In the atmosphere of flux that has followed the elections, Communist Party of India general secretary A.B. Bardhan has been in the forefront of the efforts to evolve a common Left stance. A day before the crucial meeting of the United Front on March 10, he spoke to Sukumar Muralidharan about the unfolding political scenario. Excerpts:
How do you see the immediate prospects for Ministry formation at the Centre?
The current situation seems to be that the BJP has been able to get together a number of about 262 in the Lok Sabha. This could go up to 263 with the announcement of the Jammu result. So that puts them ahead in the game, particularly after the differences within the United Front.
At this level, do you think the BJP and its allies can be denied an opportunity?
How can they be? It will not be understood by the people. We also cannot go and say that they should not be given the opportunity. Because no other number has added up to more than that.
If this much is agreed within the U.F., then your focus would now shift to the vote on the floor of the Lok Sabha.
Yes, that trial of strength also depends upon the ultimate stand that the TDP will take. It seems to me at the moment that even if it remains neutral, it is a wafer-thin margin. The numbers may be the same on both sides, or we may even be ahead by one or two.
This is assuming that the other members of the U.F., such as the Janata Dal, vote against the BJP.
I think the Janata Dal will go along with our view. I do not sense any hesitation on its part.
Now if you bring down the BJP Ministry, that puts the onus on you to form an alternative government. So you will have to confront today's problem in another form in about a fortnight from now.
In case the government is brought down, which cannot be predicted for sure at this time... nor can it be predicted the other way around, that the BJP will survive, since they are also tottering on the brink right now. Even if two or three of their partners change sides or remain neutral, they could collapse. To recollect the situation as it prevailed in 1996, I can say that in the task of government making, we did not face any such problem as the BJP is facing now.
Do you think the BJP is facing more serious difficulties today?
Yes, this also shows that all the loud talk we heard about a "stable government" has proved to be just so much talk.
Assuming that the BJP is voted out, how do you propose to deal with the situation, since it will not be significantly different. The perceptions of friend and foe within the U.F. are still fairly rigid.
The country has to have a government and if the BJP is voted out, the question of an alternative will come before us. And in all fairness, responsible parties will have to address themselves to that. There is no question of evading it at that time.
You think you will be more focussed once the BJP government falls.
And I think at that point of time it will be possible to explain why an alternative government of the sort that comes about is necessary. Somebody may ask: if you are prepared to think about it tomorrow, why aren't you thinking about it today? I believe that today if you do that exercise, people are liable to succumb to the BJP propaganda. They will begin to believe that even though the BJP had so many seats in Parliament, it was prevented from running the government. They will portray themselves as victims and martyrs. But once they are allowed to form a government and that government falls, then we can go to the people and say it is not our fault that they could not obtain a majority. We are not obliged to keep them afloat.
But forming a government is one thing and keeping it running is another. Are you looking forward to a renewal of the U.F.-Congress experiment?
I think that whichever government survives will have to take a few pages out of the lessons that have been learnt between 1996 and 1998 - that you cannot play with a government the way the Congress did with the U.F., threatening it every now and then and eventually even pulling it down.
But now the Congress would be in the ascendancy. The onus of keeping it afloat would be on the U.F. With so many constituents in the U.F., would a small perturbation not have a serious impact on the government?
Equally, it would also put an obligation on whoever is running the government, that they cannot go ahead without consultation, without taking into account the opinions of all other partners.
So you foresee that there could be greater work in committees and consultative groups rather than in the Cabinet?
Yes, I think this has become incumbent on all parties - whether the BJP or otherwise - that the method of running a government has to be radically different from whatever has been seen so far in the days when a single party ruled at the Centre. The U.F. had made a start as far as a new style of functioning is concerned, with its Steering Committee, its core committee, and its various methods of evolving a consensus.
Now there is another scenario which certain people have sketched - that the BJP in government would be hobbled by its dependence on various allies and its narrow majority and would be susceptible to the incumbency disadvantage in any future election.
We have been pointing out that the BJP has been trying to ridicule the U.F. as a kichdi of 13 parties, when they are themselves ganging up with 17 parties. And their programmes are radically divergent. The BJP government will be weighed down by its contradictions and may even fall as a result of these. But one has to remember that the capacity of the BJP at deception and double-talk, at manipulating and manoeuvring, is much more than anybody else's. And with the backing of big business, they will always be able to use the resources at their command to silence opposition and dissent.