Vailappully Mama Sudheeran, the newly appointed president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), is widely regarded as “Mr Clean” in the grand old party. Born in a lower-middle-class family in Anthikad village in Thrissur district, considered to be a stronghold of the Left parties, Sudheeran has remained loyal to Nehruvian socialist ideology since his student days.
He served as president of the Kerala Students Union during 1971-73 and went on to become president of the State Youth Congress in 1975. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Alappuzha in 1977, 1996, 1998 and 1999. From 1980 to 1996, he was a member of the Kerala Assembly and was appointed the Speaker in 1985, a post he held till 1987. He also served as the health minister of Kerala during 1995-96. He lost the Alappuzha Lok Sabha seat to a CPM candidate in 2004 and has not contested any polls ever since.
He has often raised his voice against corrupt practices in the Congress, and never spared even his long-time friends when they deviated from the path of good governance. His stand against the mining-liquor mafia won him a special place in the hearts of the poor. He is simple, approachable, uncompromising and bold in his views, and keeps away from factional feuds in the party.
Sudheeran was appointed the KPCC chief despite opposition from Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala. With the Congress-led government in Kerala facing an acute image crisis, Sudheeran’s appointment is expected to give a boost to the party’s chances in the forthcoming General Election. In a conversation with Jeemon Jacob, Sudheeran shares his dream of leading the Congress to better days in the state.
Edited Excerpts from an interview
Your nomination as KPCC chief came as a surprise to many Congress leaders in Kerala. You were never their favourite candidate. So why were you appointed to the post ahead of the Lok Sabha polls?
The move didn’t just surprise the other state leaders, even I was surprised. I came to know about the appointment from media reports. I was visiting a temple when the All-India Congress Committee announced my appointment through a press release. I am grateful to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi for nominating me. I also thank Union ministers AK Antony, Vayalar Ravi and my party colleagues for their support. Being in power is not my priority. I have been a Congress worker since my student days. Now the high command has assigned me the task of leading the party in Kerala. I will try my best to fulfill their expectations. For me, any assignment is an opportunity to serve the people and the party. Throughout my political life, the people have placed their faith in me. So I have to do my best for them.
What is your first priority as KPCC chief?
My top priority is to gear up the party for the forthcoming election. We will launch our election campaign on 15 February when Sonia Gandhi will address a special convention in Kochi. Thereafter, we will be campaigning aggressively for the Lok Sabha polls. We are planning a series of meetings, for which I want to consult everyone in the party. This year’s election will be crucial not just for the Congress, but also for the people of Kerala. While communal, fascist forces are joining together to defeat the Congress, the CPM is seeking an opportunistic alliance that has no political credibility or sustainability. Only the Congress can fight these forces democratically. The Congress is the only party with a wide mass base, and the people have confidence in us. What we need today is to reassure the people that we will not repeat our mistakes. I am confident that we will win more seats in this election from Kerala. We will work for it. We will fight the election as a united force in Kerala.
You have always expressed independent opinions and often triggered controversies by opposing the policies of the Congress-led government. Now that you lead the state unit of the party, will you continue to express your views as freely?
I welcome others to criticise me and I have never been scared of expressing my opinions. I have never expressed my opinions for political gains or to be in the good books of someone. I have only spoken out on issues that affect the people and the party. I believe that if the government led by the party follows wrong policies, it would harm the party’s interests. When you practise value-based politics, you fear no one. And there will always be differences of opinion. I have opposed the wrong policies of the government ever since my student days, so that the quality of governance can be improved. I have criticised certain policies, but never in a negative manner. They were never meant to destabilise the party, but to strengthen it. There have to be platforms where party leaders can express their views freely. Criticism is an integral part of the democratic functioning of the party. In fact, I criticise myself more than anyone else.
In the past 40 years, party positions in Kerala have been awarded on the basis of group affiliations. But you are the first person to be appointed without the backing of a group. Do you think it’s the beginning of new era in the history of the Congress in Kerala?
The Congress is the only party that allows free expression of differences and accommodated all sections of the people. When we were young, we expressed our opinions against people who were in power. But it was not about gaining power or ruining the party. While expressing my opinion, I have always adhered to certain standards. I never hit anyone below the belt or at a personal level. Today, as we are going to the polls, there is no time and space for factional feuds. Thousands of Congress workers have never got an opportunity to become MPs or MLAs or office bearers of the party. They worked for the party silently and helped us to win elections. They never complained about not getting an opportunity to be in the limelight. Hundreds of Congress workers have sacrificed their lives for the party. They will always be more in number than those who get into positions of power. I want to accommodate everyone within our party and do justice to all. I am not going to run a solo show here. I don’t wish to be part of any group or sect. I will support anyone on the basis of merit. There was a time when the communist parties had many leaders and cadres whom the people loved and respected. They helped strengthen the communist movement in Kerala. Now, the communist parties have degenerated and are unstable. We must learn lessons from their history.
You have always distanced yourself from the rich and the mafia. Do you think your stands against the powerful would pose problems for the Congress in raising funds for the election campaign?
Why do you need mega funds for elections? You need it only to purchase votes. When the people are with you, you can win elections without black money. I have contested elections without corporate money or mafia power. The people elected me because they believed it would be good for them. My prime concern is how to activate my cadres. If they are active, I don’t have to worry about funds. If the people are not with me, no amount of money would help.
On what basis will you choose candidates for the Lok Sabha election?
It will be based on merit and track record. I personally don’t gift or deny tickets. I want to field the best candidates in all constituencies. All sections will be represented.