SURJYA KANTA MISHRA, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and secretary of the West Bengal unit of the party, was the face of the opposition in the 2016 election. For the past five years, he was the Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly. Although he lost the Narayangarh Assembly seat in Paschim Medinipur district this year, he said that “defeat does not mean retreat” and called for a broad-based movement involving the Left, secular, democratic forces in the State. “This time, right from day one we will launch our movement,” he told Frontline in an exclusive interview.
Sometime in the middle of the election there was a rumour that the government was going to fall, but it came back with a massive mandate. What happened?
There are two things to mention here. If you go by the pre-election survey, around 10 per cent of voters were not disclosing where they would vote. It was anybody’s guess where this vote would go. In West Bengal, in a situation where people were not willing to divulge who they would vote for, there was an expectation that they would vote against the present government. But that did not happen; in fact, they voted in favour of the ruling party.
The more important development is the clandestine understanding relating to transfer of votes that was reached by the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] and the Trinamool. This is evident if you look at the seats the BJP chief and the Trinamool chief won [Kharagpur and Bhowanipore respectively]. There are a dozen seats where the BJP transferred its vote to the Trinamool; the reverse also took place, but we are yet to calculate the number of seats where it happened. Kharagpur and Bhowanipore are just two examples. These are the two immediate factors we see. There will be further scrutiny.
After the results were declared, you said that defeat did not mean retreat. Can you elaborate on that?
All the issues that we had taken up, including the ones we raised during election campaigns, are all valid issues. Nobody can deny that there have been farmer suicides and agrarian distress; nobody can deny that there have been starvation deaths in tea gardens; that there have been scams in the education sector; or rising unemployment. The industrial scenario is terrible; industries are leaving the State. There has been rampant corruption, from Saradha to Narada. All these issues persist. In fact, as I have said in my election speeches, given the financial condition of the State, whoever comes to power will have a very tough time. It will be especially tough for this government, considering all the promises it has made to the people. For the government to keep up the programmes it has undertaken and to continue to meet the expectations of those who have been benefiting from its various schemes will be very difficult.
In 2011, we had decided to give the government some time to do its work, but this time right from day one, we will launch our movement, particularly after the attacks on our workers immediately after the results were declared. It is a question of restoring democracy.
Many people claim that the Left’s debacle is mainly because it came to an understanding with the Congress. Your comments.
As I have been maintaining that it is not just the Congress but all the Left, democratic, secular forces. Of course, apart from the Left, the Congress is the biggest force among them. As I have said before, it is a people’s alliance. But coming to your question, I do not believe it to be so. If you look at the 2014 [Lok Sabha] results, in the Assembly segments we led in 27 seats and the Congress in 29. We got two Parliament seats, and the Congress four. Now the challenge is to retain whatever we have got and try to increase it. The most dangerous thing is the understanding between the Trinamool and the BJP, which became very clear after the results were out. The Chief Minister herself said that she would continue to give support to the BJP on certain issues.
With this people’s alliance we will carry out a united struggle, not just for elections. Let us see how many forces we can mobilise in this battle for democracy, secularism and [against] the attacks on the livelihood of the masses. Had this alliance not been forged, the BJP would have become the second force in the State. The unity of the Left, democratic, secular forces is the need of the hour.
So the Jote (the alliance between the Left and the Congress) will remain for the sake of continuing a broader-based movement?
Yes. That should be the effort.
After such a defeat, the morale of party workers must be quite low. How are you, as the head of the CPI(M) unit of West Bengal, addressing this problem?
The only way to address this problem is to build a movement. It is a challenging situation, but I feel the morale would have been further shattered had there been no political understanding with the Congress.
Corruption was a big issue in this election, so how come it did not affect the outcome?
An occurrence or a reality by itself cannot transform into a movement. A movement has to be organised; it has to be taken to the people. The Narada sting became public just before the election, but we did use it in our campaigns. The main thrust of the Trinamool’s campaign on the other hand was the so-called development, what we call mal-development, which is nothing more than focussing on individual beneficiaries. In people’s perception, getting a cycle or anything for nothing is a big thing. This is also a corrupting influence on the people.
I remember when I was in government, people would sometimes ask me why we are so slow in extending benefits; I would tell them that if the bureaucracy and the government are corrupt they can be removed, but if the people are made corrupt, then there is nothing that can be done.
Dole politics, lumpenisation of society, and the attack on democracy are all inseparable. You cannot provide jobs, so give the youth work in syndicates! This is what is happening. There is no effort to find a more permanent solution to problems like unemployment and lack of employment opportunities. All that is being done is giving temporary relief and jobs. This is not good for society. It will take time for people to get disillusioned.