Not a crime to write, says Oommen Chandy on row over letter to Cong prez. Then a rider – kerala

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Former chief minister Oommen Chandy, 76, next week completes an uninterrupted tenure of 50 years as a lawmaker in the Kerala meeting, a milestone that Congress workers will celebrate at an event to be opened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi via videoconferencing. A senior leader known for his simplicity, Chandy remains the biggest crowd-puller of the Congress-led United Democratic Front that believes a victory in the meeting elections due eight months later is inside striking distance. Chandy became a legislator at the young age of 26 and a minister in the Karunakaran government in 1977. The two-time chief minister spoke to the Hindustan Times on a lot of issues including the most recent letter controversy, the Congress’ prospects and who will lead it in next meeting elections. Excerpts:

You’re a Congress Working Committee member. The party is in the midst of a letter row. Do you think it was once unwarranted?

Party leaders writing to their president isn’t a crime. But the way it was once leaked out is poor. They sought a full-time president and organisational elections. It’s time to leave that issue and give a united fight. There’s no leadership crisis at all and all want Rahul Gandhi back in action. I feel this controversy will have to have been have shyed away from. The party is supreme and it’s going to must be strengthened.

Do you truly think Rahul Gandhi will be back to lead the party?

Yes, I think he’s going to be back soon. He’s the correct person to lead the party now. In electoral politics there will be ups and downs. But the captain should hold on to the fort till final. We need a strong party to take on the authoritarian regime of Modi. The county needs a strong opposition. Rahul is the only correct leader now. He’s fit for a long marathon and he’s going to reinvigorate the party. He has to groom young leaders and inject fresh blood. He should be provided a free hand.

You were made an AICC general secretary but you would like remain in Kerala?

Not true. I am in charge of Andhra Pradesh. I am on my job and two secretaries are assisting me. I could not visit the state since February because of prevailing conditions. I will be able to do what the party asks me to do.

Are you in the reckoning whether the UDF storms back to power?

I am happy at what I am. People and the party gave me more than I deserved. Typically in Congress, the party high command takes a last decision after talking to the legislators. There’s no dearth of leaders in the grand old party. As opposition leader, Ramesh Chennithala’s track record is superb. The party high command will take an appropriate decision as and when required. The party never proposes a leader before the election.

What are the chances of the UDF?

I feel it’s going to be a repeat of the final general election when the UDF got 19 out of 20 Lok Sabha seats. The present regime is very unpopular. You’ll’t govern the state with publicity stunts alone. Unemployment is at its peak but many of us are appointed through backdoors. Youth are agitated.

When you were in power you were targeted in the solar scam? Some from your own party turned against you then?

I am a strong believer. I consider in God. My sense of right and wrong was once lucid from day one. I didn’t do any fallacious. Witch-hunting is truly poor in politics. Discussions and debates are fine but violence and mud-slinging are poor. I don’t like to compare the solar case with the present (gold) smuggling scandal. All I will be able to say, we need to check decay in politics. Senior leaders should take a role in this.

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