KP Unnikrishnan | Photo: Mathrubhumi
Former union minister and Congress veteran KP Unnikrishnan was a key organiser in the opposition alliance led by Congress-dissenter VP Singh against Rajeev Gandhi in 1989. Unnikrishnan was with the Congress (S) back then and represented Vadakara in the Lok Sabha on the Left front. He returned to the Congress in the 1990s to 'fight against the BJP'. The octogenarian is currently resting at his house in Kozhikode due to age-related ailments. He spoke to english.mathrubhumi.com about the INDIA alliance against the BJP government in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
You were one of the key organisers of the opposition alliance in 1989 against Rajeev Gandhi. How do you look at the present INDIA alliance?
I don't know whether we can compare them. The situation is totally different now. The BJP is in power. It is an alliance of anti-BJP forces led by the Congress. It will not be correct to compare the two experiences. In Kerala it has become a regular feature, with two fronts. But this is different. BJP is a Hindu communal force. So the mobilisation will be based on that. It is a bit early to say how it will shape up.
There were several parties to the 1989 alliance as well. How were conflicts within the alliance handled?
There will of course be dialogue and different positions. But in an alliance of this kind, minor details of political stance of parties don't come up. There is some kind of understanding towards the way seats should be shared.
What was your role in it?
I tried to bring together different people and groups. But VP Singh was the primary force. The Congress and BJP together brought down the VP Singh government. I had warned VP Singh about the BJP. They took away more seats in UP (as part of the alliance). He needlessly compromised to ensure power. He could have taken more seats and won them. If SP and BSP were brought together at that time, things would have been different.
Do you call it a successful experiment?
No. It was partially successful, within the scope of that limited election. Because there were far too many contradictions between some of us. In that way you were right. Also, VP Singh's political experience was limited although he had become a parliament member and chief minister of UP. He had his limitations. He was a straight forward, honest man of great integrity. So I wouldn't say the idea of getting together different groups was quite a successful experiment.
Is it possible to form an alliance with the sole intention to bring BJP down?
That is the idea now.
But is that sufficient? Parties can choose to be with the BJP anytime. Haven't we seen that in the past?
That is the hope and idea. It is too early to predict. I don't know how many will go with BJP. Mayawati is a target of BJP. I have a feeling that they have laid their hands on some of her documents or something. I am told that her influence is waning. It has to be seen.
Your former colleague Sharad Pawar's nephew has joined hands with BJP.
Ajit has no influence
But Sharad seems to be on the fence.
I don't think so. Sharad probably has one aim. To lead an alliance and become prime minister. Although he won't announce that in public, it seems like that. There is no point for him in going with the BJP.
Nithish's party projects him as the chairman of the INDIA alliance.
Nitish is also ambitious. But Lalu Prasad is a bigger force than Nitish. He is from a smaller community, called Kurmi. All this will come into force whatever be the ambitions of individuals.
Are you hopeful about the INDIA alliance?
It can work. I won't say anything beyond that.
JDS, TDP, TRS, BJD and YSRCP are remaining neutral. JDS may even join the BJP alliance.
South India is generally anti-BJP. JDS has limited influence in the old Mysuru region. But in Orissa, BJD has some influence. They (INDIA Alliance) should have tried to get hold of him. The situation will change. What emerges after the division of seats is important. How the caste formations will react to this alliance is not yet clear. How the Marathas are going to react is very important in Maharashtra. They were with the Congress, then with the NCP. Shiv Sena is also split. Most of the states in the north are the problem, particularly Uttar Pradesh. What happens in UP is important. BJP has almost lost Bihar. UP is the problem now.
Congress is accused of being soft Hindutva. Is it necessary to take a soft Hindutva position to win elections in India?
There is no soft Hindutva. It is an imaginary concept. You cannot beat the BJP in that position. They are a very firmly Hindu communal outfit. That cannot be beaten by anything soft. A few individuals may be influenced with that position. But it is not a political concept. If anybody thinks otherwise, they are foolish. Congress cannot take that route. Congress may be confused. That is a different situation. That reflects on leadership, which doesn't understand many things.
How do you explain Rajeev Gandhi opening up Babri Masjid for Shilanyas? Was it an attempt to counter the rise of BJP?
[Laughs]. I don't know. I don't think he understood many things.
Do you think Rahul Gandhi can take on Modi?
I don't think it can be positioned like that. It is a combination of forces that can fight BJP. Modi himself is not that big as being made out by some media. I don't think he has much influence, as exposed in Karnataka.
So you don't think he has grown like Indira Gandhi?
No way. It is just the projection of BJP. Now the government is using machinery and the media in a big way. That is where Adani also comes. For example, his whole attitude towards Manipur is foolish. It looks like he has no clue. Manipur is surely going to affect the whole of northeast. BJP has picked up some seats and support there. Not any longer. They are getting into serious difficulties. Modi doesn't seem to know how to handle it. I don't know what is the situation of BJP and RSS. But Modi thinks making speeches is enough. That's not true. Even those who clap for you will vote against you.
BJP says even during the Congress period, there were clashes in Manipur, but no PM visited or made statements in parliament.
There was not even a single occasion like this where a whole state was divided on communal lines and went on for months. Of course a few problems were there. But it was not of this scale. It has become a serious issue now. It extends to Mizoram, Nagaland etc. The BJP has no answer. They thought they could use the Hindu card. They are mistaken. Their main idea is removing Nehru's name. It is stupid. Even today they have done something.