Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) general secretary

‘People’s struggles must be strengthened’

Print edition : June 10, 2016

Sitaram Yechury. Photo: Shahbaz Khan/PTI

Interview with Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) general secretary.

THE Left parties had big stakes in West Bengal and Kerala among the five States that went to the polls in April-May. While the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala secured a two-thirds majority, the performance of the Left Front in West Bengal was not on expected lines. Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), spoke to Frontline on the election outcome. Excerpts from the interview:

How do you interpret the outcome of this round of Assembly elections, especially the performance of the Left? Sections in the BJP are euphoric that the party has acquired a pan-India status, while the Left, in their perception, is fast losing ground.

The euphoria of the BJP is misplaced. Of the results declared in 820 Assembly constituencies, among the national parties, 64 seats have been won by the BJP, 150 by the Congress and 124 by the Left Front. The rest has been won by the regional outfits. Among the national parties, the BJP candidates lost their deposits in the maximum number of constituencies in these elections.

Kerala has been a very big win for the LDF. The BJP managed to enter the Assembly for the first time since Independence with a lone victory. And this was possible clearly due to a vote transfer from the UDF. It appears that there was an understanding with the UDF on eight seats; in the other seven seats, the BJP came second. Clearly, the people of Kerala rose above all such manipulations and gave an emphatic victory to the LDF. There was an anti-incumbency mood, malgovernance and massive charges of corruption against the Oommen Chandy government. Secondly, in the struggle against the growing communal polarisation in the country that has a significant bearing in Kerala, the CPI(M) and the LDF are clearly seen as stout champions of the secular and democratic principles of our Constitution.

In West Bengal, the main objective that the CPI(M) decided upon and what was announced at its State conference and at the Brigade Grounds rally at the time of the party plenum last December was: oust the Trinamool Congress government to save West Bengal and oust the BJP-led Modi government to save India. The central committee of the party met subsequently and decided that the CPI(M) and the Left would appeal to all democratic forces to achieve this objective in West Bengal. The main issue in West Bengal was restoration of democracy and the rule of law. The CPI(M) has been at the frontline in the defence of people’s democratic rights, and in the course of the last five years the CPI(M) lost almost 200 of its comrades. Over 60,000 of our members and sympathisers are today living in temporary shelters, having been ousted from their land and home due to this terror. Hundreds of our party offices across the State have been seized, ransacked or rendered inoperable. The manner in which the central committee’s understanding was implemented and the electoral tactics followed would be reviewed by the party and proper lessons drawn.

The outcome of the result in West Bengal is a severe setback, no doubt, for the CPI(M) and the Left. As expected, during the election process itself, there was heavy violence and after the elections, too, the violence is escalating all over the State. Our comrades are in the midst of a fierce battle even at this very moment. The charge raised during the campaign, of a vote transfer between the TMC and the BJP, which was captured by the slogan ‘Didi Bhai-Modi Bhai’, seems to have worked as reflected in the significant drop in the BJP’s vote percentage from the 2014 parliamentary elections. And the entry of BJP candidates in the Assembly from constituencies where the TMC combine polled a low vote indicates that such an arrangement was at work. The TMC declaring, post elections, that it would support the Goods and Services Tax Bill in the Rajya Sabha is a clear giveaway of the kind of understanding they had.

One senior Minister in the NDA government declared that the Left had lost its relevance in the aftermath of the elections in West Bengal.

That is a ridiculous assertion. As I said, if you look at the results [in this round of elections], it shows that the Left has been elected in twice the number of seats as the BJP. The economic reform trajectory that the BJP is deploying and its complete surrender to imperialistic interests has already created a very severe economic crisis. Our industrial production is less than 2 per cent; manufacturing is at 0.1 per cent and agriculture growth at 1.1 per cent. There is also a decline of growth in the services sector including IT, software and BPO services. It has been officially confirmed that only 1.35 lakh jobs were created in 2015, while nearly 140 lakh, or 1.4 crore, youth enter the job market every year. There is severe agrarian distress, with farmer suicides increasing. There is drought and severe water shortage. The refusal to release funds under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act reached a stage when the apex court had to intervene and give directions. The consequent misery of the people is, therefore, visible and obvious. And the Left is at the forefront of championing these interests.

On the other hand, the communal polarisation is continuing unabated. In large tracts of the country, it is the Left that is rallying to protect the religious minorities who are under persecution and attack. Again, it is the Left that resisted the attack on educational institutions like HCU [Hyderabad Central University] and JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University]. In the real world, the Left’s relevance and need felt by the people is growing. The BJP can conjure up dreams in its illusionary world. We live in the reality.

The need to cobble up a secular front has been reiterated by some political parties. Is it still relevant?

Yes, there is a need for this. All those forces that value the secular, democratic foundation of India should come together in defence of our people. This does not mean that it is a political alliance. This means raising concrete issues in defence of our country and people against attacks mounted by the RSS and this government. People’s struggles must be strengthened against both communalism and economic policies. The Left will independently strengthen people’s struggles.

The growth of the BJP in the north-eastern region has very dangerous portents. Assam is an important State. It is very crucial in the north-eastern region. It has a sizeable proportion of religious minorities. These problems need to be handled in a sensitive manner, strictly adhering to the secular, democratic and foundational pillars of our constitutional order. The RSS-BJP’s tendency to promote communal polarisation will be disastrous. Clearly, the BJP gained with its alliance with the AGP, which had twice earlier formed the government in the State. It is a matter that has to be addressed by the people of Assam and they have to rise in defence of the rich unity in diversity which is so crucial to the State and its people.

Is the Left Front still an alternative to the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal?

It is the only alternative in West Bengal. As we have seen in the results, the voting pattern has not been all that different as compared to the 2014 election. We have retained our vote share in West Bengal. Right now our priority is to defend our comrades from attacks and deepen our links with the people and launch powerful people’s struggles in defence of their rights and livelihood.