SEEMA MUSTAFA | 31 DECEMBER, 2017
The Citizen interviews CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat
NEW DELHI: The media is making much of ‘differences’ in sections of the CPI(M) about an understanding, or otherwise with the Congress party. Former general secretary Prakash Karat has been held responsible by sections of the media and even progressive intellectuals, for what they claim is a “disastrous” electoral line in a polarised environment, where to be against the Congress party is oft misconstrued as being pro-BJP. In the midst of this, The Citizen caught up with PRAKASH KARAT for an interview on his position viz a viz electoral politics and the Congress party.
Excerpts from a candid interview where Karat, who does not mince words, was forthright and clear on his and the CPI(M)s position endorsed at the 2015 Party Congress.
-On the present political situation in the country, and how a truncated Left plans to handle it
It is three and a half years since the Modi government came to power, and what is unfolding is a right wing offensive in pursuit of neo liberal policies, and a push for the Hindutva agenda which is the RSS agenda. It is this combination because of which we are seeing a full fledged authoritarian, communal regime in place with all its consequences.
As far as the Left is concerned, and how the CPI(M) sees it, is how we can organise all sections of the people to fight against Modi government’s economic policies, communal agenda, and its attacks on democracy.
Our task is to unite the widest united struggles and movements of different sections of the people, It is in this way that we can meet this offensive and eventually roll it back. Unless we do that we will not be able to wage a successful electoral battle.
People tend to only look at the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, but in order to fight and defeat the BJP you need to mobilise the people. And people can be mobilised from their own experience, what is happening to their livelihood, their incomes, their economic rights. You mobilise from that and link it to the threat from communalism.
-Why, and on how this is being done
Without that you cannot ensure a mass mobilisation. And although the Left is not a strong force all over the country, we have been active in intervening in peoples issues and developing mass struggles.
An example is the farmers struggles of the past months, particularly the second half of 2017 starting with the big struggle of Maharashtra, the united struggle of all sections of farmers in which Left’s Kisan Sabha played a leading role. There was the big struggle in Rajasthan of farmers in six districts. Then Mansaur, Madhya Pradesh.
These are all BJP ruled states, it is the agrarian discontent and farmers distress that should be the link for our fight against the BJP’s policies. Even in Gujarat it was the agrarian discontent that manifested itself in the vote against the BJP in Saurashtra.
-On the Link and the role of the Left
This is the link, and the Left’s role is to build the widest united struggles in different spheres. This should be combined with our fight against communal forces, the attacks on minorities, freedom of expression,on the threats to universities, efforts to impose Hindutva values, authoritarian onslaughts...all these major struggles should be brought together.
The Left’s role is to do this-- as we are different from other secular opposition parties that focus only on electoral tactics. This work needs to be done, this is the priority of the Left in India today.
-On why the Left cannot do both, an electoral alliance along with mass struggles at this stage
It is a recognition of the fact that the BJP has politically advanced, it has politically consolidated its position, that means it has a substantial section of people with it. How do you win over these people? You cant get them only through elections, you see that discontent is brewing, seen the impact of the agrarian crisis on farmers, impact of demonetisation on workers, informal sector, small enterprises, joblessness has grown, rural unemployment has been created….These are the issues on which the people have to be mobilised. It on on this we can free them from the influence of the BJP and RSS. Without doing that you cannot have successful electoral tactics.
-On the elections ahead
Before the Lok Sabha polls there are a series of Assembly elections in 2018.
The first election is going to be in Tripura were for the first time there will be a direct fight between the CPI(M) and Left on the one side, and the BJP. So far wherever the Left has been strong traditionally it has always been fighting the Congress. Now the BJP has taken over the Congress space in Tripura and emerged as the main opposition.
BJP and RSS are determined to dislodge us from power. We will show through this election that the Left is the most consistent and firm fighter against the BJP. We will defeat the BJP. That is one aspect.
The other is that in those states where we are not strong, our approach is how to maximise the polling of the anti -BJP votes.
Electoral tactics dont have to have necessarily formal electoral alliances. Our Party’s position is we cannot have an alliance with the Congress party but where the Congress is the main force against the BJP in states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, our effort will be to fight a limited number of seats, by the Left as a whole. For the state we will carry out a campaign to defeat the BJP to create a climate among the people that this has to be done, and that will help maximise the polling of anti-BJP votes.
In Karnataka, the only state in the south where the BJP has the capacity to make a bid for power, we will be very careful not to divide votes unncessarily and will ensure our candidates are only put up with other Left forces only in a limited number of seats.
The BJP will be the main focus of attack, without having an alliance with the Congress we can work out tactics to maximise the anti-BJP votes This has been the practice earlier also. It will depend on state to state, each situation is specific to the state. But if the BJP is in alliance with a regional party in a state, we will work with the other regional secular parties for its defeat. There can be even an electoral understanding in this case with the regional party, if necessary. I cannot say for certain right now.
And will call on the people to defeat the BJP.
-On policy of no alliance with the Congress
We have a political line which we have adopted where BJP and RSS is the main force to be fought and defeated.
We don’t have a policy of equi- distance. Although the Congress and BJP have the same class character we consider the BJP that is an extension of the RSS, to be more dangerous politically and they are in power.
So we don’t say both have to be fought equally, they are not equal dangers.
BJP is the main enemy and the main threat, and we would like to see the widest unity of all the secular and democratic forces. But the Congress party is a party which has the same class character of the BJP and has initiated all the economic policies that the Modi government is now pursuing.
You see the last three and a half years, except for demonetisation which is Modi’s own brainwave or innovation, all other policies of the BJP are being carried forward from the Manmohan Singh government. GST, Aadhar, because the Congress did not have a majority and was in a coalition it could not push through many proposals. The BJP is in a better position.
According to us fighting the BJP means fighting both it’s economic policies and the communal agenda of the BJP government. The fight is a combined fight.
It will not serve the purpose if we have an alliance with the Congress as this means that our fight against neo-liberal policies will not have credibility.
-On ideology and practical politics
In 2015 our Party Congress collectively arrived at a position, taking into account the new political situation with the BJP in power. And to build an effective fight against a BJP aggressively pushing the RSS agenda.
The simple answer is an aggregation of all political parties together. We have tried to do it in the past. Many intellectuals feel that CPI(M) and Congress, all can come together. In practical politics this does not happen. This is why we were sceptical about the mahagathbandhan. We know also now that the regional parties today are not consistently against communalism. That is the hard reality.
So without having a policy platform which provides a clear cut alternative to the BJP you will not be able to have a credible opposition. Everyone is not agreed with us, but even then we are prepared to cooperate if they are willing to fight the BJP. This is practical politics, we have learnt these tactics through our long experience with these parties.
It is no longer simple. For example In Uttar Pradesh today, can you really talk about unity. Those who talk of unity today let them work on the unity of the Samajwadi party and the BSP. And without the two coming together can there be an effective fight against the BJP?
-on the pivotal role of the Left in forging such alliances today
They do not understand that that pivotal role does not exist for the Left today. For instance, Trinamool Congress is the second largest component of the possible secular opposition combination at the national level, after the Congress party. The Left cannot have any understanding with Trinamool Congress responsible for attacking the Left, weakening it, trying to suppress it, and helping the BJP .How can we have an understanding with the Trinamool Congress as part of any broader anti BJP alliance?
We have kept practical politics in mind when we say we cant have a mahagathbandhan , after Bihar anyways no one is talking about this now.
-on the immediate future with a weakened Left
Our Party Congress is meeting again in 2018 with all this in mind. We will look at our experience, what we need to do to be even more effective. Our political line is wide, our electoral strategy is derived from that. We don't think as a Communist party that the fight is only in the electoral sphere, but all spheres---social, cultural--where the Hindutva forces are most active. If we abandon all this and stick to just the electoral line, half the political battle will be lost.
-On the new Congress leadership
Who are we to make a judgement. (and then reluctantly in response to specific questions) Have yet to see any change in neo-liberal policies. On communalism too they need to stiffen their back.