'An alliance of opportunist forces'

Print edition : September 01, 2001

Veteran parliamentarian and a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Somnath Chatterjee, believes that the National Democratic Alliance is a conglomeration of opportunist forces trying to stay in power by hook or by crook. In an interview he gave Kalyan Chaudhuri in Kolkata, Somnath Chatterjee spoke about the recent political developments in the context of the attempts to saffronise education, the growing contradictions within the ruling alliance and the impending economic crisis. Excerpts:

Do you think the Bharatiya Janata Party will be compelled to slow down its attempt to saffronise education, in the light of the opposition to the move expressed by some of its allies?

I do not think that the BJP-led NDA government will slow down the process of saffronisation of education. It is very significant that although most of the allies of the BJP have criticised the government's education policy, not even a reference was made in the reply of Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi to any of the points made by them. Therefore it is clear that the allies do not really matter. The BJP knows how to tackle its allies, who have hardly any moral strength. They have come together only for the purpose of enjoyment of power and other facilities. Therefore I don't think the Vajpayee government will slow down its programme of saffronisation of education. On the other hand, it goes on appointing teachers for spoken Sanskrit and putting BJP people in different areas. In fact, this is the BJP's main agenda, which it wants to implement before the Uttar Pradesh elections. It has no other card to play there, where its stock is low and credibility limited and where it suffers from dissension.

Do you think there is a conflict between the hardline and liberal and more pragmatic elements within the BJP over the education agenda?

Today hardliners enjoy the dominant position in the BJP and they are flexing their muscles. The BJP's education agenda is a well-calculated RSS agenda and Minister Joshi is serving the RSS better than anyone else in the party. He is poisoning the minds of young people as the RSS indoctrination has started from the primary school level. However, people are coming to realise the dangers of it and academicians are up in arms. But I don't find any pragmatic element in the BJP so far as education is concerned, except M.L. Sondhi, former Chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research who has been saying that he is opposed to the attempt which is going on. But he, in spite of being a BJP person, has been driven out from the ICSSR. I have not found a single BJP person making any remark in Parliament on the nefarious education policy of the BJP-led government.

Do you think dissent expressed by some NDA constituents will affect the stability of the government?

No. I must make it clear that the NDA alliance is not a political alliance. It is a conglomeration of some opportunists formed for the purpose of grabbing power and remaining in power. Among its allies there is no common ideology, no common programme, no common policies. For example, if the DMK goes out of it, the AIADMK comes in, and if the AIADMK comes in, the DMK goes out. Now the Trinamul Congress, which left the NDA for the purpose of what it thought would help it win the Assembly elections in West Bengal and not on differences over programme and policies, is being welcomed by Vajpayee. To the BJP and to Vajpayee governance means remaining in power somehow or the other, and for that purpose numbers are more important and not policies. George Fernandes, who was once an untouchable for Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, has now become her saviour and both of them are conspiring for the purpose of getting rehabilitated in the NDA government. Lust for power is the binding factor among NDA constituents and they will try to stay in power by hook or by crook. For them the stability of the Vajpayee government is needed in their own interest.

Do you think Vajpayee, who tries to maintain a moderate image, is now under the influence of hardliners, especially in the light of his recent remarks about Christian missionaries at an RSS function?

I have seen Atal Behari Vajpayee's functioning for over 30 years in Parliament. The way he has now surrendered to the forces of reaction and communalism is unfortunate. He openly spoke against conversion to Christianity and Islam in order to please the RSS because he has started realising that it is the RSS that can bail him out in the context of the power struggle that is going on in the BJP. His dependence on the RSS and the hardliners in the party is bound to increase if he has to keep himself in his position.

Your comments on the revelations regarding the use of professional sex workers in the Tehelka expose.

One may dislike the method adopted by Tehelka. But to me the revelations are more important not because of the method that was adopted, but because of the importance of the accusation. One should not forget that the persons accused are top Army officials and all these things happened when George Fernandes was the Defence Minister. I certainly do not appreciate Tehelka's method. But at the same time I do not want to take it as a moral matter. The question is much more fundamental. If there is some impropriety in the functioning of the media, there must have been some internal mechanism to check it. I am not the conscience- keeper of the media in this country. The media have rendered a great service by exposing several notorious scams and cases of corruption at high places. Today the target is not the Defence Ministry; the targets are journalists. I can't accept this position.

How do you see the overall economic situation in the country?

The present economic situation of the country is simply alarming. The UTI (Unit Trust of India) fraud is one of the biggest frauds that have ever taken place and the government cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for that. There are well-calculated efforts on the part of the Vajpayee government to go on with disinvestment. The government is leaning more and more towards multinationals who, it hopes, will bail it out from growing economic problem. Today, the biggest attack is on the working class.

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