PRAKASH KARAT, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), points out that the most significant characteristic of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections is the emergence of a non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combination. It was being said that this election was going to be a two-way fight, but it has become a three-way fight and that has changed the overall equation. In an interview to Frontline, Karat expresses the optimism that many more parties, which are aligned at present with either the UPA or the NDA, will find the Third Front attractive. Excerpts:
The long election process, spread over 30 days, has started. What is your evaluation of the situation at this juncture?
Viewed in its totality, one thing is clear. There is a three-way contest in this election. There was a thinking earlier that it would be a two-way fight. But that has changed concretely with the formation of the non-Congress, non-BJP alliance, which is fighting as a pre-election alliance in many States. The formation has emerged as a major presence in many States across the country, such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. This has changed the overall equation nationally. There is a clear three-cornered contest.
What, according to you, are the principal factors that caused this realignment of forces?
I think it reflects the long-term decline of both the Congress and the BJP. In the last election, these two parties together got 48.6 per cent of the votes. This time around, what we see is that most of the partners of the Congress in the UPA are charting their own paths, be it the RJD, the LJP or the S.P. If the Congress was really picking up and getting more, none of these allies would have liked to leave it. So the ground reality is that all these parties, which were keen on an alliance with the Congress earlier, are no longer of the same view. So, the reality is that the space for the Third Front has expanded with the decline of the two major parties.
What would you say is the single most important reason for the shift of several regional parties away from the Congress and the BJP?
In the past five years, one of the successes of the Left was that when we supported the UPA government, we kept the issues of the people squarely before the country and before the government. Questions such as the employment guarantee scheme or tackling the agrarian crisis came up as part of our efforts. Even the issue of farm loan waiver finally came as a response to the position we took on such issues. Now there is the impact of the global economic crisis, loss of lakhs of jobs, and then we have the failure to tackle the price rise of the essential commodities continually. They say the rate of inflation is below 1 per cent. But the prices of all food items continue to shoot up. These are the issues that I think determine the peoples choice.
There is also a perception that many of these parties have come out of either the BJP-led coalition or the one led by the Congress essentially because they were unable to strike a good bargain with these big parties in terms ofseats.
I do not think that is correct. Take the example of Bihar. If the RJD had given a couple of more seats to the Congress, it would have stayed on in the RJD-led alliance. So, the projection that it is the result of bargain is too far-fetched. It is more a recognition that we dont need the Congress. It is more an assertion of the fact that the UPA partners are realising that it is not necessary to be with the Congress to win the elections. This way they also keep open multiple options after the elections. If the Congress does well in the polls, they may still go with it. But right now, in the elections, they dont see the Congress as a party that can help their prospects.
While many parties have come together to fight the elections, do you think the policy framework of the third alternative has really taken some kind of shape?
See, the Left parties have been putting forward third alternative policies. We have had discussions with parties we have allied with in the States, such as the TDP [Telugu Desam Party], about the policy platform we should build up. This is a State-by-State alliance.
We have started not with a national alliance, but by having electoral understanding in various States. There we are putting forth our policies for the people. And in two States, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, in the Assembly elections also. We talk in concrete terms about the things the new governments there should do. So I think that constitutes the alternative set of policies that we can build upon after the elections when the question of formation of the government comes up.
There are some issues on which there are major differences. For example, the question about statehood for Telangana in Andhra Pradesh, where the constituents of the grand alliance speak in different voices.
We know that. We are aware that most of these parties are for a separate state of Telangana. We will address that question after the elections.
What exactly is the equation between the BSP and the Third Front in practical terms?
We arrived at an understanding, which was reflected in the statements made on March 15 after the nine-party meet. The statement said that we would work together to defeat the Congress and the BJP and after the elections we would work together for the formation of a non-Congress, non-BJP government. That is the understanding. It [the BSP] is fighting the elections on its own. But it is also fighting the Congress and the BJP and we are also fighting the Congress and the BJP. After the elections we can come together.
But the BSP is fighting against you too in many places.
Well, we dont see that as a major problem. Their fighting a few seats in Kerala or West Bengal or we fighting some seats in Uttar Pradesh is not going to upset the common goal.
There is a perception that more parties of the UPA and the NDA may find the Third Front more attractive after the elections. How would you respond to such views?
We hope so. We hope that they will find us more attractive after the elections.