Face to face: Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy

I agree with LK Advani on the possibilityof a non-Congress, non-BJP PM

Amit Sengupta/Akash Bisht Delhi 

When he was 15, he became a crucial cog in an agitation seeking blackboards, chalks and books for his school in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh. The movement spread like fire and schools across Kurnool started raising similar demands. Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy was later elected twice from the Nalgonda parliamentary constituency. Leader of several mass struggles, and widely admired within the party and outside, Reddy was elected as General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI) recently. Born on March 25, 1942, he did his BA in History from Osmania College, Kurnool, in 1964 and LLB from Osmania University Law College in Hyderabad in 1967. Hardnews met Comrade Sudharkar Reddy to discuss the crisis within the Left, drought and food security, communalism, the future of Maoism in India, and the possibility of a third front in 2014, among other issues. 

 There is a drought like situation in some parts of the country, the Food Security Bill is yet to see the light of the day, inflation is sky high and people below the poverty line have been hit very badly. In this current scenario, you held a big protest at Jantar Mantar. So what was the idea of the protest and what is the action that CPI is planning to take?

On August 4, 2012, we met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on behalf of the Left parties about the Food Security Bill and we asked about the universal Public Distribution System (PDS) of the food grains. We wanted wheat and rice to be sold at Rs 2/kg, 35 kgs of ration for all, and also to do away with the APL/BPL (Above/Below Poverty Line) category. We asked him not to export food grains as the country is facing a drought-like situation. Last year, they had 8 crore tonnes of food grains in godowns, this year they have close to 5 crore tonnes and the procurement for this year is yet to take place. According to our estimation, if 35kgs of rice/wheat is given to 23.96 crore families in the country then it should amount to 10.25 crore tonnes of food grains and these families include urban and poor, APL and BPL. Our estimation is that this will cost Rs 1, 80,000 crore to the government of India, but we don’t want this to be free. Rs 2/kg of wheat/rice can be given and the government will get Rs 30,000 crore back. So, the government will have to spend Rs 1,50,000 crore on food grains for the nation.

There is drought in Maharashtra, Karnataka, some parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh where rainfall has been less than 15-30 per cent. Even if there are late rains, it will be difficult to cultivate food grains. We want the government to stop exporting food grains. Sharad Pawar recently said that there are enough seeds that can be supplied to the peasants if there is drought-like situation. Now, drought is a reality, so seeds must be supplied free of cost to the peasants and additional fertilisers should be made available at controlled rates. The crop pattern has to be changed and farmers should be encouraged to raise short-term crops. Fodder is a problem, so is drinking water. The government should make adequate arrangements to ensure that the situation is brought under control.

According to this year’s budget, Rs 5,24,000 crore of subsidy has been given to corporate houses and in the last four years of the UPA government these subsidies and tax reductions have been close to Rs 20 lakh crore. If there is a political will then it is possible for the government to save the country from drought. After the economic meltdown, Indian corporates have been shouting at the top of their voice about the great losses they are incurring. This is despite the fact that they made additional profits of Rs 5 lakh crore and their total wealth doubled in the last five years. Hence, this year corporates should be particularly targeted. There should be a drought tax imposed on them. Those who earn more should pay more to the nation in case of a severe drought. 

 A drought tax would be unprecedented. Has it been done in any part of the world before?

I can’t say that it is unprecedented because there have been instances where drought tax has been levied. Countries like Somalia and other African nations have adopted such measures under severe drought. We are lucky to be part of a country where we have drought in one region and bumper crop in another. Unfortunately, the government is trying to show that overall the food grain production has increased, but that is not true. The increase in production is because of fertilizers, irrigation facilities, and even double-cropping. This year the drought covers only 35-40 per cent of the country. Hence, this is not a small drought, it is a major one. Some experts are saying that if there are late rains and people use new crop patterns then this area can be reduced to 20-25 per cent. Subsequently, small peasants would be the victims. The rich peasantry and middle class have other sources of income, but small peasants are totally dependant on crops. And if they don’t get any help, they would be in a terrible mess. Hence, government help should go to small and marginal farmers. 

 Isn’t there a contradiction here that both APL and BPL should be provided aid? There is a view that the economic criteria must be observed because those who have everything, like the big landlords, they should not be subsidised or given free food grains.

We have figured out that none of these well to do people want this ration. They don’t want to eat the food grains that are supplied by the government. The criteria of the BPL, the definition by the Planning Commission, is creating problems. They say that the BPL population comprise only 23 per cent, but on the basis of the Arjun Sengupta report, 77 per cent of the population is spending less than Rs 20 a day and this was in 2005. In 2012, the Planning Commission says Rs 26 is the lakshman rekha of poverty in rural areas and Rs 32 in urban areas. If they go by this logic, a lot of people would be deprived of ration today. Even other organisations have put the percentage of BPL population in India at 40-45 per cent. The recent National Sample Survey has revealed that BPL population stands at 65 per cent. Whatever be the definition, it is not going to give justice to the poor.

In my own constituency (Nalgonda), when I asked the then chief minister, (late) YSR Reddy, for more ration cards, he showed me the figures from a file — that 85 per cent people in Andhra Pradesh have a card. But, it is also true that a large number of poor and deserving people didn’t get it. This means that most of these cards are bogus. The deserving people are not getting it while middlemen, government officers and ration shop dealers are siphoning off food grains. I gave a simple suggestion: those who don’t get the card should approach the panchayat office or announce it in the village general body meeting. YSR agreed with the solution, but it couldn’t be implemented. That is why we want APL and BPL to be done away with and food grains should be given to all to stop this type of cheating. 

 The Union Agriculture Minister has consistently taken a pro neo-liberal line and his interest seems to be more in the cash rich BCCI. In his state, lakhs of farmers have committed suicide. Do you think he will agree to these demands? And, if they don’t agree, what would be your course of action?

We don’t think that they will agree so easily. We have decided to continuously pressurize the government. Some years back, there was a consistent campaign from some sections that all subsidies should be stopped. These subsidies were for the poor people. They said it is all vote bank politics; however, due to relentless agitations by the people, they not only agreed to continue the ration, they also agreed to bring a food security bill. In this background, I feel that more such agitations would force the government and the NAC under the chairmanship of Sonia Gandhi to recommend food security for a larger number of people. But the decision-making is not with the NAC; it is with the Planning Commission and the Union finance ministry that are trying to dilute the bill. That is why we want the bill to be introduced in this Parliament session. After a month long campaign for food security in July, we have again given a call for a similar campaign on September 12, 2012.  After that we will take up the campaign in a bigger scale. At present, it is
a Left campaign, but we are planning to invite non-Left organisations also to this platform. 

 In the 2004 elections, progressive, democratic people overwhelmingly voted for the Left. This helped the Left increase its tally to 60 seats in Parliament. The Left was the biggest opposition party in the post-independence era and its contribution to the freedom movement has been as great as any other party. But the Left is now in decline. What do you think is the future of the Left in India and what is
being done to revive it in the Hindi heartland?

 After 2004, the Common Minimum Programme was presented as the Left’s idea. We ushered in progressive things during UPA 1 like the NREGS, RTI, Domestic Violence Bill, Forest Rights Act, restoration of a secular curriculum. We also didn’t allow the government to sell off public sector shares. Unfortunately, we couldn’t propagate that these schemes became successful due to the Left parties. Rather, the credit has gone to the Congress.

 Besides, instead of the India-US nuclear deal, if we could have taken up questions of price rise and other issues, possibly, people would have understood it much better. This was one of the reasons why we lost the elections. However, we don’t think that it was wrong to withdraw support. We were correct. The other reason for the defeat of the Left is the reduction in the number of MPs coming from different states. The bulk of our MPs are from Bengal and Kerala; in both the states, because of wrong policies, we lost our base. Be it Singur or Nandigram, or our alienation from the minorities and adivasis in Bengal, tactical mistakes were committed. In Kerala, some smaller parties were kept out of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and this caused a depleted state of the Left. We don’t think that these electoral defeats in Kerala and the political defeat in West Bengal is a permanent phase. Naturally, the Left will regain strength.

 We did lose support in the Hindi heartland and in states like Punjab, Andhra and Tamil Nadu. The emergence of regional and casteist parties eroded the strength of the Left and these parties represent the regional bourgeoisie in the states. We need to do hard work to organise people from the periphery and convince them that the Left alternative is the real alternative. An ideological battle has to be carried out. In the coming phase, we want to concentrate on the expansion of ideological influence among the people. We need to convince the people that there should be ideological clarity when they decide to support any political party. It will take a long time but except hard work, struggles and ideological offensive, there is no other alternative. We are confident that we will expand in the Hindi heartland. By and large, the Indian people are against any extremism, either Left-extremism of Maoism or the Right extremism of Sangh Parivar. All that we need is sustained long-term action.

 For instance, the Maruti agitation is the result of unorganised workers fighting for their rights. The anger and determination of the workers is being shown. The struggles that are being fought by adivasis in Bastar and other areas against SEZs; the struggles in Kudankulam and Jaitapur; the struggle of Dalits across India and the struggle against Posco in Orissa, they show us the path that we have to pursue. The people are angry at the policies of the government. We want to streamline all these struggles and unleash ourselves. We have identified certain issues like irrigation facilities, land for the
tiller, food security and accessibility to education. We believe that on these issues, people are ready for change. Hence, we have to start this right from the village level.

  There is a view that the call for Left unity strangles the political growth of CPI which is known to take a tailist position vis-à-vis the CPM; that is why its growth is being limited despite being more honest, committed, flexible, non-dogmatic with far greater involvement in people’s movements.

 In the Hindi heartland we did make some efforts and we have identified some places where we can expand. Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, to some extent Madhya Pradesh and some other areas have been identified as crucial states by us. In Bihar, we are trying but we don’t have any time frame. We are not saying that it will take us 2-3 years; it might take a little longer. But we are confident that if we take up real issues like land reforms in Bihar, forest rights, tribal problems and leasing of mines in Jharkhand, than we would be able to mobilize large sections of people. In one of our organizational meetings, I had suggested that it would take more than 10 years to gain influence in these areas. We have decided to recruit downtrodden sections of the people like adivasi women and minorities from areas where they yield considerable influence. We have to
engage in an ideological campaign and this is the most difficult thing in the Hindi belt.

On the question of communist unity, CPI is for the unity of the communist movement in the country; but the response from CPM is not very positive. We didn’t want to create any controversy; some people feel that because CPI is weak, that is why it wants this unity. We want Left unity for the simple reason that it will stop the duplication of work. Why do you have two parties if you have the same policies, ideas and programmes and you contest elections jointly? That’s why we have proposed it time and again, but we will not make it a point of controversy because unity cannot be achieved by force. Both CPI and CPM are convinced that no Left party can achieve its target alone. People will only have confidence if we do united actions. We believe that the united activity of the Left will make the cadre of the parties stronger.

The issues on which the CPI and CPM split are now redundant: on whether the Soviet line was right or the Chinese line was right. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and change in China’s line there is no meaning in the old debate. What should be the attitude of communists towards the Indian bourgeoisie? That was another big point of controversy at that time. Now, it is the domination of corporate capitalism and we have to fight it. In the last 30-40 years after the split of 1964, so many incidents have taken place; there is no use in fighting on old issues like who was right or wrong at that time. There should be a mature situation for Left unity. In the last Bihar elections, some sort of understanding was there between the Left parties, including CPI(ML-Liberation). In some places the CPI(ML) fought against us, and yet, the understanding was good. Such unity should reflect in agitations and struggles in the near future. 

 Is there a suggestion that you should involve other democratic parties?

Yes. Recently, on the Food Security Bill, there was united action. We want to expand Left unity with parties like CPI(ML) in some areas, if not all. And, if the CPM agrees, we will fight together, otherwise we will go alone. 

  The CPM doesn’t seem to want this kind of unity.

They have not opposed it, but they have not taken a decision. In the last Bihar elections, we, including the CPM, agreed to go with CPI(ML-Liberation). It has decided to go ahead in democratic struggles, so there is no reason why they shouldn’t be coming with us.

 The CPI position on the Maoists has been different from that of CPM because you have said that though their line is wrong they should join the mainstream.  

Their line is wrong and we oppose their policies. They should come into mainstream politics and join the struggles. The CPM agrees with it, but they believe that Maoists are using anti-CPM methods and killing their cadres. They killed our cadres in Junglemahal, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh. Only in recent times, their attitude towards CPI has changed. 

 You might or might not agree with them, but they seem to be the only force stopping the government from forcibly taking away tribal land for big business. What do you think is the future of this conflict with Maoists? Is there a future for the Maoists?

The government will not succeed in curbing Maoism by killing adivasis. The government is helping Maoists by killing innocent adivasis; this is making them sympathetic towards the Maoists. And Maoists cannot be successful beyond this. They can create disturbances, kill some people, attack police, but they are not able to move a large number of masses. Without big struggles it will not be possible to force the government into anything. We feel that developmental activities, alleviation of poverty, abolition of untouchability and respect for the forest rights of adivasis will reduce the influence of the Maoists. 

 This is also what the central and state governments say ritualistically.

The recent Sarkeguda killings happened because of Salwa Judum. The police are all from outside. The local Salwa Judum people are responsible for taking security forces to the forested area against the so-called Naxalites who have come from Orissa. They gave wrong information and 17 innocent people were killed. The government should abolish Salwa Judum and they should not depend on these extra-constitutional forces. This is very dangerous trend.

For Maoists, this type of individual annihilations, killing few people, etc, creates fear in certain sections of the people. It is not the question of weapons because government has better weaponry and a large armed force. In Bengal, finally, the Maoists were not successful. They have been honest, they have a great cadre, but their politics is in the wrong direction. They should change the methods of their struggle and join hands with other democratic parties and drop this idea that all those who are not with them are their enemies. There are so many people who are not police informers; sometimes they might be afraid of the police, they might reveal that a meeting happened here, a meeting happened there. The Maoists brand all these people as police informers. Thousands of acres of land are being given to corporates for mining and industries in the areas Maoists are active. This should be fought and other sections should also be involved. It should be a democratic struggle.

 

 There have been several instances of communal violence in the country, including State-sponsored ones. For instance, the 1992-93 pogrom against Muslims in Mumbai after the demolition of Babri Masjid. The Sri Krishna Commission report has revealed the truth but nothing has happened. After the 1984 Delhi killings and Gujarat carnage, justice has been absent or too slow. The masterminds never get caught, as in Gujarat. There is no secular intervention in Gujarat in terms of Left parties and the field is open for someone like Narendra Modi who also aspires to be the prime minister.

It’s not the case of us becoming weaker in recent times. Traditionally, we have been weak in Gujarat. Unfortunately, the whole Left movement never had its influence in the western part of the country, particularly in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Because of the influence of leaders like Swami Kumarananda, HK Vyas and others, there was some movement in certain areas. However, in Gujarat, a communist leader was elected to the assembly only once. In recent times, elections have become a rich man’s game. It is becoming all the more difficult. At the same time, we have good trade unions. I will not say they are powerful, but we have a considerably strong trade union movement. With political alienation of the working class, the roots of a good Left movement are embedded in Gujarat. The Congress is also playing a very opportunistic game. They are afraid of fighting for secularism and are soft on communalism. In such circumstances, a strong secular political force may come in. If we develop our organisation, there is a possibility that we can expand our influence in Gujarat. Whatever limited strength we have, we are carrying our banner and our cadre is resisting courageously. Slowly, there is a change coming in the people of Gujarat. Narenda Modi claims to lead a non-corrupt government. This is dishonest as far as secularism is concerned. In a country like India where multi-religious, multi-caste and multi-cultural diversity prevails, people have to live together; if a man doesn’t have this vision, he is unfit to lead the state. In Gujarat, the hatred that was poisonously injected by Narendra Modi and gang has made people realize and they may have to come out of it. Even in UP, after BJP came to power, their vote share was only 30-32 per cent. Even today, media calls it the magic of Samajwadi Party; the fact is that they got 28 per cent while Mayawati got 26 per cent of votes. In Gujarat, if the Congress cannot win, the Left should try to intervene. But this may not be possible in the next elections.      

 

 The CPM has taken a clear position that it will not support either the Congress or BJP in any future scenario. Suppose tomorrow we have a situation where Congress is on the edge and so is BJP and the chances of BJP forming the government are more. If Congress projects itself as a secular alternative to the BJP, what would be the Left position?

We have never taken a blind anti-Congress view. In the recent presidential elections, we decided not to vote for the Congress candidate because we are opposing their anti-people policies. We can’t say now what will happen in 2014. We hope that there should be a non-Congress, non-BJP government. I agree with LK Advani that there is the possibility of a non-Congress, non-BJP prime minister and without the Left such an alternative is not possible. I don’t know what is going to happen, but there will be realignment of political forces in 2014.

 

 Any indication on what kind of realignment? Prakash Karat doesn’t agree with this
proposition and he says that Mulayam Singh is posturing as a PM candidate.

Mulayam can take an opportunistic stance perhaps because of the CBI cases. But if a situation comes where they have to play a decisive role, there is the possibility of a third front. The Congress and BJP are discredited and people are angry. I won’t call it a third front and I don’t see the possibility of a new front; maybe, there will be fourth front or an alternative that is acceptable to the Left. If that does not happen then there will be total anarchy and confusion. From the Left perspective, we are not planning any third front. We want to popularise alternative policies and we want to bring those together who agree with it.

 

 The corporates are crying hoarse over policy paralysis, the credit rating agencies are downgrading India’s position and the overall economic situation looks bleak. In such a scenario, P Chidambaram has taken over the finance ministry and there are strong rumours that the government may push for FDI in various sectors. If that happens, what would be your reaction?

I am not surprised with the plan that has been announced by Chidambaram. It is basically to satisfy the corporates. In a drought like situation where people expect interest free loans, he wants to reduce the interest rate for the loans taken by corporate houses. He does not speak of a single plan to tackle the drought situation. He is not proposing any new plan for increasing employment potential. He doesn’t say anything about the Food Security Bill. All these plans that he is proposing are only about getting FDI. With these methods, he is not going to solve the basic problems of the country. In the current Parliament session, our Left and CPI MPs will fight against these wrong policies. He is thinking that the growth rate should be faster; in the last few years the growth rate has been peaking but the population is suffering. The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few has become much more in the last 20 years. Accelerating the growth rate is not going to solve basic problems. The country’s prosperity should be seen in the context of the Human Development Index, not in terms of growth rate.

 

 What are your views on the recent decision by Team Anna to go political?

Everybody has a right to form a political party. The decision to fight elections is going to harm their anti-corruption agenda. They have several weak points. The bill that they wanted was for a super body which can control the judiciary, executive and legislature and that is why we didn’t agree to that bill. We want the Judicial Accountability Bill separately and the PM can be included under the Lokpal. Such acts alone will not not corruption. Besides, this government lacks the will power to control corruption.

What is Anna Hazare’s stand on reservation, minorities, poverty alleviation, inflation, unemployment, Sarkeguda killings, people’s movements, communal violence, among other issues? Team Anna Hazare has no plans to fight the concentration
of wealth.

I have read this and don’t know how much of this is true. He was promoting vegetarianism and Dalits were beaten up for eating meat. This shows a kind of fascism and such people cannot provide proper solutions to the nation. He may be honest in his attempts to control corruption, but along with corruption there are several other issues. I am worried, if they lose the elections, then they might say that the people are also supporting corruption.

 

 The Left protest on food security at Jantar Mantar in Delhi failed to get media attention despite the fact that hundreds of cameras were covering the Anna movement at the same venue.

I think it was purposefully done. The corporate houses who own the media don’t want the Left to get its due. The number of people at the Left’s dharna were many times more than those present at Anna’s rally.

We are fighting on different issues and we believe that they should also be successful in bringing the nation’s attention towards corruption. The media chose to ignore an important issue raised by the Left that concerned crores of people in the country. This way of ignoring the Left agitation shows that corporate houses have a different game plan. In the name of this fight against corruption, they want to divert the attention of the people and the nation from the basic issues of the people. The media wants to project an image that corruption would put an end to everything. So, they did it purposefully. However, despite the media, people in the country will come to know that the Left is fighting for their issues and our struggle will continue.  

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: SEPTEMBER 2012