Mamata may end up being Team B of the BJP: Sitaram Yechury

The veteran leader on fellow politicians and what he thinks the electorate will be looking for this year

Yechury says India isn’t yet prepared to accept Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as the country’s leader. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Yechury says India isn’t yet prepared to accept Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as the country’s leader. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Sitaram Yechury , a senior leader and politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, says India isn’t yet prepared to accept Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as the country’s leader. Yechury, who has been the voice of the Indian Left for the past decade, says Modi’s philosophy is contrary to the secular and democratic ethos of India.

A Stephanian who did his masters in economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Yechury, 61, spoke in an interview about Modi, the defining issues of the 2014 general election and the role of Left parties in providing a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative. Edited excerpts:

What do you think will be the defining issue in this election?

The main defining issue in this election will be the fact that people are looking for relief. They want a better livelihood for themselves, a better livelihood and opportunities for their children. As all of us know, we are going through a demographic dividend—a dividend which is going to increase in the coming years. So all the youngsters are looking for better opportunities. The defining issue will be which party or formation is able to provide relief from the present-day imposition of the burden of price rise, economic slowdown and unemployment.

Why is it that nobody, including the Left parties, is discussing jobs?

No, on the contrary we are saying we will have to deliver on new jobs.

Today India does not have any lack of resources. On one hand we have this loot of resources in mega corruption scams. There, people see little difference between the Congress and the BJP. As far as the policies are concerned, both the Congress and the BJP are talking about providing greater incentives for greater investment so that this could lead to greater employment, growth, etc.

But there is a great flaw in this—which is the Indian reality. No investment can provide employment or growth unless what is produced by the investment is sold. People have to have the purchasing power to buy, which is declining by the day because of the price rise, etc. Instead of giving concessions in the form of foregoing taxes, which is about Rs.500,000 crore (Rs.5 trillion) annually, you collect the legitimate tax, invest it in public sector, build your infrastructure, build your agricultural infrastructure, build your rural roads, etc. That will create a huge amount of additional job opportunities. Once they get jobs, they will start spending and the demand grows. Therefore you have a more inclusive, sustainable growth trajectory.

In the future, do you see a role for the Left like the dominant one it enjoyed up to the 1990s?

Surely. The important agenda of these elections is the alternative set of policies. In the direction of such policies, I think, it is Left alone that has clarity. In the past also, whenever there was an alternative government, the Left had an important role to play. Today, the most important thing is stopping the country from being caught up in the morass of the communal violence. Safeguarding India’s secular fabric is very, very important.

Given the structural transformation of the economy—liberalization, decline in poverty, disruption of industrial bases like textiles, jute and so on—will the Left need to reinvent itself?

It’s not a question of reinventing. As far as the exploitation continues, we don’t have to reinvent. But the circumstances are different. The organized workforce in the country is less than 7% of the total workforce and 93%of the workers belong to the unorganized sector. Very rapidly, the permanent employment is becoming contractual job, temporary or casual job, etc. So the scope for organized working class movement, structurally, is being narrowed. So the Left has to work within these changed conditions. Organizing the unorganized has become very important... Organizationally, we are trying to cope with the situation.

Narendra Modi as Prime Minister: Do you think India is ready for this?

Firstly, I view that gentleman just as a prime ministerial aspirant. A country like India can never accept him. He is the prime ministerial aspirant of the BJP, which is the political wing of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). If a country like ours with such diversities—not only religious, but also in culture, customs, language, etc.—should remain as one country, it is possible only on the foundations of secularism and democracy. I don’t think people of this country will allow a compromise on these two pillars. I don’t think India, as we know today, can ever be ready for somebody like Modi, whose philosophy, outlook and work style—like what we have seen in Gujarat—are contrary to these ethos.

But then, how do you explain the Modi phenomenon? He seems to have managed to capture the imagination of the people.

I don’t think he has achieved it. He has been on campaign for almost a year now. So he is bound to be seen and heard by lot of people. The campaign was also backed by a tremendous amount of resources and a sort of campaign management, the dimensions (of which) Indian people have never seen in the past. It’s a different matter where the money has come from. For the last one year, he was the only candidate in the canvas, so to speak.

Look at the tracks of India. If you just take coastal India, you will have something like half of Lok Sabha (of 543 members). Where does the BJP stand in this entire track? If you take the so-called Hindi belt, it will be half or even less than half (in terms of Lok Sabha seats). The reality will be entirely different from what is projected. Unfortunately, like you have paid news, you have paid opinion polls.

The CPM was hesitant about going to pre-poll mobilization of so-called Third Front parties. What was the context in which this position had been reviewed?

This entire process—coming together of non-Congress, non-BJP forces—began at Left parties’ anti-communal convention in New Delhi (in October) where we put out an alternative policy outlook and appealed to all such parties to consider it. When it was officially declared that the Gujarat chief minister will be the BJP’s official prime ministerial candidate, given the background (of the 2002 riots) in Gujarat, we said there is an urgent need for all the secular forces to come together on a platform. Indian electoral history teaches us any front that formed the government was not formed pre-election. This time also, it will be post-election only.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee seems to have weakened your attempts to keep the non-BJP, non-Congress parties together by publicly supporting (Tamil Nadu chief minister J.) Jayalalithaa. At the same time she tried to dilute the Aam Aadmi Party effect in Delhi by joining hands with Anna Hazare. Do you think she is helping the BJP?

It is perfectly possible that she may end up being the Team B of the BJP. Remember she was the railway minister in (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee’s cabinet and she was in Manmohan Singh’s government also. They can do business either way. But far from weakening the Left, all her attempts, including the fiasco in the Ramlila Ground over the rally with Anna Hazare (that turned to be a flop with Hazare missing), has only strengthened the Left position that only a policy-based alternative can work and that can come only from the Left.

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