PM Modi’s speeches sound surreal to people: Sitaram Yechury

During the campaign, Modi and BJP have been trying to deflect from livelihood issues, but they have been unable to do so, says CPI(M) general secretary; voters, Mr. Yechury says, are talking of price rise and day-to-day problems, and 90% of the people are today borrowing just to survive

Updated - May 17, 2024 06:57 am IST

Published - May 17, 2024 12:43 am IST - NEW DELHI

Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPIM). File

Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPIM). File | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury has been at the forefront of coalition efforts since the mid-1990s. After four phases of polling, Mr. Yechury shares his assessment of the ongoing Lok Sabha election with The Hindu.

Edited excerpts.

After four phases of voting, Opposition parties seem upbeat and claim that the elections have turned in their favour. What’s the basis of such a claim?

The basis of such a claim is that there has not been a very big surge in the turnout for the BJP, which has been a very big factor in the last two elections. This was the first indicator. Secondly, during the course of the campaign, whatever issues [were] raised by [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi and the BJP in order to deflect away from day-to-day problems had not really succeeded. All these things — like snatching your property and giving it off to Muslims, snatching your reservation and giving it off to Muslims, mangalsutra — have reached a level of being surreal to the people. They [people] are talking of price rise, livelihood issue, day-to-day problems. Can you imagine that 90% of the people today are borrowing to survive? Household savings have dipped to a historic low and household debt has gone up to a historic high; these are real problems of existence. But these are not being addressed by the Prime Minister and that disconnect is helping the Opposition. But the connect with the INDIA bloc parties has deepened because of the content of the campaign.

Which, according to the Opposition, are the turnaround States?

The BJP’s tally would fall in many States. If you begin from the south, Karnataka is one State where they had done almost everything [25 out of 28 seats in 2019]. That would come down. Maharashtra is another State where they [will] suffer some loss. Even in Gujarat, they will suffer some loss and Rajasthan, definitely they will suffer losses. In Haryana, because of the Congress and AAP [Aam Admi Party] coming together, the Opposition would gain. In Uttar Pradesh too, there would be losses, and in Bihar definitely they are not going to get as many as they got last time [NDA got 39 out of 40 in 2019]. In Northeast too, they will come down; in Bengal, the BJP had peaked last time, they can’t gain more this time.

Some are drawing similarities between 2004 and 2024. In 2004, the Left parties had played a crucial role with 61 seats but now the Left has considerably weakened, even in West Bengal.

It can’t be the same as 2004. But the similarity lies in the fact that in 2004, the entire battle was on the slogans of Shining India, feel-good factor and who is your alternative to [Prime Minister Atal Bihari] Vajpayee; and today, [their question is] who is the alternative to Mr. Modi. And [their claim is] that we are becoming a Vishwaguru, economy, etc, all the boasts which had nothing really to fall back upon. The mismatch between all the claims, and what is the actual result. That was an important factor in 2004 and a similar factor in 2024.

But elections have become presidential and people on the ground do ask who is the Opposition face against Mr. Modi. So, there is a problem.

This is something which is virtually perennial in Indian politics. You had the same problem in 2004. But you had a Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, who steered the country for one whole decade. We have to get back the narrative that you are electing your MP first and the majority of the MPs will then elect a leader. I don’t think, who is the alternative to Mr. Modi is not as important as what are the alternative policies. In Hindi, I often say that the country doesn’t need neta (leader) but niti (policies).

What, according to you, are the biggest issues in these elections?

According to me, the biggest issues are the people’s day-to-day living conditions and their concerns. That is being sidestepped by the BJP and an effort is being made to sharpen communal polarisation in the hope that the consolidation of the Hindutva communal vote will see them through. Polarisation will work but its impact cannot completely eliminate the livelihood concerns.

The biggest party in the INDIA bloc, the Congress, has had a rather disappointing track record in direct contests with the BJP. Do you think regional parties in the INDIA bloc can meet that challenge?

Yes, regional parties are meeting that challenge. You take the case of Bihar, it is the regional party who is doing that job. In Maharashtra, it is essentially the Maharashtra-based parties that are taking on the BJP. In Karnataka or Telangana, Congress is seen as Karnataka Congress or Telangana Congress. There the Congress is playing that sort of a role, like the regional parties play in some other States. In most of the places, this combination of the regional parties, the Congress, and the Left have worked out well.

Opposition has been saying that Constitution, democracy and reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs are all under threat. What makes the Opposition say so?

Our Constitution says we are a secular democratic republic. That’s the character. Have you ever seen under a secular democratic republic, the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Government of India, completely involved in the inauguration of a temple? The Constitution gives the fundamental right to every individual about the choice of their faith and we respect and protect that right. But the State cannot propagate or prefer one religion over the others. That is exactly what is happening and a complete undermining of secular principles. Laws in BJP-ruled States on love jihad, cow protection or Uniform Civil Code is entirely targeted at attacking the foundations of secularism. Take democracy, how many years people are in jail without a charge sheet being framed. What is happening to your civil liberties and democratic rights if all dissent is to be treated as anti-national?

When it comes to reservation, they may not have touched it directly but by privatising public sector enterprises, education, the impact of the reservation has been made redundant.

Then, there is the trend of Opposition leaders being jailed, income-tax notices being sent to rivals to stop from putting up a strong fight in elections. All this is nothing but undermining of the Constitution.

In Kerala, one witnessed very sharp exchanges between Rahul Gandhi and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, with Mr. Gandhi questioning why the Enforcement Directorate never targeted Mr Vijayan.

It’s very unfortunate that sort of thing has happened. It was taken up but the rival United Democratic Front is personally attacking the Chief Minister. It is perfectly understandable if you are contesting on issues and policies. Even for the worst of our political opponents, we won’t say why so-and-so is not being arrested. 

In West Bengal though, there is a lot of bitterness between Trinamool and the Left-Congress combine. Will that not help the BJP?

The bitterness in Bengal stems from the politics behind it. What we have seen in Bengal, the way the local body elections and how democracy is being butchered, the degree of violence and corruption involved there. The Left’s fight is against that. The alternative of not taking is to join the Trinamool. The moment the Left, Congress and Trinamool come together, the BJP would gain more because the entire anti-incumbency would be channelled to the BJP. So, the BJP gains more if INDIA bloc comes together.

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