Rarely does one party support another in an electoral contest when they are to each other what chalk is to cheese. Yet, this is precisely what the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, or CPI(ML), has done, asking its cadre to work openly for Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi, where he is locked in an epic battle with Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
In an interview, CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya spoke on the party’s decision to support Kejriwal, the presence of a CPI(M) candidate in the battle for Varanasi, and admits that the Left movement is passing through a challenging phase of transition following what he called the decline of the CPI(M)-led model.
Why did the CPI(ML) take the decision to support Kejriwal? What does the battle for Varanasi signify to you?
Our decision to support Arvind Kejriwal in Varanasi is determined by the specific political context of the battle for Varanasi in 2014. The BJP’s bid for power in the current elections has taken the shape of a thoroughly Modi-centric campaign.
And Modi has chosen Varanasi to stake his claim for national electoral legitimacy and leadership. So it is important to oppose Modi’s Varanasi expedition and expose and challenge his variety of corporate-driven communal politics. Modi’s choice of Varanasi is also heavily loaded with political symbolism. It is a city which epitomises India’s multicultural, pluralistic legacy in a most poignant, evocative way. The Sangh brigade is out to distort this legacy and give it a communal twist. During the Sangh’s Ayodhya expedition, we often used to hear the slogan Ayodhya toh jhanki hai, Kashi-Mathura baki hai (Ayodhya is only the preview for Kashi and Mathura).
During Modi’s nomination procession we heard another ominous cry: UP Gujarat banega, Kashi shuruat karega (Gujarat will be replicated in UP and it will all start from Kashi). Coming in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar carnage, such slogans have an unmistakably horrific resonance.
All things considered, it is really important for all who stand for democracy and people’s movements to put up a bold fight against Modi’s communal and autocratic campaign in Varanasi. When Kejriwal announced his plan to contest from here, we decided to support him from the point of view of defending democracy and our pluralist legacy.
Had Kejriwal not jumped into the electoral fray in Varanasi, would the CPI(ML) have fielded a candidate from there?
Varanasi was not on our list, as we are concentrating our forces in several other seats in the region including Chandauli, Robertsganj and Mirzapur. But had Kejriwal not chosen to contest we might well have considered fielding our own candidate or supporting some other candidate against Modi.
The CPI(M) has also fielded a candidate from Varanasi. Do you wish the CPI(M) withdraws its candidate?
I respect the CPI(M)’s decision to contest. If AAP would like to secure the CPI(M)’s support, it is for the AAP leadership to reach out to the CPI(M) leadership, but I guess it’s a bit too late now. This is AAP’s debut Lok Sabha election and they decided to expand their presence by fielding as many candidates as possible. It did not really reflect a serious approach to building a party or a movement, and (after) elections (are) over, I’m sure AAP will also have enough inputs for introspection.
Why is it that a party like AAP catches the popular imagination in a way the Left hasn’t been able to?
It is true AAP has won spectacular electoral success in its very first attempt in Delhi and that has helped catch the popular imagination elsewhere. In various phases in the past and even now, various sections of the Left have also caught the imagination of the people in terrains that are much more complex and difficult than the metropolitan milieu of Delhi. The question of catching the imagination and arousing the hopes and aspirations of the people must be viewed in the larger context of serving their interests and securing and expanding the rights of the people. AAP’s journey has just begun, its ability to serve the interests of the people and, more importantly, its ability and willingness to take on the well-entrenched structures and patterns of institutionalized oppression and injustice is yet to be tested.
To be sure, the Left movement in the country is passing through a challenging phase of transition and reorientation following the decline of the CPI(M)-led model, whether in West Bengal or in national politics. The CPI(ML) and various mass organizations associated with it are playing an important role in advancing the democratic movement and upholding the revolutionary banner in a whole range of conditions and contexts.
The rise of AAP at this juncture is surely an interesting development with lots of possibilities. As the battle against corporate plunder and corporate subversion of democracy intensifies, the revolutionary Left and AAP will hopefully assess their respective positions and explore possibilities of meaningful cooperation.
How does the Left handle the culture of consumerism, in which there are people whom it looks upon as its natural social base?
The social base of the Left movement still predominantly comprises the rural poor and the unorganized sector of the working people who are not really considered eligible consumers by the globalizing Indian economy. Their consumption demands are driven by basic needs and surely not by luxury and greed.
Far from promoting the mythical prosperity of an ever-expanding middle class, capitalism today is seen to be polarising the society into a tiny top of the super-rich with their extravagant and elitist lifestyles and an overwhelming majority of working people subjected to the pincer attacks of the state and the market leading to acute under-consumption and forced austerity.
The extreme inequality and massive environmental degradation that stare us in the face will definitely catalyse a major social, political and cultural churning. Rather than worrying about the pitfalls of consumerism, we would like to get the most out of this churning.