New Delhi: The four-party Left Front has been at the forefront of the changing political dynamics in India for some years now. It supported the ruling United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, government for over four years but withdrew support over the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal which it opposes. The UPA has since won a trust vote in Parliament. A.B. Bardhan, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, or CPI, spoke to Mint about the Left’s political calculations, the current political situation and past blunders, which includes the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, the largest constituent of the Left Front, not allowing party veteran Jyoti Basu to become prime minister in 1996. Edited excerpts:
How do you see the future of the Third Front shaping up?
The Left parties have been thinking of a leftist and democratic alternative to both the Congress and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). We have not conceived of the Third Front as a mere coming together of certain parties for electoral purposes.
However, elections do take place and in our country, we have to form alliances and make adjustments. After the UPA government won the recent confidence motion, which we believe was done by all sorts of foul play and manipulations, the question of what new foundation can come into existence has come up. We are happy to note that during the entire movement against the nuclear deal and during the trust vote, a number of parties have rallied with the Left on various issues. Their aim is also to keep communal forces at bay. We think that a new situation has arisen and prospects of going towards a new alternative are quite bright.
Unforgiving: A.B. Bardhan, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, has ruled out an alliance with the Congress for the time being, saying the UPA’s policies are what made the Left withdraw support. Photograph: Madhu Kapparath / Mint
What were the Left’s calculations in aligning with Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati? She has flirted with the Congress, the BJP and the Samajwadi Party while the Left has lofty ideals.
Fronts based on ideology are unlikely to emerge in the current scenario. That is far off. The Left, of course, has a distinct ideology but we cannot expect other parties to toe our line. They have their own principles, which we may or may not agree with.
It so happens that Kumari Mayawati has today emerged as one of the leaders on the national plateau. What is more important is that she is a representative of the most exploited section of society. One cannot miss the fact that she is the leader of the Dalits. She has been striving for social harmony, which is one of our basic causes. Therefore, looking at the past will not be fair since she didn’t have a majority of her own and had to seek alliances. Things have changed. One must take this change into account.
Are you ruling out any alliance with the Congress after the next general election?
I do rule that out for the time being. You are forgetting that we withdrew support precisely on the issue of policies. When the country is going to elections in the background of these issues and our withdrawal of support, how can we then join hands with the Congress? I don’t think it is possible.
What is your election campaign going to focus on? Will it have an anti-BJP or an anti-Congress flavour?
When we talk of the Third Front, it is implied that it is an alternative to both the BJP and Congress. Then where is the question of targeting just one of them? But I must emphasize that one of our major campaigns will be against the communal forces. The damage being done to our secular democratic polity by the BJP is so obvious, particularly now when we can see what they are doing in Kashmir on an alleged land allotment revocation, though no land was allotted.
Do political parties have a stake in keeping issues like these burning rather than resolving them?
The BJP has compounded the mistakes of the Congress-People’s Democratic Party government led by Ghulam Nabi Azad in Jammu and Kashmir. There is no doubt it is trying to exploit the situation and use it as a communal weapon, which is very dangerous, especially in the context of Kashmir. The BJP, and perhaps other parties, want to use the issue for electoral purposes. They do not want to withdraw the agitation, which was one of the themes discussed at the all-party meet.
What are likely to be the hot political issues till the next elections?
Inflation, the agrarian crisis, fertilizer shortage and the government’s anti-people economic policy will be issues to look at. There has been no inclusive growth and economic disparities have widened.
Is the CPI looking at making inroads in the Hindi-speaking belt, where its presence is weak, perhaps because of the Left’s inability to deal with identity politics?
Every national party is trying to have an all-India presence. One weakness of the Left, particularly the Communist parties, is that they are weak in the Hindi-speaking areas. So we are trying to spread our presence by taking up people’s issues in rural areas. Why should we remain confined to West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura?
Is friendship with Mayawati also a part of this political calculation?
It is not a calculation. It is something that has come about and is a welcome development. Though right now we are together only for a common campaign and I don’t know how it will grow into an alliance in the coming years.
Will the government complete its full term or call for early elections?
That is something you should ask the government. One has to see the way they are bypassing and denigrating Parliament. Ever since we have had parliamentary democracy, there has been a monsoon session. But nobody knows what has happened to this monsoon session. One does not know when and if it will be called. All decisions are being passed through executive orders.
There have been several allegations against the Prime Minister, that of corporate meddling in the PMO, of horse-trading and so on. Has that tarnished the otherwise clean image of the Prime Minister?
Don’t you think so? They might have won the trust vote but they, especially the Prime Minister, have lost the trust of people. His personal integrity has taken a beating. It is he who wanted the survival of the government at all costs. If the Prime Minister does not realize this, I am sorry for it.
Though it is not your party issue, do you personally endorse the CPM’s decision to expel Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee?
It is a member of Parliament who becomes the speaker and he becomes an MP because he wins an election on some party’s ticket. So the link of Somnath Chatterjee with the CPM, to which he belonged, is well known. Also, he became a speaker because the Left had extended its support to the government. I think it is a natural process that when that support is withdrawn, Chatterjee also had to do a rethink. It was up to him to take a decision and though I respect him, I am sorry he did not take such a decision. That did not leave any choice for his party....
How far have you come with the issue of unification of the Communist parties?
While Left and Communist unity does exist and is quite strong, the merger of the two communist parties, at the moment, is not on the agenda. Though I am one of those who believes that day should come when the two parties are one but it is not on the agenda.
Do you think Karat’s lack of experience in grass-roots politics is affecting the calculations of the Left? Have there been miscalculations as regards the 22 July vote?
You cannot expect me to give an opinion on the general secretary of a brother party. But I don’t think there were any political miscalculations. The decisions taken were not Karat’s decisions alone. Not a single decision was taken without the entire Left agreeing.
Do you personally think that Jyoti Basu (former West Bengal chief minister) not being allowed by his party, the CPM, to become prime minister in 1996 was, as he terms it, a “historical blunder”?
I do think so. Our party, and I personally, were among those who repeatedly went and pleaded with the CPM leadership at that time. Comrade Basu has termed it as a historical blunder. I, too, think so.
Do you think the nature of politics today would have been different if Basu had become PM then?
Of course. A Communist prime minister at that time would have had both a national and international impact.
Did that pave the way for the BJP to come to power?
No, not that alone. But I am quite sure the BJP would have been pushed to the wall if he had become prime minister.
Any predictions for the next polls?
My prediction is that the Congress will lose, the BJP will also lose and a new formation will come to power.