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'A record in legitimising criminalised politics'

Print edition : Nov 15, 1997 T+T-

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) was among the constituents of the United Front which called unequivocally for the dismissal of the Kalyan Singh Government on October 19. However, it opposed calls for dismissal after a floor test was held three days later. In this interview to Praveen Swami, the party's Polit Bureau member, Prakash Karat, explained the rationale and underlying principles of his party's position. He also discussed how the U.F. should now engage with the dangers posed by the rise of a Hindutva order in Uttar Pradesh.

What lessons do you believe can be learned from the crisis in Uttar Pradesh, specifically over the debate on whether or not the Kalyan Singh Government should have been dismissed?

The Bommai judgment by the Supreme Court has been cited often in the recent debate on Uttar Pradesh. Let us consider the questions this raises. In the case of U.P., the central issue was not of a ruling party which was claimed to have lost its majority through splits or defection. Here, the Government was formed after two parties, the BJP and the BSP, arrived at an agreement to rule for one year, and submitted this in writing to the Governor in March. Seven months later, before the expiry of the agreement, the BSP leader withdrew support. No BSP MLA had defected at that point. The Governor would have been right to reject Kalyan Singh's claim to continue as Chief Minister. This is what the Centre should have advised the Governor to do on October 19 itself. This was not done. It was a serious mistake. The floor test issue has to be seen in the context of what the situation warrants. In this case, blindly sticking to the principle of a floor test on October 19 was an invitation to the BJP to engineer defections and pollute the democratic principle.

More generally, the crisis has placed the whole issue of Article 356 on the agenda. What has the crisis illustrated about the provision itself?

The use of Article 356, given the present arbitrary nature of the provision, will always be controversial. Obviously, the attempt to invoke Article 356 after the floor test was held in U.P. was misconceived. The problem with Article 356 as it now exists is that it can be used arbitrarily. The remedy is to replace the existing clause with a new provision which provides for President's rule only in specified circumstances, and with safeguards such as mandatory prior parliamentary approval. One of the few grounds where President's rule would be applicable would be a serious threat to national unity, as happened in U.P. in the matter of Ayodhya in 1992. This new clause and safeguards must be formulated by the Inter-State Council, and the Constitution so amended.

Is there a lack of consensus within the U.F., as Mulayam Singh Yadav has suggested, on fighting communalism? If so, what needs to be done to address the problem? And what direction must the Front now take?

Among the U.F. constituents and all secular parties, there has to be a clear understanding of the situation in U.P. The Samajwadi Party is the party that has the greatest strength and capacity to combat the BJP in U.P. There has to be cooperation with the Samajwadi Party so that resources can be pooled to wage a political battle. This does not necessarily mean that all the policy positions of the Samajwadi Party are to be accepted. The fight against the BJP in U.P. cannot be conducted without taking up all the vital issues by popular mobilisation. It cannot be done by parleys and manoeuvres between the leaders to win over certain caste groups.

What might be the agenda of such a a mobilisation?

The struggle against communalism requires two things. First, at the level of the Central Government there has to be vigilance to ensure that the BJP does not attempt any subversion of the Constitution, as happened in 1992. The Gujral Government would do well to study the second important aspect of the Bommai judgment wherein the Supreme Court sanctioned drastic action, including the use of Article 356, against any State government which erodes or defies the secular principle.

At the second level, the democratic and secular parties that are committed to fighting communalism, most of whom are in the U.F., should step up their political work among the people of U.P. to mobilise them against the disruptive effects of communalism. They should initiate joint activities to fight the BJP politically and expose its opportunism and power mongering.

On the subject of power mongering, what will the recent formation of the second Kalyan Singh Ministry mean for the BJP?

It has provided an excellent opportunity to expose the BJP's unprincipled and hypocritical politics. The BJP has established a new record in legitimising criminalised politics by including well-known criminals in a mega-size Ministry. Even the most opportunist Congress government had not gone this far.

The freak 93-member Kalyan Singh Ministry will exact a severe toll on the prospects of the BJP. What is more, L.K. Advani has now said that they will welcome defectors from the Congress at the Centre, if there are any takers. All this has damaged once and for all the BJP's claims to be a party with a difference. At this rate, the RSS will have to set up a brand new front organisation to provide crash courses in Hindutva to all the new fellow travellers. From advocating samajik samarasta (social harmony) as the basis of their alliance with the BSP, the RSS-BJP will have to now work overtime to convince people that saffronising criminals and bought politicians is the way of achieving samarasta.