There can’t be any pan-Indian, pre-poll front against BJP, says Sitaram Yechury
‘There is no doubt that the task is to remove the BJP from power. But there can’t be any pan-Indian, broad, pre-poll front against the BJP. I think, regionally, in different states, there would be different calculations to achieve this task,’ says CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechuryindia Updated: Mar 19, 2018 07:14 IST
Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury has had a busy fortnight during which the party lost its eastern bastion of Tripura, and organised a successful farmer’s march in Mumbai. It is in the middle of a raging debate on what approach to adopt on alliances ahead of a key party congress. Yechury spoke to Saubhadra Chatterji and Prashant Jha on a range of political issues. Excerpts:
The farmer front of the CPI(M) last week had this massive rally in an unlikely city, Mumbai. How did you pull it off?
Yes, it was a historic moment. But preparations for that movement actually started three years ago at a meeting between the CPI(M) and the All India Kisan Sabha (the party’s farmer front). Agitations were held in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and in 2016; there was a massive gathering in Nasik when farmers blockaded the city. This time, the farmers marched to Mumbai as the state government did not keep its promise on loan waiver. It evoked unprecedented public empathy. People set up camps to serve food and water to farmers. The elites of Mumbai offered footwear and medical treatment. Farmers were also remarkably disciplined. When it turned out that they may enter the city on a day of examinations, they decided to march trough the night instead of disrupting everyday life. The farmer’s demands turned into a people’s issue.
‘The Left and elections’
While your farmer’s front could gain such public support, why is it that the CPI(M) is fast losing electoral support?
That is the key issue we have repeatedly discussed in the party. On the issue of economic exploitation, the red flag instills confidence but when it comes to social oppression, we are still not able to do so. In elections, caste-based issues are important and voting is based on social groupings. That is why we decided in the last party congress that we would take up, strongly, both the issues of economic exploitation and social oppression. We concluded that our support base, our capacity had declined and we have to not only regain it but expand.
You lost West Bengal after the Singur and Nandigram episode. In Tripura there was no such upheaval. Still, you lost Tripura to the BJP.
Yes, there was no such incident and that’s why the result was unexpected. During the last two years or so, the BJP has emerged as the anti-Left pole. It swallowed other forces like the Congress and the Trinamool Congress in Tripura. It also did a bit of social engineering by forming a coalition with extremist tribal parties. There has also been a great social change in Tripura in the last 25 years. There is peace, the healthcare system has improved, the literacy rate is better than Kerala. So, you have a large section of the population which is healthy and educated but without jobs. Job creation is a tougher challenge in Tripura. It is landlocked with limited connectivity. So, meeting the growing aspirations of the young generation of Tripura also became a big challenge.
The CPI(M) could not regain Bengal and lost Tripura when you are the general secretary of the party. Do you hold yourself responsible to certain extent?
There is certainly a degree of personal responsibility and sadness even as in our party we believe in collective leadership. But please remember that we regained Kerala in this period. We are maintaining status quo! But of course, I want to see our situation improve.
Are you ready for a second term as general secretary?
In our party, it’s not about one’s choice. It is the party that decides the responsibility of every leader.
You agree that Modi-led BJP is a formidable force and it has expanded like never before. On the other hand, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has called for a UPA-like coalition. Where does the CPI(M) stand in this possible opposition unity?
In 2004, the CPI(M), with 61 MPs, gave issue-based support to the UPA to keep the BJP out of power. But out of those 61 seats, remember we won 57 by defeating Congress candidate. Our entire focus is on alternative policies not on alternative leadership. Also, politics is not arithmetic. Here 2+2 can be 22 or even a big zero. What is required is a policy platform.
There is no doubt that the task is to remove the BJP from power. But there can’t be any pan-Indian, broad, pre-poll front against the BJP. I think, regionally, in different states, there would be different calculations to achieve this task. We will fight against the BJP in places where we are strong. But overall, our party will discuss in the upcoming Party Congress on appropriate electoral tactics to maximize votes for the anti-BJP forces.
It is an open secret that there is a debate in your party on the line to adopt on alliances. Can you shed light on it?
There is agreement in the party on the need to defeat this BJP-led government. There may be differences on how to get there but we are united.
Are you worried about the situation in West Bengal where the BJP is fast becoming the prime opponent to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress?
What is happening in Bengal is competitive communalism—and I am extremely worried about it. Banerjee’s politics is helping the BJP grow and both are feeding off each other. When the Left was in power in Bengal, this communal politics were never seen.
On Congress, Rahul Gandhi has taken charge as the Congress president. We know that you enjoy a great rapport with both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. How do you see Gandhi evolving as the Congress president?
He has just taken over and we want see him for some time before assessing his performance. But this generational change is inevitable. India is the youngest nation and so young leadership must come up.
There is a sense that Rahul may have a broad left-of-centre positioning. Would that help evolve common policies?
It is a little early. There is no doubt that within Congress, for long, there has been a left-of-centre line. Remember the right to employment, information, education, food was passed under them — but of course because of our pressure. At the same time, Congress also followed neo-liberal economic policies. During UPA, 49% of the country’s wealth belonged to 1% of Indian population. I told Dr Manmohan Singh — Sir you have created two India’s. Now of course the situation is worse. 73% of wealth is in the hands of that 1%.
Do you see Congress playing the role of the principal anchor or as a supplement in 2019?
Given the heterogeneity of Indian politics, it would be difficult to say now who will lead a non-BJP coalition if it comes to power. I believe 2019 election will be either the 2004—when regional parties supported the Congress—or the 1996 situation, when the Congress supported a united front government.