‘My first priority is to transform the state into a Nirbhaya Kerala’

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Ramesh Chennithala | 57 | Kerala Home Minister
Ramesh Chennithala | 57 | Kerala Home Minister

EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

The Congress High Command wanted you to join the Chandy government in 2011. Why did it take so long to happen?

Time decides everything. It was Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s decision that I should contest the 2011 Assembly polls. As a disciplined party worker, I contested and won with a good margin. Being the PCC president, I could campaign for only three days in my constituency. I played a leading role in ensuring the victory of other UDF candidates as well. Then certain things cropped up and I could not join the government. But, as PCC chief, I gave full support for the government to function smoothly. I wanted the UDF government to deliver the best for the people. Now, the Congress High Command has directed me to join the government. Sonia Gandhi called me to New Delhi and directed me to take up the new responsibility. Defence Minister AK Antony also advised me to join the government. My priority is to deliver the best for the people and to ensure law and order. So, the delay is not a matter of concern. I am only concerned about my performance as a minister. I will try my best to make Kerala Police one of the best forces in the country.

How are you planning to achieve that?

My first priority is to transform the state into a Nirbhaya Kerala, where women will enjoy safety and security. I have told senior police officers that I will not tolerate atrocities against women. It’s important that women should be able to move around without fear. For ensuring their security, I’m going to recruit more women at all levels in the force. I have already set up six more women’s police stations in the state. We are going to launch more helplines for women. Right now, women constitute only 5 percent of the Kerala Police workforce. I want to raise that to 15 percent. The number of cases of missing women is quite high. I have asked the DGP to constitute a special team to investigate such cases. I want the police to act in a free and fair manner. I don’t want them to be loyal to me or to the Congress. I have asked the DGP to monitor the criminal mafia-police nexus and weed out the black sheep from the force. There will be a mechanism to monitor such people. I also have plans to strengthen the vigilance and anti-corruption bureau and the intelligence wing of the force. The vigilance department will not be a caged parrot during my tenure.

How is your entry into the Cabinet going to help the Congress in the Lok Sabha election?

We need to consolidate our vote bank and face the electorate as a united force. No party can succeed as a divided house. The Left Front government was the best example of this. They were divided when they fought the 2011 polls and lost. During the past nine years, I have performed for the party. We won all the elections and we would repeat our performance in the next Lok Sabha election also.

Do you think that your new role will help the UDF government tide over the anti-incumbency factor?

Certainly, it will help the UDF in the next election. Yes, there is an anti-incumbency factor; I don’t deny it. But look at the CPM-led LDF (Left Democratic Front). They are a divided house. They made several corruption charges and led protests against the Oommen Chandy government, but their protests fizzled out. It shows that they have failed miserably in getting the people’s support for their protests. So the UDF has a good chance of repeating its performance in the Lok Sabha election. For that, we should build confidence among the people.

What is the UDF’s advantage over the LDF?

We are in a better position, while the LDF is in disarray. There is infighting within the CPM. Opposition leader VS Achuthanandan and his loyalists are totally sidelined in the party. They had to conduct a special session in Palakkad to remove the undesirable elements from the party. All these developments reveal that the CPM is not the party it was earlier. It shows that their leadership has a nexus with the mafia and the corrupt. If the leaders are corrupt, then the cadre will also become corrupt. So, the CPM in Kerala is facing an identity crisis. They are politically confused and arrogant. Just like in West Bengal, they are on the verge of collapse. The CPM leaders have not realised this fact. They are counting on the anti-incumbency factor to save them from peril in the Lok Sabha election. It’s not going to happen.

After becoming the home minister, you met VS Achuthanandan and CPM leader Pinarayi Vijayan. Many Congress leaders, including your predecessor Thiruvanchiyur Radhakrishnan, criticised your move. How do you justify the meetings with your political opponents?

I’m the home minister of Kerala, not the Congress party. To perform my duties, I need the support of all. I visited VS at his residence and sought his support for ensuring that Kerala becomes a safe place. He offered all his support for the good work. When I met Pinarayi also, I sought his help. He too offered his support. A home minister alone can’t improve the situation in the state. So my visits are only to ensure a cordial working environment in my department. I firmly believe that all leaders have the right to speak for the people. That doesn’t mean that the police should do everything that politicians dictate. They can listen to them, but should act firmly only to ensure justice.

Whom do you thank for your new post?

All who put their trust in me — Sonia Gandhi, who offered me the new responsibility; AK Antony and other senior leaders who guided me to take the right decision; Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who welcomed me into his Cabinet; and finally, the people of Kerala who greeted me with all their heart after I became the home minister. I am getting phone calls from all over the state telling me what I should do. It shows that the people have great expectations. I have been with the people since my school days. I want to remain like that. My doors will be open to all. They have the right to call me.

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