Election 2014: In conversation with Prakash Karat, Final part

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

Post the Muzaffarnagar communal riots, it is a highly charged polity…

In certain parts of Western UP, there has been a certain impact of the communal polarization after Muzaffarnagar. But that is not the situation in the rest of UP. 

BJP is trying to turn Parliament elections into a Presidential contest. Do you have a candidate in place in case of your alliance winning a majority?

We are against such a concept. The parties that are coming together strongly believe that in a Parliamentary system, the question of PM candidate will be decided in the post election period, when the situation so arises. This is what we have always done, in 1989 with the formation of the VP Singh government, and in 1996 with the formation of the United Front government. The question of who should be the leader was decided after mutual consultations, after the elections among the various constituent parties and their leaders. 

This particular arrangement you following has two components – a pre-poll and a post-poll one…

The difference between now, and say 1996, when the United Front was cobbled together after elections with the single aim of preventing the BJP from forming the government, is that we don’t have a front or a pre-election alliance. We have only arrived at some broad understanding about working together before the elections. Essentially, this is to pave the way for a post-poll alliance. If you have seen the history of these parties, after the collapse or the dismantling of the United Front in 1998, we were all scattered and went different ways. It is for the first time that a bulk of these parties has come together, with the exception of the TDP. 

There are some members of the so-called broader Left who have been insisting that Congress should also be a part of this anti-communal front. They are wary of the AAP, thinking it is being helped by the BJP itself. Do you subscribe to this idea?

No, this is not an anti-communal front alone. It is an anti-Congress and anti-BJP combination. There is a combination in Bihar like that of the RJD, the Congress and the LJP. Congress is part of such a combination. We are going into this election opposing the policies of the Congress, pursued under the UPA government, I want to make that very clear. 

Do you think the policies that allowed you to support UPA-I have become different now?

That is not so clear-cut. Even under UPA-I, we fought against many of their policies. That was the whole struggle then. If they wanted to sell shares of BHEL, we had to fight against it. They wanted to push for privatization in certain sectors; they wanted to open up the banking sector and insurance to more foreign capital. All that we had to fight. We were in a better position to block some of those policies, resist them. But they have speeded that up after UPA-II. Today, when we go into election, we can’t forget that people want a change in the policies that have caused price rise, caused farmers distress, unemployment. So when you say Congress is a part of this, then you are accepting that the old regime should continue. The Congress is going to be rejected by the people. The mandate will be against the UPA government’s policies. So there is no question of us going with the Congress and this alliance. 

You may have taken a principled stance against the civilian nuclear deal with United States but the Congress seemed to have benefitted from the rupture that took place between you and their party in 2008. Do you think you misread the situation there?

I do not think they benefitted from that. In UPA-I, they benefitted from the implementation of the NREGA Act, from the Forest Rights Act, the waiver of loans to the farmers by banks, the RTI and so on. These were all the legislations passed under the UPA-I. So in one sense, we helped them by pushing for these measures to be implemented. The civilian nuclear deal, they only took it seriously when the Congress said we would be providing cheap electricity to all. I do not think this was any issue in the elections. Subsequent developments show that this was a dud deal, India had nothing much to gain from it. Au contraire, we had to give many other concessions to the Americans. We were hurt not because of the nuclear deal break up with the UPA, we were hurt in the elections because of the situation in West Bengal where we lost the Parliament elections for the first time from Trinamool Congress; the electoral setback in 2009 had nothing to do with nuclear deal. It was not an issue for the people in the elections. 

But what were the reasons for the failure of the Left parties in the 2009 elections?

The failure was mainly in West Bengal, because the CPM and the Left get the bulk of their seats from this state. More than 60 percent of the seats we win in any elections in the Lok Sabha come from West Bengal. Our loss there pulled us down. Kerala never used to give us so many seats, except in the 2004 elections where we got an unprecedented 18 out of 20. The problem, as we analyzed in detail, was that the Left government had been running there for 34 years. We had undertaken plenty of work in that period – land reforms, Panchayati Raj, decentralization, ensuring that the working people get benefits, etc. But when a party is in power for such long years, the negative factors do pile up. That is what determined the election outcome, not the nuclear deal. The Trinamool Congress succeeded in eroding some of our base in the long period of our being in government. There are other reasons too, which we have explained in the review of the elections. 

You think you are in a better position to fight the aggressive populism and politics of Mamata Banerjee?

Today, if elections are held in WB in a fair and peaceful way, we will likely improve our tally compared to 2009. The two-and-a-half years of Mamata Banerjee’s rule have demonstrated clearly to the people that this was not the change, the paribortan, that they had hoped for. We held a rally on the February 9, which turned out to be the biggest rally the Left has held in the Brigade Maidan ever, according to our estimates. The question is whether all these people will vote the Left in the Lok Sabha polls. Our experience subsequent to the Trinamool Congress coming to power has been that elections are always rigged and violence perpetrated on the Left supporters. Our apprehension is that they will try to prevent them from voting. This has to be tackled. We have lost 147 people since the last Assembly elections. In areas of traditional Left support, the TMC has instituted a regime of terror where people are threatened, intimidated, forced to leave their homes if they continue to support CPM. Before elections, it was not the question of rigging in the polling booth – they won’t be able to do it as easily as they did in the Panchayat elections – it was the question whether the voters will be able to come to the polling booth and vote in many areas where they have decided to target us.  

What kind of social coalition of Mamata is unleashing violence on the Left cadre?

For one, it is encouraging the hoodlums and anti-social elements to take up the Trinamool flag and attack us. They wave the banner when they attack. Secondly, even though the administration and the police intervene when the attacks take place, the charges are lodged against our people. There are thousands of cases against the CPM and Left front activists and leaders. Recently, two women were gang raped in Howrah district; they were punished as that area had voted for CPM in the local body elections. Trinamool got very few votes and the police arrested our candidate in that election. If such terrorism is allowed to continue, how will people exercise their choices? 

Under no circumstances will you take the support of Congress? In a situation where you are short on numbers to form the government…

I will repeat that we cannot have an alliance with the Congress. 

You are talking about the pre-poll alliance?

We are not having an alliance with them. Support? First, let us fight the elections and see. The whole question of having an alternative front will arise only if we succeed in the elections. Yes, a situation may arise where the Congress, having been defeated badly in the election, will have to consider what role it has to play in order to ensure that there is a secular government in keeping the BJP out. That question may come at that time. That we have to see. 

For the Left as well, it is a do-or-die scenario, in the sense that if you don’t perform you become irrelevant...

No, for us, elections are only one part of the struggle – in fact, it is not really the main part. Of course, politically it will be important for the Left to be successful in this election because we have to recover the ground we lost. Without strengthening the Left, an alternative will not emerge so easily. Increased strength of the Left is a guarantee for such an alternative. 

You were not impressed by the AAP alternative?

No, it is just an alternative in Delhi. We have to see. I doubt very much that it can emerge as a national level alternative in this election. I think their success or their electoral impact will be confined to Delhi. 

What do you think about the FIR that AAP filed against Reliance on the issue of gas pricing in the K-G basin?

Well this is an issue that we have been raising for more than a decade now. I remember Dipankar Mukherjee, Rajya Sabha MP and chairman of the Standing Committee, raised this matter comprehensively and again and again. Why are you consistently going on gold-plating and increasing the price of natural gas, which is being extracted by Reliance in the K-G basin? I am talking about the first time when the price was increased from $2 to $4. This is an issue on which the UPA government has consistently rigged the price in favour of Reliance – it’s a well-known fact. There is a petition in the Supreme Court filed by Gurdas Gupta and others regarding this. So if any inquiry is held, an independent inquiry, the truth will come out. But I am not sure what exactly this FIR is going to lead to. Because all this material is there, the CAG reports are there, so the question is proper investigation and inquiry into the whole pricing of natural gas must be done. I am not sure whether the FIR filed by the Delhi government can solve it, but the issue is very much vital. 

Lastly, there are those who claim that after the court verdict on Godhra, which has gone in favour of Modi, he should be allowed to breathe easy. What is your opinion?

No, the matter is very clear as far as we are concerned. The Special Investigation Team’s investigation was flawed. Subsequently, it went to court. The trial court has dismissed the petition of Zakia Jafri. But an appeal will be filed that will go through the judicial process. But the wider question is very much there, which is the involvement and the complicity of the Modi government in what happened in the 2002 riots. So that is a political question which will remain and which will be raised and it will continue to come up in various relevant contexts. We have to see how this can be taken up.  

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