‘People have said: we want our republic’: Dipankar

The CPI(M-L) Liberation leader says that money power can only be fought with human power and a cooperative model can counter the corporate one.

Published : Jun 19, 2024 20:20 IST - 12 MINS READ

Dipankar said that if you need to own your politics, you need to fund your politics.

Dipankar said that if you need to own your politics, you need to fund your politics. | Photo Credit: Dipesh Arora

On June 4, the 2024 Lok Sabha election results showed that the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation had won two out of the three seats allotted to it in Bihar. While Sudama Prasad defeated BJP heavyweight R.K. Singh in Arrah, Raja Ram Singh prevailed in Karakat in a three-cornered fight against Upendra Kushwaha and popular Bhojpuri singer Pawan Singh.

Dipankar, the general secretary of the party, spoke to senior journalist Saba Naqvi about the general election results, how different parties fared, the factors that determined the results, and more. Excerpts:

You fought three in Bihar, and your party won two.

Yes. Every time people talk about the strike rate, we just arrive in the slog overs and we get very few balls to play. I think the strike rate could be better used if we had a few more overs to play. So we got only three seats and won two and I think that is okay in the given situation.

CPI(M-L) Liberation leader Dipankar says that money power can only be fought with human power and a cooperative model can counter the corporate one. | Video Credit: Interview by Saba Naqvi; Camera by Dipesh Arora; Production Assistants: Vitasta Kaul & Vedaant Lakhera; Editing by Samson Ronald K.; Supervising Producer: Jinoy Jose P.

But there’s a pattern to it. Even in the last Assembly election, you actually had one of the best.

Yes, we got 19 seats, and we won 12. After the election, people said that if CPI(M-L) had 30 seats, they would have won 20 to 22 seats and Tejashwi Yadav would have become the Chief Minister. But we got only three seats.

When it comes to seat allocation, we had the worst strike rate. We had 12 MLAs and got three candidates. Congress with 19 MLAs, left with 17 MLAs after two having defected, they got 19. So the ratio was two is to one for the Congress and four is to one for CPI(M-L). So, that is dialectics for you. 

Who was the boss who took all the decisions there? Was it Lalu Yadav and Tejashwi? Who was the final call in Bihar?

I think it must have been Lalu Yadav. He was around and especially this time he was out. We didn’t make any issue out of it because the important thing was to fight unitedly and fight well. And I’m glad that we have done it.

In 2020, we had 48 per cent and they had 52 per cent MLAs. So, I was really hoping that we will cross the 20 mark in Bihar. And that way, Bihar and Jharkhand got only 10 and 5. I just hope that Bihar could have also been like UP which did not happen. But I am glad that UP happened and took care of everything.

Also Read | ‘Modi has lost this election’: Ashish Ranjan

But Jharkhand had still a better performance than Bihar at least in the tribal areas.

Exactly. The tribal scene is very diverse in Jharkhand and they used to say that Hemant Soren is a Santhal leader. I was hoping that after his arrest, we would have a pan-Jharkhand expression with the slogan Jharkhand jhukega nahi (Jharkhand will not bend). But unfortunately, that did not happen and that needs to be studied. But as far as all the five ST seats are concerned, I think between Congress and JMM, they won all which is great.

How do you collect the money to fight a Lok Sabha election and an Assembly election? 

You have to fight money power with human power. To fight against a corporate model, you should have a cooperative model. It was a way to tell people that if you want your issues to become central to politics, if you want policies in your favour, you need to own your politics and you need to fund your politics. It’s as simple as that. As long as the whole political process will be funded by Adanis and Ambanis, everything will be in their favour. So in our party, people own our party.

People are so resilient in Bihar and they have a sense of party ownership. They know that if we need to win the election, we need to pool our resources. So I think it is a fantastic model (Rs.20 model). Also, now that we are in a coalition, there are middle-class and professional people who have contributed more. But absolutely, no corporate funding and no electoral bonds. I am hopeful that we can continue with this model.

You’ll have two MPs after a period of 20 years now. How did your people do it?

In 1989, we had an MP for the first time from Arrah in Bihar. At that time, the MP was agricultural labour leader Rameshwar Prasad. And it was unthinkable because we are not in a coalition and that was our first parliamentary election. Most of the voters were also voting for the first time and it was unimaginable back then for a Dalit to vote on their own choice. The people had to pay a heavy price as there was a massacre right after polling. Almost 22 people were butchered in the Danwar-Bihta massacre. Although people voted for the first time, they managed to send a representative to the Parliament but that was only from 1989 to 1991. Since then, we have been finishing second twice in Arrah, once in Siwan, and twice in Jharkhand’s Koderma. The seat that we used to win was from Assam from 1991 to 2004.

And yes, it is significant that we have two MPs at a very crucial time who are farmer leaders and they have been very active in the ongoing historic farmers’ movement. One is Raja Ram Singh who is a member of the politburo and he was an MLA for 10 years. He is the leader of Kisan Mahasabha as well. The other is Sudama Prasad, again a Kisan leader,  who comes from the caste called Halwai, whose traditional occupation is to make sweets.

Usually, one associates the Halwai caste group with the BJP. Is that an inaccurate way of thinking?

Sudama comes from an extremely marginalised caste. So if you are talking about Banias, the Agarwals, etc., they are upwardly mobile and are believed to be a core bank of the BJP. But things are changing.

In the last 10 years, he has been an MLA and has been very vocal about not just farmers but also small traders who are a big community in India. I think they have taken the brunt of the whole GST, demonetisation attack which people hardly talk about. We discuss a lot about the MSME sectors but not about the neighbourhood shops. He represents them and I hope that it will strike a chord.

“...They [the BJP] were trying to scare people: if you don’t vote for BJP, you will not get free ration. Everything is Aadhaar linked and the big brother is watching you. People are forced into submission.”

Both the candidates have been giant killers?

Yeah, both the candidates defeated heavy candidates like Cabinet Minister R.K. Singh and also Pawan Singh. When our candidate asked R.K. Singh, Minister of Power, for a 10-year report card, he refused to give and said who is Sudama Prasad. When Sudama Prasad is asking something, he is not asking as an individual but as the Bhojpur farmers and Bhojpur poor. Also, in a Parliamentary election, you are duty-bound to place your report card before the people. He was so arrogant and I am glad that such people have been defeated.

I know that Pawan Singh was initially declared as the BJP candidate from Asansol in West Bengal. The day his name was announced, there was a lot of opposition to his candidature from the Trinamool Congress and Bengal civil society especially because there is a lot of misogyny in his songs, majorly against Bengali women. I think the BJP panicked and asked him to resign. If he really wanted to contest, he should have done it from Arrah as he is from there. But he did not because Arrah already had a heavyweight Rajput candidate. He chose Karakat instead, where Upendra Kushwaha was the NDA candidate. So I think, in some ways, Pawan Singh came in the last over and he helped us to win Karakat and also consolidate our chances in Arrah.

You lost an important party person to the heatwave. Please tell us about that.

On May 30, the last day of campaigning, 62 people died due to heatwave in Bihar. We had a young comrade from Motihari in Champaran who was working as a party organiser in the election period on a motorcycle. He fainted that day in the afternoon and was taken to Arrah hospital but could not save him. A lot of people died including the polling officials. After all this, the Chief Election Commissioner did not have a word of regret or apology while addressing a press conference and he just said it was a learning curve. This was an absolutely mismanaged and ill-timed election this summer. This is cruelty and nobody could care less about human lives than the Election Commission.

You do groundwork with Dalits which the media does not cover adequately.

Ravish Kumar did a very evocative video and I am so grateful. He captured the most important parts of our campaign, especially the big role played by women and the songs they were singing about electoral bonds. He said that this is the party which is trying to take politics to remote areas where no mainstream media would ever go.

Do you agree with the whole belief that Modi is now for the rich and the poor have to fight for themselves?

Absolutely. I think the rich-poor divide is growing. Unemployment, price rise, etc. are not just issues. There are people who are feeling completely excluded, and that feeling is growing. I hope that it increasingly sort of translates into politics. 

What about the ration?

People are thinking that the five kg that they get is free, it is not. Somebody is funding it. It is not Adani and Ambani but the common people of India who are paying GST and all the taxes. The government is trivialising the whole issue of food security to free ration. And then, they are trying to make people like bonded labourers of yesteryears, bonded voters today. This is the worst kind of vote bank.

Are you saying that free ration is a way to get votes?

Yes, they were trying to scare people: if you don’t vote for BJP, you will not get free ration. Everything is Aadhaar linked and the big brother is watching you. People are forced into submission. We have so many people in jail. The release of political prisoners should have become a much bigger issue but it did not. There is the Bhima Koregaon case, the Delhi riots, and many more.

But the way the poor have responded, not just the farmers or unemployed people but the Dalit-Bahujans as well, is fantastic. The people have said that we are not here for just a 5 kg ration. We want our full rights. It’s our republic. It’s our country. Don’t treat us as subjects. Don’t believe that you are sent by Paramatma. This is what Modi is trying to do, he is a king and at the same time he is a priestly king.

Also Read | Nitish Kumar saves the day for NDA in Bihar

Nitish Kumar is not a Hindutva person, but he has been a collaborator with the BJP.

He is a great survivor. In 2014, he was one person who tried to stop Modi from becoming Prime Minister. He said that he has been with Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee and he cannot deal with Modi and Amit Shah. So he tried to invoke the spirit of Bihari Swabhiman in 2014 but he did not succeed. He then kept on going and coming back and so the acrobatics are very difficult to explain. But during the Gujarat genocide and communal carnage, when Modi actually emerged, he collaborated with BJP.

In the mid-90s, when socialists in India would probably not touch BJP with a barge pole and George Fernandes was also probably in two minds, I think Nitish Kumar prevailed. In 1995, when we had a bit of cooperation, when he was in the Samata Party, we tried to stop him. Even in 2005, when there was a hung assembly in Bihar and we had seven MLAs, Nitish Kumar came to us. I told him to dissociate with the BJP, we will support him and even RJD for that matter. But he chose to go with the BJP. So, he has been with the BJP for much of his political career.

And even in this election, we felt so sorry about it. He was like a student before his headmaster saying, I will never again commit this mistake and I will not go there.

Do you think there is a picture of humiliated Nitish?

There could be. There was this road show in Patna when Nitish was standing next to Modi. He was kind of holding the lotus symbol that Modi gave him and not his own arrow symbol. So it was almost like a BJP takeover of Bihar. I think even that didn’t go down well at all. So there must be some sympathy. There is a sense that he has, to an extent, addressed the issues of women and backward castes. So I think Nitish Kumar has a particular constituency.

But I still hope, hoping against hope, that these two leaders [N. Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar], who have been part of the UPA and anti-BJP coalitions, will understand and have some respect for the mandate. They have chosen Modi as the leader of India, which goes against the mandate. But I hope that this Parliament gets a new Speaker, a non-partisan Speaker, who is not from the BJP.

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