`The primary task is to defeat the BJP'

Print edition : January 02, 2004

V. SRIDHAR

Interview with Prakash Karat.

Prakash Karat, a Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), believes that the recent defeat of the Congress(I) in the three north Indian States reflects the electorate's anger at poor governance. He argues that the Congress(I), by pursuing the same policies implemented by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre has alienated itself from the people. Recently in Chennai to attend the national conference of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), he spoke to V. Sridhar. Excerpts from the interview:

How do you assess the Congress(I)'s defeat in the recent round of Assembly elections?

The Congress(I) has suffered a setback in the elections. The people of these States have rejected the performance of the Congress(I)-led governments. That is the main reason for the defeat of the Congress(I). The BJP has benefited from the discontent created by the policies pursued by the three Congress(I)-led governments in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In Madhya Pradesh particularly, the BJP's sweeping victory came after 10 years of Congress(I) rule. It was very evident during the election campaign that the Digvijay Singh government had become very unpopular. Even basic facilities such as power and roads were in bad shape.

What are the implications of the verdict?

The defeat of the Congress(I) should not be seen as an endorsement of the policies of the BJP. There are reasons for the rejection of the Congress(I). For example, in Madhya Pradesh, which suffered from an acute power crisis, all sections of the people voted against the Congress(I). The Digvijay Singh government has essentially followed the same policies initiated by the Vajpayee government in the power sector. I think there has been a two-party situation in these four northern States. It has been quite natural that when the voters reject the party in power they bring back the Opposition party, which is either the Congress(I) or the BJP.

But this did not happen in Delhi.

Delhi being the capital does not conform to the normal situation. The State is subjected to special provisions. I think all State governments have serious financial problems because of more than a decade of liberalisation and because of the withdrawal of funds by the Centre. Most of the States are therefore unable to fulfil the expectations of the people. Delhi, being the capital and a part of the National Capital Region, does not fall in the same category. Delhi, therefore, does not suffer the handicap that most State governments suffer from. Most State governments are facing a severe resource crunch. Delhi, being the capital, has escaped that fate. Overall, I think the Congress(I) is primarily to be blamed for what has happened.

Much is being made by the BJP that it won the elections on the "development" plank. I think that is a bit of a myth. If we look closely at the results, one of the other reasons for the victory of the BJP in the three States is the big success that it has achieved in the tribal areas in all the three States. It has been noticed that out the 99 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in the three States, the BJP has won 76. This is primarily a victory for the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its outfits, which have worked in the tribal areas. That is Hindutva at work. The sweeping victory shows that a lot of work has been put in. I do not want to go into the details, but everybody knows what kind of work they do in the tribal areas.

I do not think that the results are purely a question of the BJP winning the elections on the development plank, or what the Central government has performed. Two factors have definitely played a role in the elections. One is the discontent against the existing governments - what is called the anti-incumbency factor. The other factor has been the BJP's use of the organisational resources of the RSS. Of course, the use of a lot of money has also played a role.

What do the results imply for the CPI(M) and other Left parties, particularly with the general elections due within a year from now?

The first thing to realise is that the results portend a greater thrust by the communal forces. It will embolden the forces in the Sangh combine, which have been arguing for the deployment of a more aggressive agenda. We have already seen glimpses of that, even in states where no elections are due. In Karnataka, for instance, there have been the incidents relating to the Bababudangiri dargah issue. There have been a series of communal incidents recently in Uttar Pradesh too. I think the first thing to recognise is that the success of the BJP will increase the pressure to push forward the agenda of the RSS and the BJP. This is what should be the foremost concern to the CPI(M) and the Left parties. The tactics to be adopted in the forthcoming parliamentary elections ought to flow from this understanding. How do we meet the challenge of the BJP, which is flush with the success in thee Assembly elections and which will continue to maintain the cover of the National Democratic Alliance, while seeking to use it as a springboard for furthering the Hindutva agenda. There will be no change in the approach of the Left parties. Our primary task remains the defeat of the BJP and its alliance in the parliamentary elections. But there is still quite some time before we arrive at concrete tactics for this. There are the elections in Andhra Pradesh and possibly there may be one or two more assembly elections. We have to wait and see before we work out concrete electoral tactics. But definitely, there will be no change from our stand that the primary task is to work for the defeat of the BJP and its allies. The Left parties are in constant consultation and we have to take stock of the developing situation.

In Andhra Pradesh there is going to be an alliance between the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the BJP. We are still in the process of working out how we will intervene in the situation in the State. That ought to be finalised by the end of December or early January. We are talking in particular to the CPI about our tactics. The broader Left platform in Andhra Pradesh is unlikely to be converted into an electoral alliance. Our position vis-a-vis the Congress(I) is that we cannot have an alliance with it. But we are discussing how to work out suitable tactics in Andhra Pradesh so that the TDP-BJP alliance does not benefit from the division of the secular vote.

Does that mean seat adjustments?

I do not know what we can do because there are many factors that remain to be taken into account. The Telengana Rashtriya Samiti is also in the fray. What is going to be its role? What is going to be the attitude of different political parties on the question of a separate Telengana? We are still talking about these matters.

At the last Congress of the CPI(M) the party had formulated a strategy that stated that the first priority was to keep the BJP away from power. The CPI(M) also said that the party "could have no truck with the Congress(I)." Has this position changed?

The first part is right. The priority is to fight the BJP. But we did not formulate anything which stated that we would not have any truck with the Congress(I). In fact, we said that we will not have an alliance or a united front with the Congress(I), but on issues we will cooperate with the Congress(I). We recognised that a number of issues may come up both inside and outside Parliament, which are important for the mobilisation of all secular and democratic forces. We can extend support to the Congress(I) on issues on which they adopt a correct stand. But that will not extend into a full-fledged electoral alliance or united front. But we also stated at our party Congress that we have to mobilise all secular and democratic forces to isolate the BJP. We have to see how we can translate this in the field of elections.

The Congress(I) has suffered a major setback. Infighting is rampant in the party. Does the situation seem ominous for the Indian polity?

We have always said that the Congress(I) has in no way different economic policies than the BJP. That is its strategic defect. The other thing is that although it is a secular party, it does not seem to fulfil that potential as a secular party. It constantly seeks to compromise and give in to communal pressures. We saw that happening in Madhya Pradesh. At the same time the Congress(I) has a big following, which has to be mobilised in the fight against the communal forces. There is a dilemma for us. The Congress(I)'s class character and the policies it pursues does not provide much affinity to the CPI(M) and the Left. However, the Congress(I) is the main Opposition party. We have to take that into account. Apart from this, there is also the fact that the Left is in direct conflict with the Congress(I) in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala where we are the major force; after all, the Congress(I) does everything to weaken us in these States. But we have a national understanding, which does not prevent us from understanding that the main threat is from the BJP and its allies.

What are the possibilities for a third front? At the last Congress the party observed that the Indian polity was undergoing "deep churning". How do you read the situation today, and what are the implications for the evolution of a third front?

We have to start with the realisation that there is no third force or combination available today. Such a force is not even in the process of being forged. It is a different matter that we firmly believe that the Indian polity cannot be straitjacketed into a two-party framework. There is an effort by the BJP to present itself as the only party, which can rule this country. The Congress(I) has also tried the same but has obviously failed. This effort to try and present a two-party system is something we do not go for. There are a large number of forces, which are outside this framework and will remain so. We will have to consider how many of these forces can be rallied in time for presenting some sort of viable alliances during the elections. This is something we will explore, but I am not sure how it will shape up.

It is evident that although there is greater scope for unity among secular parties in engaging the communal forces, most parties appear to have an ambivalent attitude towards the process of economic liberalisation, which appears to have gathered momentum during the NDA's tenure. Apart from the Congress(I) and the BJP, even the old allies of the Left, such as the Samajwadi Party, appear to be not only hobnobbing with the communal parties but also seem to have to have compromised with the forces promoting economic liberalisation. Your comments.

I do not think this is a new phenomenon. Most of the non-Left parties, at the all-India and the regional levels, do not share our outlook as far as economic policies are concerned. We know that and have taken that into account. In certain areas, when these parties are in Opposition, they take a stand against certain policies. But they pursue the same policy when they assume power. This applies to most regional parties too. That is not a matter that concerns us greatly. What concerns us is that a number of regional parties, which have a record of pursuing secular policies, tend to ally with the BJP in order to further their immediate interests. To put it strongly, this is called opportunism. This is one reason why the third combination has not emerged in recent times. But I think a party like the Samajwadi Party, given its base and record in Uttar Pradesh, will find it extremely difficult to compromise on the question of communalism.

We will approach the question of an alternative front at two levels. We are not in a hurry and we will not form a front prematurely. A front will need to have a minimum programme or understanding. We learnt from past experience that there is no use putting together a front hastily. However, electoral alliances are temporary. We will have to be realistic and see how we can rally the maximum number of forces in a particular State or at the all-India level to achieve our immediate purpose. We should make a distinction between the formation of electoral alliances and fronts. We should not mix the two.

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