Interview: Sitaram Yechury

Sitaram Yechury: The opposition needs to get its act together

Print edition : November 22, 2019

Sitaram Yechury, general secretary, CPI(M). Photo: Atul Yadav/PTI

Interview with Sitaram Yechury, general secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist).

THE outcome of the Assembly elections, which ran contrary to predictions of a “sweeping majority” for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has renewed the hope of the secular and democratic forces in the opposition that they will be able to reclaim their political and electoral space. Seen in the context of the impact of the unceasing economic slowdown, the significant decline in the vote percentage of the BJP compared with its performance in the Lok Sabha election points to the waning influence of the Sangh Parivar’s jingoistic nationalism. In an interview to Frontline, Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and former Rajya Sabha MP, spoke about the message from the recent elections, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the state of the economy and the need for opposition unity. Excerpts.

In Maharashtra and Haryana, the electorate did not give the BJP a decisive mandate. Is it a sign of voter fatigue with the BJP’s muscular nationalism?

The results of both State elections have shattered the pre-election expectations of the BJP and the consequent hype. The spin was of claims of winning 200 plus and 75 plus seats in Maharashtra and Haryana. The narrative of communal, nationalist jingoism did not pay the expected benefits. Its impact was clearly waning despite the Prime Minister and the Home Minister addressing a record number of meetings and rousing passions aimed at communal polarisation. This waning of the impact first became clear with the low turnout. The grim realities of growing economic burdens influenced the voters, giving this result. A message to the secular democratic forces is to get their acts together.

Just a few months ago, in May, the BJP won the majority of the parliamentary constituencies in these two States. The effect of the Lok Sabha election was felt in the Assembly elections held in 2014 as well. It was not repeated this time despite the BJP using the abrogation of Article 370 as a major campaign point. What could be the reasons?

Nine million jobs have been lost in the last six years. No amount of fudging and managing numbers can conceal the truth. The BJP came to power in 2014 promising crores of jobs. What we have is falling employment. The economic story is getting grimmer while the government is only getting its public relations right. Behind each sliding number are the lives of millions of Indians suffering from a crisis of this government’s making.

It is not a slowdown any more. It’s a proper economic recession. Rural household consumption has slumped to a seven-year low. The signs of prolonged agrarian distress and near-stagnant rural incomes have been present for long. The loot of public money by cronies has been facilitated. When the BJP government waives the unpaid loans of the rich and gives the superrich tax bonanzas, it destroys banks, and this has real consequences on ordinary lives. Another example of misery is the case of the PMC Bank depositors; some are dead, others in dire straits. But the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh/BJP government does not care. All it has been busy with is to divide and polarise.

The visit by the Members of the European Parliament to Jammu and Kashmir was considered unusual. What does the visit indicate? Also, the BJP has fared badly in the Block Development Council (BDC) elections held in Jammu and Kashmir.

The visit by the European delegation is an affront to Indian Parliament and its sovereignty while Indian MPs and political leader are denied the freedom to visit the valley and those in the State are not even allowed to step out of their homes. Our Polit Bureau has strongly protested the reportedly “private” visit from various European countries. There can be no special privilege for a group of foreign parliamentarians to visit the Valley while it is denied to others, including our own MPs, and the national political leadership with most of the known political leaders of the State continuing to remain under custody or detention. Besides, the group that visited was overwhelmingly from the ultra-right wing and pro-fascist parties, having relations with the BJP. This explains why our MPs were not allowed but the European group was welcomed by our Prime Minister.

In the BDC elections, the people did not vote directly but through an electoral college of 27,000 panches and sarpanches and where the turnout was very low. This is no sign of “normalcy”. Of the 307 blocks, independents won in 217, while the BJP won 81 and that too mainly from Jammu. Narendra Modi’s claim that these elections are an acceptance by the people of the scrapping of Article 370 is preposterous. As usual, he’s resorted to falsehoods.

One of the things being talked about is opposition unity. Is it possible for a broad front to emerge in some of the States going in for Assembly elections later this year and next year?

The communal, nationalistic and jingoistic propaganda fanned by the BJP is waning. The election results of the Assemblies of Maharashtra and Haryana and byelections in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Kerala and Assam are a clear indication of that. The opposition, all of us, needs to get our act together. People are seeking answers. The right-wing political offensive can only be defeated by a left-wing push. The joint action programme by the Left parties has been launched across the country.

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