S urjya Kanta Mishra , the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member and secretary of the party’s West Bengal unit, has for long been one of the most respected political figures in the State. He was one of the most important Ministers in the Left Front governments of both Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. As a member of the opposition, he was Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly. In an exclusive interview to Frontline , Mishra spoke about the forthcoming State Assembly election and the prospects of the newly formed Left-Congress alliance. Excerpts:
According to some political observers, the 2021 Assembly election will be essentially fought between the Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Do you agree?
That is not the case. There will be a triangular contest. The BJP is facing anti-incumbency sentiment all over the country. The party has lost most of the byelections. It has been able to come to power [in some States] by facilitating defections. The [October/November 2020] Bihar Assembly election was a close fight [between the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and the Grand Alliance of the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Left parties]. It showed that the anti-incumbency factor was at work. Now, after the farmers’ agitation [on the borders of Delhi since November last year] and attacks on the rights of the working class, livelihood issues have come to the fore among the masses. Besides, the BJP has no understanding of Bengal politics or Bengali tradition. We can see how it is attacking the finest traditions that Bengal Renaissance has given from the days of Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The BJP may be trying to hijack them, but it has no understanding of those values. The BJP has no dependable leader here. All the corrupt members of the Trinamool, who made money through chit fund scams, have joined the BJP. It is not that easy for the BJP to win here.
As for the Trinamool, it is obvious that a strong anti-incumbency wind is blowing against it because of its failures and its attacks on democracy. Although Mamata Banerjee is ostensibly fighting against the BJP’s fundamentalism, she cannot be called secular. She has compromised with both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalist forces. There have been innumerable communal clashes with Trinamool members on both sides. The Chief Minister has allowed RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] members to function freely but has put up barriers for the Left. For example, when there were communal clashes in Dhulagarh, she did not allow the Left to enter the region, but the RSS could go there freely. There are many such instances. During Ram Navami celebrations, she competed with the BJP in the celebrations, which created tension and an Imam’s son lost his life. They [the BJP and the Trinamool] have intensified communal disharmony in the State with their actions. Mamata Banerjee is not in a position to fight the BJP on any front. She is also facing isolation.
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In this situation we are bringing together all secular forces to fight these powers. Moreover, in the past one year we have organised movements to restore and uphold democracy in the State and fight communal forces. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Left was the first to reach out to the people by providing hand sanitisers and arranging relief for the helpless. With the support of our trade union network we helped stranded migrant workers. We organised blood donation camps and made a lot of positive interventions. This increased our reach among the masses. On the other hand, the COVID management in the State has been one of the worst in the country. While the whole country suppressed the real figures regarding the number of people affected by COVID, the West Bengal government was among those that suppressed it the most.
What is the main thrust of your election campaign?
We are presenting an alternative to the people. We are putting before them what we achieved during the tenure of the Left Front government, what we could not, what the lapses were, our experience, the experience of the State in the past 10 years, and what can be done now. That is the main course of our narrative. We are taking a positive approach, rather than presenting only negative facts. That will be the main thrust of our campaign along with other political issues that come up from time to time.
Both the Centre and the State government are anti-people. There is a huge economic crisis in the country. The gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider by the day; and the pandemic has worsened the crisis. This kind of situation gives rise to right-wing forces. They look for targets. In Germany it was Jews, here it is Muslims. Our Constitution is under attack and we will continue to fight to restore our Constitution and present an alternative to the people.
You are equally opposed to the BJP and the Trinamool. Which is the more immediate threat?
The main danger is the danger that one neglects to see. An immediate threat is not something that is static. In a rapidly changing situation, the immediate threat changes too. History has shown us this. The BJP is the main enemy in India now. We have been trying to mobilise all the forces against the BJP. We have no objection to the Trinamool joining an all-India movement against the BJP and sending its delegation to Delhi. But that cannot happen in Bengal. The wrath of the people against the Trinamool is so strong that they supported the BJP as the force that can fight the Trinamool and not out of any love for that party. It is a fight between two evils. The minority community, on the other hand, had no choice but to join the Trinamool whether it liked it or not. The BJP wants us to support the Trinamool so that it can get the entire anti-Trinamool vote. Helping the Trinamool fight the BJP is tantamount to allowing the BJP a walkover. It would be a wrong move tactically.
Will the Left reach a post-election understanding with the Trinamool to keep the BJP out?
My apprehension is different. If a situation requiring such an understanding arises in the event of no party getting the majority, then the Trinamool and the BJP will work together. That would be a truly dangerous situation. The Left is against the promulgation of Article 356, and we will do whatever we can to ensure that Bengal does not come under President’s Rule.
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How are the talks with the Congress?
It is coming along well. Today [January 17] we had a meeting—the secretaries of all the Left parties and Congress representatives were present. We agreed that the seat-sharing issue should be settled by the end of this month.
The Left and the Congress have had problems over this before. Do you foresee that happening again?
Now that our Central Committee has decided that all secular democratic forces can join in an electoral alliance, and there is no confusion about that in the Congress either, we do not expect any problem. We are now planning several movements together.
Are you willing to consider sitting for talks with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehdul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Abbas Siddiqui, if necessary?
We make a distinction between the AIMIM and Abbas Siddiqui. Abbas Siddiqui has been saying the BJP grew in the State during the Trinamool rule. He has maintained that he is not working for the minority community alone but also for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and marginalised Hindus. This stand is different from that of the AIMIM’s. We have made it clear that our partners will have to be Left, secular and democratic forces. If Abbas Siddiqui and the AIMIM are together we will have no truck with them.