‘The state must take over election expenses’
His mother wanted him to be a mullah and his brother thought he should become a draftsman so he could find a cushy business option in the Gulf. But, AP Abdullakutty, 41, ended up as a Lok Sabha member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM).
He was 31 when he first became an MP 10 years ago. He has a website www.abdullakutty.com and has run into trouble with CPM bosses over his ideas. Abdullakutty holds that bandhs (a form of protest where activists enforce a strike) should be avoided and that a communist need not be an atheist.
His newest run-in with the CPM leadership came when he praised Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s model of attracting private investment where the state provides assistance and deputes bureaucrats to help investors. The CPM suspended Abdullakutty in mid-January for a year from membership of the party.
When he was 16, Abdullakutty won the President’s Scout Award. When he has the time, he now plays cricket as a member of the Indian Parliamentarians Cricket Team. The following are excerpts from an interview with Vijay Simha for the series Young MPs and Their Idea of India.
You are a Marxist and a Muslim as well. Muslim issues have been at the centre-stage in India of late. What freshness do you think we can bring in our dealings with terrorism and terrorists? How, for instance, does India deal with Pakistan?
Islamic terrorism is at the forefront after events in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. Many terrorist groups have sprung up in the name of religion. In the past in India, there were pro-Khalistan Sikh groups. Now there are so many terrorist groups in the name of Islam. Every terrorist is an enemy of religion and society. Terrorists hide behind slogans of human rights. But we can’t accept this. Terrorism is anti-peace, anti-religion, and anti-society. In the recent Mumbai attack, all evidence is pointing toward Pakistan. I think Pakistan is the capital of modern terrorism. War, though, is not a solution to the problems with Pakistan.
|“By 2020 we must deal only in electronic money (by cards). This will eliminate corruption”
Do you think someone like you, and other Muslim opinion makers, should be speaking more often so that the liberal Muslim space is not vacated for the radical Muslim voice?
The word Islam stands for peace. There are many broadminded people in Islam, though the liberals and the radicals are fighting in Islam. I think George Bernard Shaw had the best description of Islam. He said Islam is the best religion in the world with the worst followers.
A connected strand is the question of illegal migration into India, especially from the Muslim-majority Bangladesh. What does India do about illegal migrants?
It is very difficult to spot illegal migrants from Bangladesh, especially in a city like Kolkata. They look very much like Indians. So sending them back to Bangladesh could pose practical difficulties. But the government must stop illegal migration.
Kashmir is another issue where several strands have complicated matters. There is an Indian parliament resolution that states that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and that Pakistan must vacate the areas of Kashmir it has occupied illegally. Is that the way to go on Kashmir?
All I can say is that the recent election in Jammu and Kashmir has shown that more and more people are voting because they believe in democracy in Kashmir. We will settle the issue of Kashmir peacefully.
We are heading into another important General Election. As a young MP, what new thought can you share on electoral reform?
The cost of fighting an election is rising everyday, which makes money a big factor. Indian democracy is the best in the world, even when compared to the American election process. In the US, you have to be rich to become a senator. In India, even a common man can become an MP. All kinds of people are in the parliament. But money has become a big factor in propaganda. I think the government must immediately bear the expenses of an election. This is a modern era and we can conduct propaganda through television, radio, the Internet, and other audiovisual media. I propose that all paper-based propaganda be banned. The Election Commission can then contain election expenses.
What improvements can we make to our election process?
This system is good. But I think we can go for proportional representation. This will enable people to vote for a party and its symbol. A party can then choose anyone to represent it in parliament. A party can change its nominee anytime but the number of its MPs will be in proportion to the percentage of vote it gets.
Should the policy of reservation continue? If so, in what form? Should we have a time limit? Should it be scrapped?
We need reservation in India. I think we must have reservation in the private sector as well, because there is a large private presence in the telecom and the power sectors, for instance. These sectors are growing at a rapid pace but they have no reservation. So, we must extend reservation to the private sector. However, reservation must not be extended to the rich among the dalits and the backward communities. The creamy layer must be excluded.
It would seem that corruption is part of our DNA. It is such an old malaise, and is still worsening every year. What do we do about corruption?
Our vision is to be a superpower in 2020. By then, we ought to be dealing with money only electronically. I will have only ATM cards and other cards in my pocket. Black money would be eradicated in this fashion. We discussed earlier the connection between money and power and how election expenses are a big factor in corruption. If the Election Commission takes over election expenses, there will be no need for money in politics. With such transparency, we can overcome corruption. By 2020, corruption will cease in India.
What about our justice system? It has acquired a reputation for being slow and lazy. How can we reform this system, which appears to be collapsing?
You will remember that our railways were like that, especially reservation of seats and berths in trains. After computerisation, everything has improved in the railways. Even in the judiciary, from A to Z everything must be computerised. We must also increase the number of courts, have fast-track courts for specific nature of crimes, and encourage compromise among litigants.
|“The markets have collapsed in capitalist and socialist economies. Nehru’s mixed economy is the best model”
There is a recent increase in the trend of looking at youngsters seeking enjoyment in pubs through a supposedly moral prism. You are a young MP. What is your take on this? Is moral policing justified?
We are living in modern times. Regarding consumption of alcohol, earlier Punjab had the highest per capita consumption of liquor in India. Now Kerala, where I come from, has the highest. The situation is that smoking has decreased but consumption of alcohol is increasing everywhere. And this is not only in pubs. In Kerala, Onam, Christmas, and the days after Ramzan are the holiest times in a year. But the consumption of alcohol is the highest during those days. All political parties, the government, and religious and social organisations must include rising alcohol consumption in their agenda. Our moral values are lessening. We should intervene in this situation, but I have no idea how.
The Ram Sene is also saying we should intervene.
Their way is not correct because this is a democratic country. They have objected to a Hindu girl speaking to a Muslim boy. Girls and boys have the right to speak to each other. That is not the solution. That is Hindutva Talibanism.
We are in the midst of a terrible economic crisis, which comes in the wake of a drive to liberalise that had picked up momentum. How far can we liberalise in India?
Because of the recession, we have recognised two things. First, we recognised that the market collapsed under the socialist concept of dictatorship. Second, that under liberalisation of the capitalist kind also, the market collapsed. Yet, two economies are performing reasonably well at the moment: China and India. This is because of their mixed economy. We have a strong public sector as well as a strong private sector. As a Marxist, I say that Nehruvism is the best model in the current scenario.
Job losses are probably going to be a very big factor in the election. How can we create jobs, and create employable people who can hold those jobs?
When the era of computerisation began, my party believed that it would affect jobs. But in reality it has created more jobs, especially in telecom, technology, and the service sectors. India is a strong market and it will survive the crisis.
Do you think quality of life in India would improve if we had more states? Would that make the government’s job easier?
I am quite confused on this issue and I don’t have a clear answer. When the concerned bill came up in parliament to create Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Uttarakhand in 2000, big communist leaders spoke, Indrajit Gupta for the CPI and Somnath Chatterjee for the CPM. Somnathda objected to the creation of more states saying tomorrow demands for a separate Telangana (in Andhra Pradesh) and Malabar (in Kerala) would come up. He said it is wrong to keep dividing India, and that it was against the integrity of the country. Immediately, Indrajit Gupta supported the creation of smaller states. He said Somnathda and other CPM comrades don’t know how things are in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. He said the capitals here were very far from remote villages. I was totally confused. My mind was with Indrajit Gupta and my body was with Somnathda. Today, I don’t think more states would solve problems. Eating more nectar makes it poisonous. We must give more powers to states instead of creating more states.
The office of the Governor is another huge debate, since the time the Constitution was written. What do you think? Do we need Governors in India?
My guru EK Nayanar (former chief minister of Kerala) used to ask what is the use of the Governor’s post. I am of the same opinion. Governors are old, retired, and useless people who are consuming money. The Governor’s office is anti-national. I feel we must abolish this post.
What about Article 356? It has shaken relations several times between the Centre and the states in a federal set-up like we have in India. Should we repeal Article 356?
All Articles of the Constitution were created by the Constituent Assembly. Therefore, every Article has a good intention. Sometimes there is misuse of Article 356 but that is not the Article’s problem. It is a problem of leadership and governance.
If you had the power, what are the three things you would do immediately?
The immediate crisis is in the power sector. There are eight-hour power cuts in main industrial centres, and even in big cities. In India, there is great potential for hydropower. Silicon-based solar panels can generate electricity. And silicon is in our soil. We can develop the know-how to build our own solar panels so we can stop depending on European countries. We can then immediately run all our streetlights on solar power. We have only got half the power we need by 2020. I support Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s nuclear deal with the US. I will concentrate on the power sector and start several projects in five years. Land reform is the second priority. For instance, the development of Kerala has been almost entirely because of land reform. The third thing will be to end all wrong subsidies. There are so many of them. For instance, why should the government subsidise LPG (cooking gas) cylinders? Why should Mukesh Ambani (the richest man in India and among the richest in the world) get an LPG cylinder at Rs 120 subsidy? I would make a list of all the rich and stop LPG subsidy at once to them.
The Abdullakutty Agenda
- Stop illegal migration into India.
- State must bear election expenses.
- Ban use of paper in election campaigns.
- Have proportional representation in parliament.
- Extend reservation to the private sector, exclude creamy layer.
- Deal only in plastic money by 2020.
- Computerise judiciary and courts fully.
- Have more courts and fast track them.
- Make increasing alcohol consumption an agenda for all.
- Avoid capitalism and socialism. Stay with Nehruvism’s mixed economy.
- Don’t create more states. Give more powers to existing states.
- Abolish the post of the Governor.
- Run all streetlights on solar energy. Power India by solar and hydro energy.
- Continue with Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement.
- Extend land reform (setting upper limit to land holdings of an individual).
- Remove subsidy on cooking gas (LPG) cylinders.