For a non-Congress alternative

Published : Mar 30, 2002 00:00 IST

Interview with Sitaram Yechury.

Sitaram Yechury, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), spoke to V. Sridhar soon after the 17th congress adopted the political resolution, which lays down the political line of the party. He explains the salient features of the tactical line that will be adopted by his party in the next few years. Excerpts from the interview:

What is the background in which this congress is being held?

For one, it is constitutionally mandated that the party hold its congress every three years. That apart, this congress is being held in a situation in which a great deal of political churning is taking place in many parts of the country. There is also a high degree of political uncertainty. The happenings in Gujarat and Ayodhya and their fallout and the mess in which the country has been placed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in all spheres, particularly in the economic sphere, have contributed to this situation.

These events have triggered a political churning. The events and developments (in the last few weeks) have been of such a grave nature that many of the political forces - in particular, the people - are reassessing their political preferences. In particular, since the recent Assembly elections this political churning has increased. At this juncture our effort is to forge a non-Congress alternative from this political churning.

What are the elements of continuity and change in this congress as compared to the last one held in Kolkata?

The Calcutta congress was held at a time when the effort was to dislodge the BJP but it failed at that particular point. Immediately after the Calcutta congress it appeared that the third alternative that we were seeking to build was in a state of disarray. The parties were taking tangential positions and moving away from one another. Now we are seeing the other side of the picture, where the major tendency is for non-Congress secular forces to come together.

The elections in Uttar Pradesh have again demonstrated the fact that if there is a viable non-Congress alternative to the BJP, people are willing to choose it. In the absence of such an alternative, it is like political football between the Congress and the BJP. The other significant development in the last three years has been that many of these political forces, which would not have seen eye to eye with us three-four years ago, are today willing to come on the same platform to fight against the economic policies.

Can you explain the political line that has emerged from the 17th congress?

Our assessment is that India requires a non-Congress alternative to come into place while the objective of keeping the communal forces away from power is the top priority. They are systematically undermining the secular democratic foundations of India. In their place we want to put in place a non-Congress alternative. That is the political task that emerges from this congress.

What was the nature of the amendments to the political resolution that were moved at the congress?

Many of the amendments reinforced the formulation through the party's own experiences at the State level. The other aspect of the amendments was that they elaborated many of the formulations and imparted greater clarity so that it can be taken to the people more easily. For instance, the amendments gave greater clarity on the issue of our attitude to the Congress. There will be no alliance or united front with the Congress. But the priority remains to keep the BJP out of power.

We have conducted very big struggles among all the organised sections of the working people in the last three years. Some of the amendments gave greater clarity on the issue of coordinating these sections to bring them together into a mighty people's movement. All these struggles are fine, but unless these are politicised, the struggles will be militant and big but the people who are going to decide are still going to be anti-working class. That makes no sense. Much greater awareness needs to be created among the people that the struggle is a question of political choice.

What is the difference between the United Front (U.F.) of the late 1990s and the People's Front (P.F.) that you are seeking to build, in terms of prospective allies? Is the CPI(M) more assertive on the terms of entry of parties into the P.F.?

The main difference between the two is that the U.F. was formed after the elections in 1996. It was a combination that was put together to prevent communal forces from coming to power. The difference this time is in the fact that there is a common minimum programme for the P.F.

Is the number of parties in the P.F. smaller because of the barriers to entry that you have put up or is it just that you are being much more circumspect after the U.F. experience?

Both. We are circumspect because we are seeing that a large number of regional parties are preoccupied with the compulsions in their States, which supersede any other consideration, even considerations of national unity and integrity and other larger issues. This is not acceptable to us. For one, there has to be a common minimum denominator that these parties will have to choose. The other thing is that many of these parties are party to a lot of things that have happened, particularly in the economic sphere. They are also pursuing more vigorously policies that are detrimental to the country and the people. So, we are not looking at the aggregation of the various parties to form this front.

Would you say that in some sense the P.F., compared to the U.F,, is one in which the attitude of parties to the economic liberalisation programme is a key feature?

Yes, also. The anti-communal stance has the priority. It is significant to recall that in November 2001 we had the Samajwadi Party, the Left parties, former Prime Ministers V.P. Singh and (H.D.) Deve Gowda, Medha Patkar and a large number of respected non-governmental organisations on a single platform to protest against the WTO (World Trade Organisation) before the Doha meet. This would have been inconceivable even a couple of years ago. There is tremendous political pressure - and this is part of the political churning that I am talking about - being put by the mass bases of many of these parties on their leaderships. They are demanding that these issues be taken up.

The Andhra Pradesh unit of the CPI(M) has formed a nine-party front of Left parties, which has endured for the last three years, and has stayed away from both the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party, the two major parties in the State. It has conducted several important agitations against specific measures of economic reform. Are there any lessons in this for your party in terms of mobilisational politics?

It is a very positive lesson. We made a special mention of this in the political organisational report of the 17th congress - we urged other State units to emulate and draw proper lessons from the Andhra Pradesh experience. The experience shows that even if the party is a small force in electoral terms, it can be a big force in terms of people's mobilisation. This is part of the larger question that has been discussed at the congress: Why is it that our agitational and mass strength that we are able to draw on in struggles and campaigns not reflected in electoral politics? The party in Andhra Pradesh has also shown that even if it is not a strong force, it is possible to influence the government of the day on policy matters through the mobilisation of people. That is important because it brings politics back on to the streets, which is where it belongs. After all, the centrepiece of politics is among the people, not in courtrooms or in politicking.

There has been another experience in Andhra Pradesh - and also in Tamil Nadu - which the congress has also taken note of. As I said earlier, our agitational base is not being converted into electoral gains. One of the biggest impediments to our growth is the (low) level of consciousness among the people. It is very easy to sway them on the basis of their caste or religious affiliations. We have to break this, particularly the caste affiliations. To do this we have to be as active on issues of social oppression as we are on issues of economic exploitation. We should merge these two issues. In fact, the thrust of the congress has been on this - the struggles against social oppression and those against economic exploitation are parts of the same class struggle. We cannot ignore one at the expense of the other. We have to generate that confidence among the socially oppressed - Dalits, tribal people and others - that the Red Flag is as committed to this issue as much as it is on the question of privatisation, for instance.

The Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu units have in the last three years taken up the issue of caste discrimination consciously and systematically. In Andhra Pradesh, for instance, the party has done surveys to find out how deep the practice of untouchability is in society. Much to the surprise of the general public, and even to us, the tenacity of this system of social oppression is much stronger than even we would have believed. The experiences in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have shown that large sections of the socially oppressed come with us when we take the initiative.

There has been a lot of speculation in the media about a leadership change. How do you, as a communist, address the issue of leadership?

For a communist the question of leadership is linked primarily - virtually exclusively - to the political line of the party. Other considerations such as age, acceptability and so on are not the major criteria. In terms of political line, there is a remarkable degree of unity in this congress, which we found even when the pre-congress amendments came in. So, when this sort of a unity exists in the party, the question of a change of leadership does not arise for a political reason.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment