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‘BJP is the fountainhead of corruption’: Sitaram Yechury

CPI(M) general secretary says the electoral bonds scheme legalised political corruption and had the potential to destroy democracy.

Published : Apr 15, 2024 17:28 IST - 10 MINS READ

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury. | Photo Credit: Rahul Singh/ANI

The CPI(M) is the largest entity among the Left parties in both electoral and organisational terms. It was also the only party that challenged the electoral bonds scheme (EBS) in court. In its manifesto, the party has called for the “defanging” of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the scrapping of laws such as the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the CPI(M), spoke to Frontline on a range of issues and explained why the 2024 Lok Sabha election was critical for democracy itself.

Excerpts:

What is the perspective of the CPI(M) and the Left about the general election?

The Lok Sabha election is taking place at a time when the secular democratic republic of India faces an existential threat created by the decade-long rule of the Narendra Modi-led government.

India has witnessed a process of systematic dismantling of the four foundational pillars of the Constitution: secular democracy, economic sovereignty, federalism, and social justice. By misusing the levers of state power and its parliamentary majority, the authoritarian-communal Modi regime is using fascistic methods to bulldoze the rights of the working people, making India one of the most unequal societies in the world, even while imposing its toxic communal ideology to divide people on sectarian lines.

Thus, the election assumes critical importance as its outcome will determine if “we the people’’, through our vote, can safeguard the secular, democratic character of the Indian republic as ordained by the Constitution. We should make no mistake about it: the Lok Sabha election is about saving India, against the effort of the BJP to transform the secular, democratic character of the republic into a rabidly intolerant, hate- and violence-based authoritarian and fascistic Hindutva rashtra.

Also Read | ‘BJP’s defeat imperative to protect democracy’: Sitaram Yechury

How do you respond to the BJP’s stance that the INDIA bloc has allied together to defend corruption?

This is an absurd allegation. When leaders of some INDIA bloc parties are slapped with corruption cases by the CBI/ED/I-T, the charges simply vanish the moment these leaders join the BJP. The reality is that the BJP under Modi is the fountainhead of corruption in the country.

If the objective is to ensure the BJP’s defeat, can the Left and its electoral tactics play a role in it? In Kerala, the Left’s contest is with the Congress. In West Bengal it is a triangular contest. How do these serve the objective of keeping the BJP out?

The recent mega rally of the INDIA bloc at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi was held with the declared objective of defeating the BJP to safeguard the secular democratic character of the republic, its Constitution, and democracy. Some of these parties may have conflicts with each other in a few States, which may appear to be contradictory, but the fact is that such conflicts are not new, and, importantly, it is because of such conflict situations that the BJP is weakened and electorally defeated. Please remember that politics is not arithmetic.

It is the contest between the CPI(M)-led LDF [Left Democratic Front] and the Congress-led UDF [United Democratic Front] in Kerala that results in the BJP not winning either Assembly or parliamentary seats.

In West Bengal, anti-incumbency against the State government would singularly benefit the BJP. The triangular contest, with the Left-Congress combine taking on both the BJP and the Trinamool Congress, is what prevents the BJP from gaining a greater advantage. In Punjab, the AAP, the Congress, and the Left parties are contesting separately even though in Delhi and elsewhere the AAP and the Congress have an understanding.

In every State, given the concrete realities, electoral adjustments are taking place to achieve the objective of defeating the BJP.

At the INDIA bloc rally in New Delhi on March 31.

At the INDIA bloc rally in New Delhi on March 31. | Photo Credit: SHRIKANT SINGH/ANI

Do you view the exit of the JD(U), the RLD, Pallavi Patel’s Apna Dal, Prakash Ambedkar’s VBA, and the split in the NCP as major setbacks? To what extent has the opposition alliance taken off?

The cohesiveness of the INDIA bloc does not come only from its leaders coming together, though this is important. The most important element of this cohesiveness is the unity among the people to safeguard and protect India, the Constitution, and democracy. We have seen this in the struggle against the Emergency. It was the people’s desire for the restoration of democracy that forced the leaders of many a party to come together to strengthen the resistance and finally defeat the Emergency. Seen from this point of view, the INDIA bloc has taken off from the ground. The popularity of the slogan “Judega Bharat, Jeetega India” is testimony.

Is there a possibility of a common manifesto for the INDIA bloc? Your party manifesto has many suggestions like a tax on the super rich, wealth and inheritance tax, revisiting public sector disinvestment, and reservation in the private, all of which might not resonate with your alliance partners.

All the parties of the INDIA bloc have or will issue their separate manifestos. This is only natural. Close to the election, a common agenda will be released, outlining the basic minimum measures the alternative secular government at the Centre will undertake.

A common minimum programme is always formulated once a government is formed, as it happened in the 1996 United Front government, the 1999 NDA government, or the 2004 UPA government. While some parties have their positions on various issues, the common minimum agreement is the one that all parties of the INDIA bloc have arrived at.

Your party has called for the “defanging of the ED” and scrapping of the PMLA and the UAPA in its manifesto. Your party also acknowledges that the PMLA and the UAPA were made more stringent under the UPA regime. The BJP says it is only using these laws to deal with corruption and terrorism. Is the INDIA bloc only concerned about the misuse of these laws or does it want their removal from the statute book to prevent misuse?

The CPI(M) called for the defanging of the ED and the scrapping of the PMLA and the UAPA because both of them have been weaponised by amendments brought in by the Modi government. Both now contain draconian provisions that make even seeking bail a virtual impossibility. Together, they have inverted the principle of jurisprudence and the elementary rule of the delivery of justice. Until these provisions came into force, jurisprudence informed us that a person was innocent until proven guilty. Today, a person is guilty until he/she proves himself/herself to be innocent. It is because of this you have people languishing in jail even without any charges being framed.

Citizens are punished by having to remain in jail for years, as in the Bhima Koregaon case, without even a charge sheet being filed. That is why these draconian provisions must go. They are anti-democratic and smack of fascistic methods.

The hollowness of the BJP’s claim that it is using these laws to deal with corruption and terrorism has been proven repeatedly. When the ED and the NIA are unable to even frame charges, there is no tenability of such claims. They have to be removed from the statute books in the present form.

How to tackle corruption and terrorism has been widely discussed and, if necessary, laws may be formulated, but can the BJP answer why it has failed or deliberately refused in the past 10 years to establish the institution of the Lokpal and adequately empower it under law that is already in place?

Will India see a free and fair election in 2024? What are the strategies of the opposition for addressing this challenge?

An important element for ensuring a free and fair election is a level playing field. That has already been severely vitiated through the legalisation of political corruption, which has provided a massive money power advantage to the BJP. Apart from electoral bonds there is PM CARES, a fund that is unaccounted for, unaudited, and totally non-transparent. The government has declared this fund to be a private fund under the Prime Minister. Reportedly, it has more than Rs.10,000 crore. The BJP, therefore, already has an undue advantage.

Further, the Model Code of Conduct does not seem to be applicable to the powerful. Take the instance of references made by Prime Minister Modi on visits to the Ram temple at Ayodhya, in connection with his comments on the Congress manifesto. They are clearly designed to sharpen communal polarisation. But the Election Commission of India [ECI] does not seem to even take cognisance. With a captive media and domination over the social media, the BJP exercises an undue advantage. These challenges are being addressed by the INDIA bloc parties through direct people-to-people contact and campaigns.

At a protest against SBI, demanding that it reveal the identities of electoral bond donors, in New Delhi on March 5.

At a protest against SBI, demanding that it reveal the identities of electoral bond donors, in New Delhi on March 5. | Photo Credit: ANI

On the electoral bonds scheme, your party declared that it did not take recourse to that route of funding. What was the reason for that and how do you view the Supreme Court verdict?

The CPI(M) opposed the electoral bonds scheme when it was brought before Parliament in 2017, smuggled in as part of the Finance Bill. During the parliamentary discussion, I, among others, piloted the opposition in the Rajya Sabha. We considered it to be the legalisation of political corruption and declared that we shall not be party to such a process that has the potential to destroy democracy.

Although the Rajya Sabha cannot prevent any proposal in a Finance Bill, we nevertheless succeeded in moving and accepting amendments, which were sent to the Lok Sabha for consideration, where they were defeated.

Also Read | Sitaram Yechury: ‘The BJP should understand that without States, there is no India’

Will the ban on electoral bonds guarantee a level playing field? It is also felt that there is a lot of unaccounted money lying around.

The Supreme Court ruling declaring electoral bonds as unconstitutional is welcome, though we wish it had come earlier. The details of the scheme have clearly established that a) there was extortion through the misuse of agencies like the ED/CBI/I-T, b) there were quid pro quo sweetheart deals of granting projects and clearances in return for massive contributions, and c) there was massive money laundering, with many entities buying electoral bonds multiple times the profits shown in their balance sheet. These three aspects warrant a through investigation. The CPI(M) is all for a Supreme Court-monitored investigation to be conducted by independent agencies at the earliest.

On the Income Tax Department notices sent to your party, was it a routine affair or was it premeditated with an intention to harass?

These notices to freeze the CPI(M)’s Thrissur district committee bank account is clearly a premeditated decision to harass, intimidate, and cripple the party’s finances during the election. The plea that the account does not find mention is specious. The details of this particular account are part of the countrywide party accounts consolidated at the State level and submitted at the national level to the I-T Department and the ECI in accordance with law and are displayed on their websites. No objections were raised all through the year.

The fact that this is happening now when the election process has begun shows that it is politically motivated. Is it a mere coincidence that the BJP is contesting in Thrissur constituency? We have written to the ECI condemning this move and asking how the ECI is permitting such actions during the election process that clearly disrupt the level playing field.

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