Interview: Dipankar Bhattacharya, CPI (M-L) Liberation

Dipankar Bhattacharya: ‘Dignity, development and democracy constitute our core agenda’

Print edition : November 20, 2020

Dipankar Bhattacharya, CPI (M-L) Liberation leader. Photo: THE HINDU

Interview with Dipankar Bhattacharya, CPI (M-L) Liberation leader.

THE Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation is contesting 19 seats in the Bihar Assembly elections. Its general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya told Frontline that it was turning out to be a youth election with the speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar not having enough resonance. Support for the grand alliance of the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Left parties was surging by the day and he was confident that the Left would do well. “An emphatic defeat of the National Democratic Alliance [NDA] in Bihar will put a brake on the BJP juggernaut nationally”, where he envisions a greater role for the Left parties in mobilising anti-fascist forces against the growing threat of the saffron party. Excerpts from the interview:

The CPI (M-L) has joined the grand alliance for the first time. What is the prime mover of the coalition? To defeat the BJP or the Janata Dal (United) led by Nitish Kumar?

To dethrone the NDA government in Bihar. Nitish Kumar gave the BJP a share in power in the State and now the BJP is all set to dump him and lay all the blame for the utter failure of the NDA government at his doorstep. The JD(U) and the BJP have been swimming together in power, now they will sink together in the election. There is no way the BJP can insulate itself from people’s anger against the Nitish Kumar government.
Also read: Nitish Kumar: Alone in a battle

Lokniti’s pre-election survey gives the NDA a clear edge over the grand alliance. What is your assessment from the ground?e

Almost all surveys are predicting an NDA win in Bihar, and it is not surprising. Has there been any opinion poll since 2014 that has predicted an NDA defeat in any State? People have started saying that the BJP may lose the actual election, but it is bound to win every opinion poll or exit poll. I do not know how the Times Now- C Voter survey or the CSDS opinion poll arrived at the seat projections, but there are interesting figures about voter preferences that indicate a different picture. The C voter survey, for example, found that 54.5 per cent of the respondents were angry with the NDA government and wanted to get rid of it. I am sure these respondents will see to it that their votes are not divided and achieve the desired result. The CSDS poll has found that 30 per cent of the core JDU voters and 29 per cent of the traditional BJP voters will not vote for their respective parties. That shows a major erosion and shared anti-incumbency affecting both parties.

Our observation and feedback from the ground indicate a surge in support for the Mahagathbandhan and the momentum has been increasing steadily. It is turning out to be a youth election in Bihar with jobs and change being the foremost agenda. There is a visible generation shift in Bihar and the BJP and the JD(U) come across as tired old parties with tired old rhetoric having nothing to offer to the youth. Suddenly, Modi and Nitish Kumar are sounding anachronistic and their speeches are having little effect.

How did the seat-sharing arrangement come about? How many seats do you expect to win? Will you join the government if the grand alliance wins?

There was a strong felt need for the alliance in Bihar, especially for the inclusion of the CPI(M-L) and other Left parties. The 2019 Lok Sabha adjustment was a predominantly social alliance, which did not have the necessary political will to resist the NDA. The results showed that opposition candidates polled good votes only where the RJD and M-L/Left votes converged. I think the 2019 outcome persuaded the RJD to rethink the seat-sharing arrangement. The current composition of the alliance has had a wide acceptance in Bihar and inspired a lot of hope and confidence among the people in this battle for change. The 25-point commitment charter of the Mahagathbandhan has focussed on filling up vacancies, creating job opportunities, improving the terms of employment and saving agriculture and livelihood of the common people. It is an agenda reflecting many of the popular demands of the ongoing struggles in Bihar. The Left played a key role in leading these struggles and shaping this agenda. We are hopeful about the formation of a government led by the alliance. Having its own organisational network, agitational initiative and political influence, the Left should certainly do better now that it is a constituent of the alliance. After the results, we will see how best we can help in the implementation of this agenda.
Also read: Left parties in Bihar come together to fight the 'common enemy'

The Left parties in Bihar have joined the other parties to defeat the BJP. Will they do this in other States?

The BJP is indeed a growing threat now across India, including in States where the party has a limited electoral presence. It has a range of allies though some of its oldest allies have started distancing themselves. The NDA is dogged by growing division and distrust among its constituents. The Left should surely get its act together to increase its strength and role as an anti-fascist force and in mobilising other forces against the fascist offensive and facilitating closer cooperation among the broad spectrum of forces ranged against the BJP/NDA.

The Left parties have often been criticised for overlooking caste. But at least in Bihar, you have reinvented yourself. How do you think caste equations will affect these elections?

We have not really reinvented ourselves. Since our inception five decades ago, we have been fighting for the basic dignity and democratic rights of the most oppressed and deprived people. The fight against caste and gender oppression, against feudal-communal violence and state repression has all along been central to our agenda. It is just that our agenda, fighting strength and political legacy have acquired a new resonance in the present political context of corporate plunder and fascist aggression. Dignity, development and democracy constitute our core agenda and we have been consistent in pursuing it amidst changing situations and the rise of ever newer issues.

Caste remains important but it is not a static factor. Caste equations keep changing and most of the key issues today, from education and employment, and farmers’ and workers’ rights, to defence of the Constitution and fight for justice and liberty transcend caste boundaries. Caste equations and coalitions are bound to change with the changing experience of the people. A migrant worker fighting against the pain and humiliation of Modi’s cruel lockdown, students and young job-seekers battling commercialisation of education and privatisation of various sectors and services, women fighting for safe domestic and public spaces and more opportunities and rights cannot possibly confine themselves to established caste boundaries. The current elections promise to be different in many ways, challenging many a tenet of established political wisdom.

Also read: Left agenda makes a comeback in Bihar with increased vote share