
I had informed Rahul Gandhi about what is going here. I met him when he was coming from Nagarcoil and flying to Delhi. When he was at the airport for half an hour, I gatecrashed five days back. I told him, things are not happening smoothly here. I told him, please discuss the matter here (Kerala). He said, yes I will. But he did not find any time to give them any direction. Nobody is serious. Then how can we alone be serious?
The Congress has had a slew of electoral reversals in the last few months. How do you think Congress can revive its fortunes?
It is not my headache. It is the headache of the people who are in power, who are the office-bearers. Congress is a president-oriented party. Whoever is the present president has to decide whether they want the party to be reviewed or not. The revival of the party cannot be done by an outsider. Today I am an outsider.
Like others in the past, are you likely to join the BJP in Kerala?
No, not at all. Ideologically, I am committed to secular politics. I can never be a part of a communal outfit like BJP.
There were reports of you joining the NCP unit of Kerala? Or in case if the Congress leadership asks you to come back, will you reconsider your decision?
There are many options. I am yet to decide. I have not taken any decision. I am in touch with my friends. I am not in a hurry. I will have to discuss.
And I did not want them (Congress) to come for any negotiation. This (resignation) is not a pressure tactic. When all the seniors wanted to meet me, I refused. When they called, I did not attend their call.