The All India Congress Committee (AICC)’s general secretary in charge of Kerala and Lakshadweep, TARIQ ANWAR is a veteran politician. He has been in active politics since 1972 when he joined the Congress party. He got elected for the first time to the Lok Sabha from Katihar (Bihar) in 1980.
In 1999, he quit the Congress along with Sharad Pawar to form the NCP. Between 2012 and 2014, he was Union minister of state for agriculture and food processing in the then Congress-led UPA government in which the NCP was a key ally.
In 2018, he quit the NCP to return to the Congress. He was subsequently inducted into the top echelons of the AICC as a general secretary. In an interview with ABHIJEET ANAND, Anwar spoke on various issues relating to the current round of Assembly elections, stressing on the importance of forging alliances in West Bengal, Kerala and Assam.
Q. The Congress seems to be focusing on Kerala assembly elections. Is it sure of winning there?
A. The tradition there is that for every alternative tenure the regime changes. Once it is the Left (that gets the mandate) and the next time it is the Congress-led United Democratic Front. This time, I think, it is the turn of Congress-led coalition. We are expecting that we will get a mandate this time.
Q. Don’t you think as a national party you should concentrate in places where the BJP is strong?
A. We are working hard everywhere. This is the age of alliances. We have taken some secular parties with us and we will work to save democracy and to save secularism. The Congress ideology is very clear. So this time we will try that out of these five states where Assembly elections are being held, the Congress and its allies will win.
We are trying for that. In Kerala also there are fronts — the LDF and the UDF. We will try to see that in all five states the BJP is stopped. That is why we have also forged alliances in states like West Bengal and Assam. Our priority is clear: Communal, fascist forces must be stemmed. For that purpose, we can forge alliances with all secular parties.
Q. Is the Congress trying to make Kerala polls into a prestige issue because Rahul Gandhi is an MP from the state?
A. Every alternative tenure there is a change in regime in Kerala. People are expecting that this time the UDF will form the government. Owing to the anti-incumbency in the state, people are not happy with the Left government. Anti Incumbency factor is very strong. During these five years the government has not risen to the expectations of the people.
At the same time, there have been so many scams and scandals like gold smuggling, nepotism in job appointments and dollar smuggling in the state. Kerala is politically very conscious. Its people understand politics. We are very much hopeful this time that the Congress will form the government here.
Q. You said corruption is a big issue in Kerala?
A. The CM’s office is also directly or indirectly involved in gold-smuggling and other things. Enquiry is going on. There is a general perception that this Left Front government has been the most corrupt government in the state.
Q. Will national issues like price rise and farmers’protest have any impact on the Kerala elections?
A. It is the central government which comes under attack for farmers’ protest and price rise. I think the BJP will be affected directly by price rise and farmers’ agitation because the central government deals with it directly. It does not come under the purview of the state government.
Q. There is a view that having Left as an ally in West Bengal has put the Congress on the back foot in fighting the Left as an opponent in Kerala. What is your take?
A. I told you that we always see the largest interest. In Bengal, the BJP is the biggest threat. Communal politics is harmful for the nation. So there we think that at any cost we should stem communal forces. But in Kerala, politics is different — our fight here is between the LDF and the UDF.
Q. Do you think the Kerala fight will become tougher if E Sreedharan is declared as the BJP’s CM face?
A. I don’t think people will take it seriously. He has no public life background. He is good administrator or a technocrat. In public life he has no contribution. In this state, people are politically conscious. They cannot go by these kind of gimmicks. I say it is a kind of a gimmick.
On the one hand, they are saying that those who are over 75, should not be in active politics like Advani ji, Joshi ji. So many people were compulsorily retired by Modiji. Now an 87-year-old person is brought into politics and given a ticket for contesting election and they are projecting him as the future CM of Kerala. This is a contradictory action of the BJP.
Q. How would you react to a Congress member’s view that it is promoting communal agenda by allying with certain parties?
A. The question does not arise. We cannot compromise with communal forces. We have all along been against the BJP and the RSS. We have alliances with those parties which are not communal. Some of these parties are formed by the Muslim leadership.
They don’t claim their party is working only for a particular community. They are secular. Their ideology is secular. As regards the BJP and the RSS’ ideology — everybody knows that they are working for a particular community and a particular religion.
The AIUDF in Assam, the Indian Secular Front in Bengal and the IUML in Kerala never claim that they are representing a particular community. They are taking every one along with them. They are nationalist. No doubt that they belong to a particular community. At the same time, they are nationalist and they are patriots.
Q. There is resentment in the Congress over distribution of tickets. How is the party dealing with it?
A. Today, it is happening in every party. I was recently reading in the newspapers that Amit Shah had to change his travel schedule while coming to Delhi (from Assam) and had to stop over (at Kolkata) to hold urgent discussions with the Bengal BJP leadership for whole night (after the state BJP released their candidates’ list).
There is major resentment in the Bengal BJP (over the allotment of tickets). Their old workers who sacrificed for the BJP are feeling that they are being cheated and the defectors are being given preference.
Q. Your party is divided in two factions in Kerala. How has this affected its election preparations and organisational strength?
A. In every party there is some groupism, some differences, especially so in democratic parties. It always happens. It is very difficult to get all of them together. At the same time, they are all working for the Congress party. Of course, somebody belongs to this group or that group. But it is within the party. While trying to influence leadership, they sometimes create a group. But at the same time, they are loyal to the party and the leadership.
Q. But senior Congress leader from Kerala PC Chacko quit the party alleging groupism in it?
A. Of course, the Congress party had given him (Chacko) so many opportunities. But he is not a very important factor in Kerala politics. He has no mass base.