'Vajpayee Government has lost its political legitimacy'

Print edition : December 05, 1998

Prakash Karat, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), spoke to Sukumar Muralidharan about his party's perceptions of the results of the Assembly elections and the possible new directions they indicate. Excerpts from the interview:

How do you view the results in terms of their immediate underpinnings and their broader implications?

These elections have acquired a wider character and impact. Three out of the four States concerned are traditional BJP strongholds - in fact these three comprise half the States in which the BJP has a significant base. In one sense, it was a direct test of the BJP's political acceptability. And the verdict which has come is totally clear - it is an unreserved rejection of the BJP's performance at the Centre and in the States. This I think will have serious repercussions for the BJP at the Centre and as a party itself.

The Central Government is already in trouble as a coalition because the alliance partners were never able to run, manage and implement decisions collectively. So one aspect is the political one, which is that the Centre is going to face serious difficulties in continuing with it. A second factor is that the verdict has exposed the BJP for its anti-people performance. More than the price rise, I think the people have seen that the BJP is inherently a pro-trader and pro-big business party. It is for the lack of a will to control prices that the people have punished them. It is now well-understood that as long as the party is in power, there will be profiteering and blackmarketing, because the BJP is not going to take any action.

So there is a very clear class trend in these elections, which we could see in Delhi. The poorer the areas in which people lived, the more decisive was the voting against the BJP. This was very clear, there is no ambiguity about it.

A further aspect of the BJP that has been rejected by the electorate is its sectarian intolerance. Just before these elections, there was a symbolic effort, which failed, to introduce the Hindutva agenda in education. Although the coalition had a National Agenda for Governance, the BJP showed repeatedly that it was not willing to go within the terms of that agreement.

Again, take the attack on Christian minorities - I think these have alerted all minorities that you cannot expect anything from a BJP government except second-class status. Although it is a very small community, the nature of the attacks against Christians in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and even Karnataka, has alarmed a lot of people.

The BJP had hoped that rousing national chauvinism over the Pokhran nuclear tests would pay it electoral dividends, which has obviously not happened. All this has led to a situation where the Vajpayee Government has lost its moral authority to rule and its political legitimacy.

The BJP has made it clear that it is not going to surrender power voluntarily. There is a possibility that the allies may pull out, but then nobody will do so unless there is an alternative available. And given the present composition of the Lok Sabha, no alternative seems possible.

The recognition will come that it will be a political liability for these parties to be in coalition with the BJP. There is a growing sense of apprehension now. After all, the Samata Party has done badly in Bihar. Even the Akalis have lost a seat. These show that the alliance is a liability for them, within their own political calculations. How they disentangle themselves is a process that we cannot foresee. Already, the AIADMK has begun to distance itself. What will happen now is that these parties will step up their own demands and the assertion of their own identities. This will add to the instability and the unviability of the coalition.

What would be the position of your party and the Left as a whole?

We are not in a hurry to destablise or bring down the Central Government. That will come about in the natural course. We have always maintained that this is an opportunist and unprincipled alliance. The process of disintegration will go on and we would see that as a positive development. But that does not mean that we will take any steps on our own to entice anybody away from the BJP, or any such thing.

Would this mean that every policy measure and legislative proposal will become an arena of contention between the BJP and its allies?

-K. PICHUMANI

Rather than try to recover lost ground by saying we will find out what went wrong with our performance, the coalition will be sucked into this vortex of conflict and contention.

So the winter session of Parliament could be virtually paralysed by these demands.

I think there are a large number of legislative measures which should not be passed, involving privatisation, deregulation, disinvestment in the public sector. One focus would be the bills that we think are not in the national interest. Another factor is the political battle. We think it is amazing that neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Minister has even accepted that there have been widespread attacks against minorities and that their people are responsible for them.

Between administrative paralysis and seeking to form an alternative, what would your party do? Will you be inclined to support a Congress-led government?

As far as the Congress is concerned, they have gained out of this massive popular discontent. But they should remember the past - how they were themselves reduced to 140-odd seats after Narasimha Rao's five years in office. They should realise that as far as economic policies are concerned, the people will not accept measures that place undue burden on them. We have made it clear that we will retain our independent policy positions on all these issues.

There is a thinking within the BJP that the electoral debacle was caused as a result of its departure from its Hindutva agenda, that the way out now is to bring this agenda to the forefront.

There is going to be this trend. Ironically, despite swearing by a so-called National Agenda for Governance, the BJP has openly been pushing its own agenda. A section within the BJP is saying, we have not done enough in this direction. Their isolation in fact is a consequence of the effort to push this agenda - whether it has to do with the nuclear tests, the attacks on minorities, or the proposed changes in education. That is a sure way to break up this coalition. It is a serious dilemma for them. They cannot start thinking of Kashi and Mathura now, because they want to stay in government.

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