Interview: Surjya Kanta Mishra

Uniting ‘secular, democratic’ forces

Print edition : April 15, 2016
Interview with Surjya Kanta Mishra, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly.

SURJYA KANTA MISHRA, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and State secretary of the party, is the face of the opposition in the State. In this exclusive interview with Frontline, Mishra says that it is the people’s urge to replace the Trinamool Congress government that has prompted different secular democratic political parties to come together. Excerpts:

You are the face of the opposition in West Bengal and you are leading the electoral battle against the ruling Trinamool Congress. Though premature at this moment, how do you think the elections will span out?

First, I do not believe that I am the face either of the opposition or of the party. We believe, as Jyotibabu [Jyoti Basu] used to say, it is the people who make history. It is the people who are our face ultimately. We have been reiterating from time to time that the Left and democratic front is possible only by the change of the correlation of class forces.

As for the election battle, I think it is spanning out on the lines we had envisaged. What we have is a new challenge that we have never faced before. In the 1970s we faced a challenge when the question of democracy had become the foremost question. Today, added to the attack on democracy is the threat to the secular fabric of West Bengal.

The unholy alliance between the ruling party in the State and the BJP at the Centre has been instrumental in fuelling communal passions, resulting in communal polarisation. This is to their mutual benefit. Their basic economic policies remain the same so far as livelihood of the poor is concerned.

Theirs is a three-pronged attack—on democracy, on secularism, and on the livelihood of the masses. Our foremost task is to oust this government—our call is to oust the TMC to save Bengal and to oust the BJP to save India.

There have been no free and fair elections after 2011 and it is of utmost importance for all secular democratic forces to unite to fight the coming battle. The battle has to be organised at the grass-roots level irrespective of political affiliations as all sections are under attack. It is the urge of the people to replace the government that has prompted different secular democratic political parties to discuss with each other how this objective can be realised.

How is the opposition combine working out?

The fundamental change in the situation now [from 2011 when the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance came to power] is that the constituents of the rainbow alliance with which Mamata Banerjee came to power have all deserted her and her party. They realised how impossible it is to stay with her as they were repeatedly subjected to attacks. Even people within her own party are not spared. There is turf war happening everywhere and Trinamool members are killing each other regularly. Most of the constituents which deserted her approached us and asked us to take the initiative and lead the battle for democracy. Ultimately it was the urge of the people.

I must also add that one cannot manufacture anything in a vacuum, and the situation for the secular democratic forces to come together was created by the Left through its different political programmes. People began to think that it was possible to defeat this government provided the votes were not divided.

How far is the opposition likely to capitalise on this latest setback for the ruling party brought about by the Narada News sting operation?

To us it is a political battle. It is not about simply capitalising on an issue. This new global order, and the neoliberal economy pursued in the country, itself breeds corruption. The sting vindicates how corrupt the top levels of the Trinamool party are. Such a thing has never happened in Bengal before and it is our shame. Imagine the police chief of a district taking money authorised by the ruling party! What role can be expected from such police to ensure proper voting? This is a manifestation of the economic system that we live in.

But there is no denying that there is match-fixing between the BJP and the Trinamool on the Narada issue. The BJP referred the matter to the Ethics Committee in the Lok Sabha, but then in the Rajya Sabha, the Chair had to say that the government does not want an investigation. We do not know what kind of an understanding the Trinamool and the BJP have reached. But we do know that the Trinamool is nervous now.

How do you assess the performance of the government in the areas of agriculture and industry?

In the unforeseen agrarian crisis in the State, 167 farmers committed suicide, and the Chief Minister sent a report to the Centre saying that there have been no suicides. Take the case of the tea industry where there have been hundreds of starvation deaths, and she sent a report stating that there have been no starvation deaths. Not just the tea industry, see the condition of other industries as well, particularly the jute industry, the engineering industry, the SMEs [small and medium enterprises], etc. In the last seven years of Left Front rule, job creation in West Bengal in the manufacturing sector was the highest in the country according to NSS [National Sample Survey] data. Gujarat was a distant second.

Now there is drastic reduction in employment in the manufacturing sector in the State. This reflects the health of the industry. Industries are simply running away from the State.

What is the Left’s strategy in this election?

We have highlighted the achievements of 34 years of Left rule; and, of course, we looked into our weaknesses too, so we can learn from them. We are comparing that with what has been happening in the last five years under the Trinamool. Our point is to go to the people and learn from them, find out what they want. That is our strategy.

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