For an alternative in terms of policies

Print edition : May 08, 1999

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat gives an assessment of the political developments and points to the party's plans. The CPI(M), he says, holds the Congress(I) and other secular Opposition parties such as the S.P. responsible for having pushed the country into a mid-term election. He adds that the Congress(I) will have to rethink its priorities before and after the election in order to form a viable secular alternative. Excerpts from an interview he gave Venkitesh Ramakrishnan:

Why did the Opposition fail to form an alternative government after the fall of the BJP-led Government?

When the Vajpayee Government fell, it was thought that the Congress(I) as the largest Opposition party would have the right to form an alternative government. We expected the Congress(I) to take the lead in negotiating with other parties and working out a broadly acceptable method to form an alternative government. Right from the beginning the CPI(M) favoured a minority government led by the Congress(I) and supported by other Opposition parties from outside. We took this stand despite our differences with the Congress(I) on a variety of issues. Our position was that no programme-based alliance was possible with the Congress(I) and that it could only be given issue-based support. Unfortunately, some other parties in the Opposition, such as the S.P., the RSP and the Forward Bloc, refused to accept a Congress(I)-led government and hence the understanding could not be put into practice. These parties favoured a government led by a non-Congress(I) secular party.

In such a situation, we expected the Congress(I) to get over its differences on the question of the leadership of non-Congress(I) parties and show the same attitude that we had shown towards it. We expected it at least to consider seriously this proposal, keeping the danger posed by the communal BJP in mind. We had all along emphasised that the continuation of the BJP in power was harmful to the nation and that any temporary arrangement forged by the secular forces would be in the nation's interest. We had also perceived an alternative government as a transitional arrangement before polls, which we expected would provide greater cohesion to the regrouping of secular forces. But the Congress(I) seemed to be under the belief that only it was fit to lead a government. Such a narrow perspective also hampered the emergence of an alternative.

We thought that all parties that had joined hands to vote out the BJP-led Government would come together to form the alternative. This did not happen. Obviously, each one has concerns related to retaining its position of power in various places and sometimes these outweigh the concerns of secularism.

As far as the collapse of the BJP's 13-month coalition rule is concerned, there is no doubt that it broke down under its own weight. The nature of its opportunistic alliance was such that it was bound to collapse. The period between the collapse of the Government and the failure of the efforts to form an alternative government was too short to expect the development of a cohesive and clear understanding between the Opposition parties. However, the interim period before the elections can be used to evolve greater clarity on cooperation among secular forces.

How would you rate the prospects of a third front now?


In the course of building up the unity of Left and democratic forces, there have always been differences of opinion between the CPI(M) and other parties on many questions. However, all these have not detracted us from the fundamental objective of fighting the communal danger. Most of the differences that have come up during the recent period would also be overcome in course of time.

The third alternative proposed by the CPI(M) essentially visualises an alternative to the BJP and the Congress(I) in terms of policies. An earlier grouping of non-BJP, non-Congress(I) parties was the United Front (U.F.). But that phase is over. Forces like the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) moved closer to the BJP in 1998, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) followed the same path during the vote of confidence in Parliament. The CPI(M), on its part, is trying to regroup the remaining forces in the U.F. as also other parties that perceive opposing the communal threat represented by the BJP as the main task, even while demarcating themselves clearly from the policies of the Congress(I).

Do you think that such a regrouping would take place before the mid-term election? If so, what would be its impact on the elections?

The development of a third alternative is a process not entirely dependent on elections. However, the process would continue during the election period. In our view, the post-poll situation will necessitate a more definite regrouping of secular forces to form the next government.

In this context, some rethinking will have to be done by the Congress(I) also, even in terms of the pre-poll situation. If the Congress(I) continues to believe that it alone can defeat the communal forces, it would be making a major mistake.

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