|Interview with Prakash Karat, CPI(M) general secretary.|
Prakash Karat: "A political situation will emerge, which will shape a third alternative."
PRAKASH KARAT, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), points out that the Punjab and Uttarakhand election results are warning signals for the secular forces in general and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in particular. In his view "the political situation is marked by growing aggressive Hindutva" and the time has come for the Congress to decide whether it will frontally take on the BJP or not. Karat avers that the Left has opposed effectively the neoliberal economic policies of the UPA government and that the challenges of governance in West Bengal and Kerala have not circumscribed its principled opposition to these policies. But, at the same time, he admits to the limitations of the Left parties in intervening effectively in electoral politics and stresses that there is a lot more to do in evolving a viable third alternative. Excerpts from the interview:
What is the assessment of the CPI(M) on the emerging national political situation after the BJP-NDA victories in the crucial Assembly polls in Punjab and Uttarakhand?
The political situation is marked by the growing aggressive platform of Hindutva by the BJP. In recent months we have seen how the BJP has been raising issues that can be termed as `minority baiting'. In the last few weeks, there have been a number of incidents of communal violence across the country, with the most serious eruption in Gorakhpur and neighbouring areas. For the Congress and the UPA government, which is going to complete three years in office in May, a time has come when they cannot fritter away the opportunities provided by their coming into government in 2004. If they are not able to deliver on the pro-people measures in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP), discontent will rise and the BJP and the communal forces will seek to cash in on it.
The Congress has to decide whether it will frontally take on the BJP or not. The impression after the U.P. events is that it considers Mulayam Singh Yadav to be the main threat and not the BJP. How are they going to fight the BJP when the Assembly elections are coming in Gujarat this year and a series of elections next year in Himachal Pradesh, Madhaya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and so on, where the BJP is a strong force. The Punjab and Uttarakhand results are not a turning point. But they serve as warning signals.
The CPI(M) and other Left parties are supporting the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre on the premise that it is required to keep the communal BJP out of power. But the experience of the last two and a half years has shown that the political practice and governance of the Congress and the UPA have been instrumental in helping the BJP and the NDA capture power in State after State. In such a context, there is a view that the very premise for the Left support to the UPA has become invalid. How do you react to this view?
It will not be correct to say that the BJP and the NDA are capturing power in State after State. Since the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP and its allies lost in Maharashtra. In States like West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Manipur, they have not succeeded. Where they have won, as in Bihar and Jharkhand, the disunity among the UPA partners made a major contribution. In the recent civic polls in Maharashtra, the disunity between the Congress and the NCP handed the BJP-Shiv Sena victory on a platter.
The CPI(M) and the Left have supported the UPA government on the premise that the pro-people measures in the CMP will be implemented. Unless the UPA government tackles the agrarian crisis and the problems of price rise and unemployment, it cannot hope to succeed. We pay primacy to the task of fighting the BJP and the communal forces and every step taken to defend secular values will be supported by us. However, we cannot support policies that are detrimental to the lives of working people.
In its first reaction to the Assembly election results, the CPI(M) stated that the defeat of the Congress and the UPA was because of their neoliberal policies. Interestingly, however, in both Punjab and Uttarkhand the electoral benefit of the people's antipathy towards neoliberal policies has gone to a combination which itself was advancing neoliberal policies while in power. In this background, there is a view that the CPI(M) assessment is far from correct. What are your comments?
In the last one and a half decades, experience has shown that people keep throwing out governments that pursue neoliberal policies. But they do not have a real choice. They bring into government another party that pursues similar policies. This does not invalidate the point that people are removing governments that they perceive as following policies in favour of the big builders, the big contractors and the rich. Only if they have a viable choice can they opt for it. Otherwise they resort to negative voting.
The CPI(M)'s consistent position since the last party congress has been that it will try to evolve a programme-based alternative to the Congress and the BJP. What are the possibilities of such an alternative now?
We have to strive for a third alternative. At present that does not exist. So we are for joint action and a common platform on agreed issues with other political parties. This applies to both parties outside the UPA and within it. On people's issues and other policies, we can have joint action with parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Telugu Desam, the Asom Gana Parishad, etc. But to have a common programme, there should be a common understanding and working together for it. Only then can a third alternative emerge. A political situation will emerge, which will shape such an alternative.
The performance of the Left parties has been below par in these Assembly elections. Even in a State like Punjab, where Left forces were once a significant player, the results have been very poor for the Left parties. What, in your assessment, are the reasons for this?
As far as the CPI(M) is concerned, we have had no representation in the Punjab Assembly since 1992. That is, in the previous three Assembly polls. This time around also, we were not expecting to win a seat. But we had wanted to improve our voting strength. That has not happened. Some years ago, there was a split in the Punjab unit of the party. We are now recovering from that. Our basic position is that we should have an independent CPI(M) and Left identity in Punjab. Only this will help rebuild the party and the Left politically and organisationally.
There is also a view that the Left parties have not been able to campaign effectively against the neoliberal policies of the UPA, essentially because its own governments in West Bengal and Kerala are pursuing similar policies. It is argued that this, too, has contributed to the depletion of popular support to the Left parties. What are your comments on this?
I disagree. The Left parties have been able to campaign effectively against the economic policies of the UPA government. It is not circumscribed in any way by the policies pursued by the Left-led governments in West Bengal and Kerala. It is the Left's strong stand and opposition that has checked the UPA government adopting certain policies that are harmful to the interests of the working class and to national sovereignty, whether it be the Banking Regulations Amendment Act or the Pension Reform Bill. We will not allow FDI in retail trade that will kill employment of lakhs of people.
As far as popular support is concerned, in both West Bengal and Kerala the CPI(M) and the Left have increased their strength as seen in the Assembly elections in May 2006. Our independent role in supporting pro-people measures and opposing neoliberal policies which are harmful for the people and the country will continue.
What would be the political thrust of the CPI(M) in the electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh?
Our party is clear that the main aim should be to defeat the BJP and prevent a situation arising where there will be a BSP-BJP coalition government after the polls. Such a coalition has happened twice before. The BSP's opportunism in joining hands with the BJP is a betrayal of Dalit interests. In this context, our party will support candidates of secular parties who can defeat the BJP. We are contesting 14 seats only and we are appealing to other secular democratic parties not to put up candidates in our strong seats and we will extend support to the candidates who are strong enough to defeat the BJP.