Face to Face: Prakash Karat, CPM General Secretary

Sanjay Kapoor and Sadiq Naqvi Delhi 

With the possibility of a fractured verdict in the coming 2014 elections, the Left Front is playing the “linking role” to stitch a coalition of 11 regional parties. The idea behind the alliance, according to Prakash Karat, CPM General Secretary, is to provide an alternative to the Congress and BJP that strengthens democracy, fights communalism and protects secularism. Critical of neo-liberal economic policies that are behind corruption scandals, Karat also dwells on the alternative path of development that is pro-people. 

He says that the 2014 General Elections is much more than just a fight between Modi and Rahul Gandhi. He believes that Modi’s popularity is a mirage confined to the middle classes which had thronged to vote for the Congress in the last elections. And that the Left needs to be strengthened to ensure that there is an alternative to the two main parties.   

In this politically significant interview with Hardnews, the CPM General Secretary talks about the factors behind the rise of Narendra Modi, the debacle after the 2008 civil nuclear deal, and Mamata Banerji. Karat also slammed the AAP for its lack of ideological clarity, saying that its influence will be confined to urban pockets and it could end up becoming like other bourgeoisie outfits.


You have tried to put together a third front as distinct from Congress and the BJP. But I remember, not too long back, you had asserted that there was no space for a third front. What has changed since then?

What we are trying to do is get various non-Congress, non-BJP parties, at least the major ones, together so that we can present an electoral alternative to both the parties. This is not a third front, in the sense that this is not going to be a full-fledged alliance based on a common programme. What we want to do is to declare before the elections that we, the 11 parties that are getting together, will fight these elections against both Congress and the BJP, and provide an alternative that is based on strengthening of democracy, fighting communalism, and protecting secularism, putting in place an alternative path of development, which is pro people or people oriented. And restructure Centre-State relations for a more federal setup where the rights of the states are assured. Broadly, this will be the common agenda or the approach of these parties.


But you are also saying that this is not going to be the common programme as such.

Sure, but the parties are going to declare broad guiding principles around which we will be getting together. Because it is with these issues or principles that we are demarcating ourselves from Congress and the BJP.


How do you propose to put this front together? There are people with very different approaches to politics.

Again, as I said, it is not a front. This started with a Convention where we got 14 parties together to fight against communalism and to protect people’s unity. Out of the 14 parties, one is in the UPA still. That is the NCP. And of the remaining 13 parties, 11 are represented in the just concluded Lok Sabha. So these 11 parties met at the beginning of the session and decided that they should work together and have a common approach in Parliament. Following that, it was decided that we should meet on February 25, where leaders of these 11 parties will sit together and  issue a joint declaration expressing our resolve to fight against both Congress and BJP and to present an  alternative based on the four major principles, which I mentioned earlier.


How do the numbers stack up? You have an alliance, or a pre-poll alliance with Tamil Nadu to start with.

These parties are mainly state-based and enjoy substantial support there. They won the assembly elections and formed government after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. We have the AIADMK of Tamil Nadu, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Odisha, the Samajwadi Party (SP) of UP, and Janata Dal JD (U) of Bihar. All four are running governments, besides the Left-run government in Tripura. That means these are five state governments run by the parties coming together. All I am trying to say is that there need not be an electoral alliance between different constituents of this combination because they do not exist in other states. So there is no question of saying that BJD and the JD(U) cannot have an electoral alliance, or the BJD and the AIADMK. Between these parties, the linking factor is the Left parties as we have had relations with most of these regional parties in the past, and even in the present. The regional parties coming together along with the Left parties give it a national character. Some of these regional parties will be having an understanding with the Left parties in their respective states, not in all the states. All these parties, which are strong in their respective states, are pulling their resources together at the national level. So in a sense, the alliance already has a federal flavour. Different constituents are coming together at the all-India level to say, “Yes, we are together, and we will fight both Congress and the BJP, and present an alternative platform.” That is the basis.


But how does the alliance stack up nationally in numbers?

We cannot go by the numbers in the past Lok Sabha elections. But if you look at the states, these are major states – UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and so on. It’ll be clear very soon that those who thought this will be an election between Congress and the BJP, Narendra Modi  vs Rahul Gandhi, thought wrong. The coming together of these 11 parties, which are strong at least in a dozen states where we can expect them to get a substantial number of seats in the Lok Sabha, makes this election a three-way contest. In light of the political situation in the country where the Congress is losing ground steadily, the assumption that this will be gained by the BJP is wrong. In many states, the fight is between Congress and these regional parties. The BJP is nowhere in the picture. Where is the BJP in Tamil Nadu or in West Bengal or in Odisha or in Kerala? The battle here will be between the Congress and a combination of these regional parties or platform. All the analyses that say Congress is losing and BJP is gaining are missing an important dimension.


But many of these parties, we have seen in the past, have gone with the NDA. For example, Jayalalithaa or even BJD. There are people who are saying that the Left is just helping these parties to win so that they can ally with the BJP.

Well, the BJD broke with the BJP in 2009, and subsequently, the record of the BJD is that they have effectively fought and isolated the BJP in Odisha. At the national level too, BJD has been consistent in steering a non-Congress and non-BJP course. The same with JD(U), when they broke up with the BJP. That is more recent. But they are determined not to have any truck with the BJP. They are also taking a political position against the Congress and the BJP. Going by past records, some of these parties have had had an understanding with the Congress but they have now broken with that. Today there is a clear-cut political alternative before the people: neither Congress nor BJP. These parties are making this possible. The credibility of a party like the BJD today, that is fighting the BJP, is not questioned by anyone. We know what has happened in Odisha in the past five years since they parted ways with the BJP. We can’t question the intention of the JD (U) or say, Nitish Kumar in Bihar either, who is determined to fight and tackle the BJP there.


Readers, the second part of this interview will be published tomorrow. 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MARCH 2014