Election 2014: In conversation with Prakash Karat, Part II

Hardnews discusses the politics of Third Front with the CPM General Secretary (click here to read the first part) 
Sanjay Kapoor and Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

So they can be trusted to stay with the so-called secular political alliance?

No. We are saying that they can be trusted to stay out of the BJP. 

But the same would not apply to Jayalalithaa?

Why? In the case of Jayalalitha, she had broken with the NDA much earlier but she had never shown any intention of having any understanding with the BJP. 

She is seen as very close to Narendra Modi.

Many people are seen to be close to so many people but that is not how politics works. In Tamil Nadu, she has made it clear that she will have nothing to do with the DMK or its alliance, possibly the Congress and the BJP and its allies, whoever they will be. 

So for the last five years, the political narrative has largely been over the Congress’s scams, corruption, and has less to do with the issues like communalism and social inclusion. Do you think 2014 election would be like the Delhi Assembly – post ideology, post caste?

No, I think what happened in Delhi is basically a Delhi-based phenomenon. Corruption is a major issue in the sense that the Congress has been discredited because of its record of corruption in the last 10 years of its rule. The anti-Congress mood in the country today is not just because of corruption, it is because of price rise, economic difficulties that the people are facing and they blame that on the Congress party and the Central government. These are also major issues. For the bulk of the people, when they see the prices of vegetables shooting up, when they see the price of petrol or diesel being constantly raised, when they see the continuous increase in the cost of living, they realize it is not because of any state government, but a result of the policies pursued by the Central government.

These issues will be at the fore as far as the people are concerned. Therefore, I don’t think the Delhi elections or Delhi phenomenon was about corruption alone; it is because the AAP took up some issues that directly affected the people, electricity rates or water supply, etc. They found support among the poorer sections of the people. Before that, the anti-corruption movement was predominantly a middle class phenomenon. 

But again, the Left has been taking up these issues for the last 65 odd years.

That is why we are strong in the places where we are. We are not there all over the country in strength. But corruption does not become an issue in West Bengal or Kerala because our governments have been relatively corruption-free. Corruption is actually a symptom of the economic policies of the government. We’re fighting those policies, not the symptoms. If you talk corruption, and then allow the loot of natural resources through the policies of the government, that’s not right.

The AAP now says we are against nationalization of the mineral resources of the country. But it is just the opening up of the mineral resources to the private and foreign companies that has led to the loot and all the attendant corruption. We do not talk about corruption alone, without detaching it from the nature of the regime and the policies that are being pursued… 

You think the AAP is not shying away from addressing the root cause?

That is what we have been saying: spell out your basic programme and your policies. Arvind Kejriwal had taken up a fight against privatization of water, I remember earlier. But today he is only talking about better regulation by the government of private companies in these basic services like electricity and water. According to us, that is a myth or a misnomer, because regulatory agencies are set up under the neoliberal regimes precisely to serve the interests of the private sector and private companies. That is why you will find every time the regulatory authority always favours the private sector and companies that are distributing or producing electricity. So I think the AAP is not really coming out with a clear-cut alternative approach to its policies yet. 

Do you think this is deliberate?

We do not know.  We hear they are going to bring it out; they have set up some group to bring it out. We have said we are going to come out with our full-fledged assessment only when we see their basic policies. But bits and pieces, which have come out recently, are not very inspiring. 

But they openly say we are neither Left nor Right. You cannot pin us to any of those places…

They do not believe in any ideology also. So this non-ideological approach, well I am afraid, will make them into another variant of a bourgeoisie party. Maybe an egalitarian-bourgeoisie party. That is something to be seen. 

Do you agree with the BJP’s assertion that they are backed by the CIA?

Well the BJP claiming that has no credibility. It is coming from the BJP, which when in government, forged the closest security and intelligence ties with the Americans. In fact Mr L K Advani visited the CIA office when he was Home Minister and Deputy PM – the only Indian leader to do so – to meet the CIA director. 

BJP has a muscular PM candidate in the form of Narendra Modi. Why is he getting such popular groundswell?

The fact is there is a large-scale discontent against the Congress and the UPA. Those sections that had lionized Manmohan Singh and the economic reforms he embarked upon in 1991, those very sections have turned against him. Today, they are all Modi acolytes, Modi supporters. So the strongest support for Narendra Modi comes from the big business and the corporate sector. This is his greatest strength if you put it in one way. 

So why has the corporate sector dumped Manmohan Singh?

The neo-liberal policies have themselves created a crisis in the economy and the country. This is now being blamed on the PM and the UPA government, which has been very faithfully implementing these policies. In order to get out of this crisis, the big business and corporate sector want more reforms, that means more concessions, more opening up of the economy to them, and foreign capital. They feel Modi will deliver on this. This is in essence the Gujarat model: unrestrained, untrammeled catering to the corporate sector and big businesses. 

But Modi is getting huge crowds too.

As far as the other aspect, Modi has an appeal among the same urban middle classes that had thronged towards Congress in the last elections, in 2009, and among the sections of the educated youth belonging to the middle class. So this has generated certain hype about his popularity. But what is not being seen is, for example, in UP, every rally that Modi has held, the SP has held an equally bigger rally. You can find out the size of the rallies in Gorakhpur, Bareilly, Varanasi, Azamgarh etc, which the SP held, and the size of the Modi rallies. So it is not a question of determining the support through rallies. Rallies can be organized through lots of resources, which Modi and the BJP have at their disposal to organize and ensure maximum media coverage. 

But the surveys also show that there is great attraction for him.

In UP, for instance, where the BJP has been getting only 10 seats in the last two elections – it has not gone beyond that – it is possible that they could gain some more seats. Again, as I told you, in urban areas, the shift had taken place even before Modi was projected as the PM candidate. So you cannot get the total picture. Even in a state like UP, you will see that there are parties like BSP, SP, which are well entrenched, and voting in UP will take place not necessarily on the lines that Modi projects. 

Readers, the third and final part of this interview will be published tomorrow

Click here to read the  first part of the interview 

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