Ramesh Chennithala is the President of the Kerala state chapter of the Indian National Congress. The Indian National Congress (INC) is one of the two main parties in Indian national politics. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the INC won the majority of seats and formed a coalition government named the United Progressive Alliance.
At state level, the work of the INC is organised by Pradesh Congress Committees. Ramesh Chennithala is President of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee.
The Kerala state government is presently ruled by the United Democratic Front (UDF) – a coalition led by the Indian National Congress. The Chief Minister of Kerala state is Oomen Chandy, who is also a member of the Indian National Congress. The UDF is one of two main political alliances in Kerala state – the other being the Left Democratic Front.
After becoming involved in student politics in the 1970’s, Sri Chennithala was taken under the wing of the influential Nehru-Gandhi family who directed his political career into a successful climb to head of the Kerala PCC. In that position, he has relaunched the official newspaper of the Indian National Congress in the Malayalam language as well as a TV channel called “Jai Hind”.
Kerala state is home to 30 million people, the majority of whom speak Malayalam. The lush vegetation and coastal location of the territory contributed to a trade in spices as early as 3000 BCE, which resulted in the great temples of the area, such as Sree Padmanabhaswamy, amassing valuable treasure such as gold and jewels.
The major industries in the state are coir and information technology. Coir is a fibre made from the husks of coconuts and can be used in the manufacture of textiles such as mats, brushes and padding. Every year a harvest festival is celebrated in Kerala state with great fanfare. The Onam festival lasts ten days and includes a large boat race through the “Indian Venice” of waterways which criss-cross the region. Onam begins on 9th September in 2011.
The Global Herald asked Sri. Chennithala about his work in Kerala, the future of India and issues facing Indian politics such as corruption and police abuse of power.
Q. How is the Pradesh Congress Committee in Kerala progressing?
A. “The Pradesh Congress Committee in Kerala is functioning properly.
“I can very well you that this is a moral PCC, which is taking up almost all the issues of the people and from scratch has made systematic progress in the state of Kerala and has come back to power in Kerala.”
Q. What’s Your Vision for Kerala?
A. “Kerala has a lot of potential. Kerala is one of the most beautiful states in the world; it is God’s own country. So tourism potential, and so many other human resource potential etc etc is the core ingredient of Kerala’s progress. But, unfortunately we couldn’t tap it properly. So it is the duty of the state Government to work on that direction so that Kerala can be made a model to the Indian nation.”
Q. How do you see the future of media in India?
A. “Media is very vibrant in India. Media is always representing the aspirations of the people of the nation, so the key role played by the media is excellent and I feel that a social audit is also carried by the media nowadays. So that will be the result to the humanity.
“At the same time, they must be more responsible, because when you give news to the people, it should be ascertained whether that news is correct or not.
“The news item or any program which is given by a television channel or the printed media has to be verified first. The veracity of the story should be verified first. Nowadays, the intense competition is there in the television channels, and newspapers, more in the television channels. There is a tendency to do news item without any clarity, without any substance, without any proper verification. As a result of that, so many damages are taking place in the society. So that should be curtailed.
“Individual freedom, individual prestige is also damaged in so many cases, so press should be responsible as well as press should be forthright and they should expose those people, and those issues, which will be detrimental to our state and the people.”
Q. In the last election, The UDF has campaigned in both Malayalam and English whereas the LDF campaigned primarily in Malayalam. What role does language play in Indian politics?
A. “Language will play a very important role in our state because we are always a three language system before, from the very beginning. Malayalam is our mother language, mother tongue. Malayali is an international personality, Malayali is everywhere, you can see Malayali in the whole world. So you should read, and write, and educate, in English also. Hindi is our third language in our state, so, our students are studying Hindi also: it will be beneficial for them in their social life.”
Q. You have worked with several members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. What is their impact on modern India?
A. “See, Nerhu family has been contributing to this nation a great deal.
“Nerhuji is architect of modern India, he represents the older generation who sacrificed their lifes for the freedom, as well as making a new India. His tremendous efforts cannot be ignored; may not be discarded. His sacrifice; his mission; his thoughts definitely helped in shaping the new India after the freedom struggle.
“Indira Gandhi’s sacrifice, Rajiv Gandhi’s sacrifice, Sonia Ghandi’s vision and her courageous steps to make this country more vibrant, these are all before the people of the nation, so people are respecting the Gandhi family.
“I have a very close relationship right from Rajiv’s time onwards. Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul Gandhi, definitely, these four generations I am having very close links and a relationship. That is, I always remember in my mind about the affection and warmth which they show to me in my political career.”
Q. How have your political views altered since first entering student politics in the 1970’s?
A. “Basically, we are all believing in the congress ideology, and Gandhian thoughts. Of course, environment changes; time changes; a situation changes. Definitely, we have to cope with the present political scenario. So it’s not the point of changing, its the point of adjusting with the present political scenario.”
Q. What do you see as the top priorities for Kerala State?
A. “Kerala’s top priorities I listed in my speech, we listed seven important points: number one, to listen; number two, infrastructure facilities; number three, renewable energy; number four, waste management; number five, IT and allied IT development; and, more importantly, about our education – these are the areas which are earmarked for us to concentrate and develop.”
Q. How important is the coir industry in Kerala state?
A. “Coir industry is a traditional industry – coir, textiles and cashew. These are the three traditional industries which we are having, and definitely thousands and thousands of workers are in this sector so Government of Kerala and Pradesh Congress Party is always eager to solve their problems.
“As far as Kerala is concerned, coir is very very important. When new technology comes we are trying to impart the new technology in the coir sector so that the workers and industry both will be benefited.
“We are facing so many problems in this sector but at the same time, by the changing scenario, by the change of scientific innovations, we are trying to co-operate with the both, so that new technology, new innovations, new approaches, can be adopted in the coir sector.”
Q. What is your attitude to microfinance as a way to alleviate poverty?
A. “Of course, the Government of India, in 2 or 3 budgets, you can see that we are concentrating in the micro level planning and micro level credit societies, and micro level incentives, so that people in the ground level should get opportunity to develop themselves for their self sufficiency, so they can stand by their own legs.
“So these kind of credit societies in the micro level will definitely eradicate poverty, unemployment and so many other social ills.”
Q. What is the UDF doing to boost agriculture and food production in Kerala?
A. “In the agricultural sector we are facing problems. If you can analyse the agricultural scenario of Kerala, we can see that the negative growth is there for the last two decades. So the Government of Kerala is now sincerely working out their plan for the proper development of the agricultural sector.
“The Kuttanad package, the Idukki package and all other packages which has been envisaged by the helpers of the Government will definitely boost the agricultural sector and productivity will increase.”
Q. The UDF has criticised the opposition for their policy toward police torture in the past. How important is police transparency to the UDF and what is the Kerala government doing to stop police abuse of power?
“Yes, I agree with you that police atrocities are on the large scale in all the states of India. We must be very careful in this aspect. The modernisation of the police is very much needed. And the police should be taught – they should be educated also. The criminalisation in police forces is also another major issue. And we should be carefully educate them so that the police is not a weapon to harass people: it should be a front to the people; should be a helping hand to the people… change in the police sector is needed. That is my opinion.”
Q. What is your attitude towards the anti-corruption protests of Anna Hazare?
A. “Any fight against corruption is a welcome step. Whoever it may be, in whichever place it may be, the people of India is welcoming the step of eradicating corruption. The Government of Manmohan Signh is committed to eradicating corruption. By simply passing a law we cannot enforce, we cannot stop corruption, but at the same time, people should be educated, awareness should be created, and that bit Anna Hazare’s a successful mission. He has created momentum in the society, in people, that – yes – a concerted effort is needed in the fight against corruption.
“But, at the same time, you see, institutions are important. Parliament is the supreme body in a democratic society. You cannot degenerate Parliament; you cannot degenerate the system. If you degenerate the system, it will lead to anarchy. So, every citizen of our nation should respect the constitution, parliamentary democracy, participatory democracy and, at the same time, we are to fight against these kinds of social ills.”
Q. What is your assessment of corruption in Kerala state and what is being done about it?
“See, Kerala is a part of India, and this nation itself is facing a very big issue of corruption. Kerala is not alone – not separated – so it is an endeavour to stop corruption. There are various means; by infusing more transparency in all the Government programs.
“All the UDF Government in the state has given: all their programs in the website; all their tenders in the website; almost all the Government decisions are coming to the people. The Chief Minister’s office is 24 hours connected with the website – and a web camera – so transparency is the core issue to stop corruption. We are alert to that.”
Q. According to the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs, by 2025 India will have a larger population than China with over 1.4 billion people. How do you think this will impact upon India domestically and abroad?
A. “Of course, the alarming increasing of population in India is a very very serious issue. But in Kerala we are religiously following the family planning. You can see that in every household there is two children – there may be one – so we are following it, but in the rest of the country I think that a more concerted effort is needed for having small families so that this kind of population explosion can be stopped.”
Q. Are you looking forward to the Onam festival in Kerala next week?
A. “I wish all Indians, a happy and a bright Onam.
“Onam is a festival which gives all people a new enthusiasm and sense of dedication and a sense of joy, so this is a celebration which people from all walks of life – cutting across caste, creed and religion – will join together and celebrate.
“This Onam festival itself is a message of socialism, so that every Keralite is welcoming Onam with a new vision and new enthusiasm.”
Q. Will you join in the Onam?
A.“Definitely, every Malayali in Kerala, or abroad, poor or rich, Hindu or Muslim, Christian, everybody will join in the Onam. As a citizen of Kerala, I will also join in the Onam. I wish you all the best for Onam celebrations.