Thursday, September 27, 2012

INTERVIEW: Kuldeep Rai Sharma: The Man Friday

Kuldeep Rai Sharma: The Man Friday

Kuldeep Rai Sharma, President, PCC, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, was on a long hiatus after the defeat in the last general elections. A few press notes and routine obituaries were what the people used to get from the party. Breaking the lull, once again Kuldeep Rai Sharma is now in the news everyday with two or three press releases and meetings. But, on the ground, including the party cadre, there is a kind of disconnect which has been haunting the party for sometime. With a long row of ageing leaders and no second line in sight, stagnation is staring at the party. Moreover, Kuldeep's proximity with the Administrator has been a major contention, which is largely exploited by his adversaries.
It is also observed that Congress party is more comfortable with unions and councils in its kitty rather than common man on the ground and the issues that affect them. Both Municipal and Zilla Parishads are governed by Congress and most of the Cooperatives are also under its control. The party and its leaders seem confident to manipulate the Council elections by horse trading. The recently held by-election in Ferrar Gunj was an acid test for the party. With two Panchayats - Bindraban and Ferrargunj in its control and a Congress Samiti Pramukh at Namunagar, the party could have done wonders. But, it lost with a mammoth margin to BJP candidate. A week before the election, Kuldeep Rai Sharma  spoke to The Light of Andamans on various issues.

What was the main cause for your defeat in the last general elections?
In last elections, I got very less time for campaigning as finalization of candidature took long time. And, I had to face a barge of senior leaders, who were not mentally prepared to accept me as a candidate as it was a transitional phase after a long innings by Bhaktaji. Moreover, Bhaktaji and Bishnu came together to defeat me. Even then, I lost with a very low margin.

Bhaktaji is once again active now. What do you think are the prospects for Congress Party in the 2014 general elections?
I am least bothered about it. The party will easily sail through.

Mr G K Vasan wants to see you in Parliament in the next Lok Sabha.
Yes, we will try our best.

The mood of the party cadre on the ground is very downbeat as most of them feel dejected by the State leadership. Why is the party disconnected from grassroot level?
As far as I know there is no disconnect. I get the feedback from the ground through the party channel. There is nothing to worry and we still hold ground.

It is alleged that a caucus around you controls and even guides you and your grass-root level leadership feels alienated from the party?
The group of people around me is sincere and dedicated workers of Congress and has been great support. I get feedback through the units, blocks and districts directly.

Why Congress always takes anti-people stand?
Congress is pro-people and is never against people. We have been raising all important issues concerned with the Islands.

In most of the issues like Buffer Zone, Viper Island Issue and compensation of Tsunami-affected farmers, Congress towed the line of Administration. Why?
It's a wrong assumption. I took the Lieutenant Governor to Baratang to meet the public there. We are against the 5-km Buffer Zone and have requested the Admn to modify it. In tsunami-affected farmers' issue, Congress has always maintained that the land should remain with the farmers.

When you know that signing the Form means surrendering land, why did you direct Congress PRI members to exhort farmers to sign the form and accept the compensation?
There are many farmers who are in dire need of money and I asked them to accept the compensation and later fight to keep their land.

At many points the Administration committed blunders like Buffer Zone. Why didn't Congress take a defiant stand against the Administration and stand with the people?
You know that we do not have an Assembly here and if you ruin your relations with the Administration, you cannot get your works done. We need to have cordial relationship with the Administration.

You decided to avoid public issues fearing that your relationship with the Administrator will get affected?
No, the Lieutenant Governor is a very good person and I have high regards for him. He has been very supportive.

You are very close to the Administrator and can get things done. Why are you not getting the Tsunami famers issue resolved?
We are pursuing the matter, but, the Member of Parliament is creating confusion among people and playing spoilsport.

Kuldeep is accused of favouritism as people feel that election of his father to the post of Chairman, ANSC Bank and nomination of his brother as Councillor in PBMC has dented his image. Your comment.
My father has been the Vice Chairman of the Bank for last nine years. He has great experience and ideas. He was elected to the post and I have no role in it. Implementation of the door delivery of Pension for Old, widows and disabled persons is one major step he initiated. As far as Sudeep Rai Sharma is concerned, most of the council members were first timers and there was a need for an experienced person.

In an all-party meeting convened by Andaman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), why did Congress party walk out and go against the Chamber's decision to press for their demands?
ACCI and Congress are two different organizations and can have their own way. I am surprised why Chamber was taking up all issues like a political party.

Most of the issues raised by the Chamber were concerned with the business community - Buffer Zone, Scarcity of Water and Power, Scarcity of Quarry Materials etc.
The quarry owners and workers association were never with the Chamber of Commerce. When the meeting of Chamber was going on, the quarry people were with me. The Chamber had no support from them.

Tamilians seems to be alienated after the quarry explosive seizure case. Are you supporting them to get bail in their case?
On humanitarian grounds, I think they should get bail. However, when the Supreme Court has denied bail to them, what can I do? But, Congress party is in favour of bail for them in the case.

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