Pinarayi Vijayan interview | 'Assembly polls prove BJP juggernaut is stoppable'

Ascension to power of the DMK alliance in Tamil Nadu had buoyed the prospects of a national alternative to the BJP at the Centre, says Kerala Chief Minister

The recently concluded Assembly elections in various States had essentially busted the myth that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) juggernaut is unstoppable, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said.

In an interview with The Hindu after he led the Left Democratic Front (LDF) back to power for a second consecutive term in Kerala, Mr. Vijayan said the electoral victory of the LDF in Kerala and the ascension to power of the DMK alliance in Tamil Nadu had buoyed the prospects of a national alternative to the BJP at the Centre. “So certainly, alternatives will emerge,” he said.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is part of the DMK- led alliance in Tamil Nadu. “In that sense, we are allies. Both States have often cooperated on a host of issues. I am sure we will continue to do so,” he said.

Economy in reverse gear

Mr. Vijayan said the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted the Indian economy. It had brought the economy to a halt and put it in reverse gear. The latest figure indicated that India’s GDP growth in 2020 is minus eight per cent, he said.

“And there has been no original thinking from the Government of India, in terms of putting money into people’s hands, increasing social spending., to get the economy up and running. So naturally, the States will also suffer,” he said.

Outside the box

However, the pandemic would not hobble Kerala’s development.

“Kerala had thought outside of the box earlier on and identified alternative sources to supplement our developmental initiatives. Also, we are implementing special schemes to increase agricultural and industrial production in the State, like Subhiksha Keralam and Vyavasaya Bhadratha. Plus, we have proposed new initiatives to build on our strengths in IT services, tourism, agro-processing and other areas. So, we are hopeful that we will tide over the challenges posed by the pandemic,” he said.

Health insurance

On the State’s public health front, Mr. Vijayan said Kerala would enter into a health insurance system through a State Health Agency under the Health Department “by coordinating the various health insurance schemes that are currently being administered.”

As part of the system, road accident victims would also get free treatment in the first 48 hours.

Twenty lakh families would get free in-patient treatment for up to ₹5 lakh. The rest would be able to avail up to ₹2 lakh through the Karunya Scheme. The government is providing free COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccination. It has standardised testing rates and price of essential COVID-19 care articles, he said.

Unemployment

On mitigating unemployment in Kerala, Mr. Vijayan said the LDF government had prepared a blueprint for providing employment for 20 lakh graduates.

“In our first Cabinet meeting itself, we have already taken a decision on the proposal. We will get it (the blueprint) examined, and a decision will be made this year itself on making job opportunities available to our youngsters,” he said.

IUML’s ‘myopic view’

When pressed about the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) criticism that the Chief Minister had stripped the Muslim community of their rightful entitlement by keeping the Minority Welfare portfolio for himself, Mr. Vijayan said, “I can only pity the IUML’s myopic view, which prevents them from acknowledging the fact that we are attaching great importance to the concerned Department by bringing it directly under the supervision of the Chief Minister’s Office. It needs to be noted that prominent Muslim and Christian organisations have welcomed the decision. The fact that all sections of minorities have reposed faith in the LDF is evident from the election results. And, as far as ensuring the welfare of minorities in Kerala goes, we have stood apart and will continue to do so.”

Violence by Israel

Mr. Vijayan said that a series of violent incidents initiated by Israel had claimed the life of Soumya Santhosh, a native of Idukki who was working as a caregiver in the coastal city of Ashkelon bordering Gaza. (Shrapnel from a Hamas rocket had struck down the home nurse last week. Her death had triggered a controversy after the Union Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan accused the Kerala government of disregarding the plight of Soumya’s family to appease Islamist forces.)

BJP spreading hatred

Without mentioning Mr. Muraleedharan by name, Mr. Vijayan said the “Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader in mention are experts at sowing hatred.”

“Their statements are nothing but attempts in that direction. They (BJP) are conveniently overlooking the facts. The people of Kerala know them very well and have shown them their place in the Assembly elections. Instead of resorting to such vile tactics, if the said Minister had any genuine interest in helping Soumya’s family, he should ensure they are compensated. We had sought the Government of India’s intervention regarding that, right at the beginning itself,” he said.

Soumya’s death

The Kerala government had got in touch with the Indian Embassy in Israel as soon as the news of Soumya’s death broke. The government’s priority was to bring Soumya’s body home without delay.

“We were able to ensure that. I had officially expressed condolences on her untimely and unfortunate demise. One of my colleagues visited the bereaved family. How does any of this amount to ignoring the family,” Mr. Vijayan asked.

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