Reiterating its position that an alternative ‘non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party’ front must be based on ‘alternative policies’, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has said it is working towards building such a common platform. But party general secretary, Prakash Karat, added that this may well take shape after the elections.
In an exclusive conversation with The Hindu on Thursday, Mr. Karat said the Congress’ image was at a “low level” because of continued deprivation caused by “neo-liberal policies”. The BJP’s projection of Narendra Modi ‘signaled hardcore Hindutva would dominate the agenda’. Both the national alliances had ‘shrunk’.
In such a situation, he argued, there was space for an ‘effective alternative’. “We are trying to build such a platform based on common policies. But it is difficult because of the heterogeneity of the non-Congress, non-BJP parties.” Mr Karat said it is possible that such a front will take a firm shape only after the polls. “This happened in 1989, and 1996. Parties are currently focused on maximizing their gains from the states, and may make their position clear only post polls.”
Heading to 2014
Mr Karat said there was ‘excessive focus’ on Mr Modi since he was the candidate of the ‘corporate sector’ and this was reflected in the ‘corporate media’. However, he added, “Modi has galvanised and consolidated the support base of the BJP, especially in states and regions which have been a BJP stronghold.” This however presented BJP with a ‘classical dilemma’. “He consolidates, but he also restricts the appeal because without having a wider alliance, prospects for the party dim.”
Could a situation like 2004 emerge, when the Left backed the Congress based on recognition of the BJP’s ‘communal’ politics as the foremost challenge? Congress politicians have flagged this possibility in private conversations, but Mr Karat ruled it out, and said that after nine years of UPA rule, ‘it was imperative to get this government out of power’. “The Left will do everything to isolate and stop the BJP but this will not translate into support for the Congress. A non- Congress secular alternative is the only option.”
Left’s decline and future
When asked why the Left was not able to capitalise on the disillusionment with the Mamata Banerjee-led government, Mr Karat said what was happening in West Bengal was a ‘savage attack on democratic system and values’. The ongoing Panchayat elections, he argued, had witnessed ‘widespread rigging, and state-sponsored attack on democracy’.
But was this not the exact criticism leveled at the Left Front during its three-decade rule? Mr Karat disagreed and gave the example of the last Panchayat elections as proof. “This is a misplaced notion. We were in power in 2008, but Trinamool still won a majority of Gram Panchayats and two district-level elections.”
But the CPM general secretary admitted that the Left still had to address weaknesses. He claimed that the party had taken up issues of deprived sections – be it farmers in Rajasthan, tribals affected by displacement, or by trying to bringing unorganized workers into the organised workforce. “But this is far short of what is required. We have not made sufficient head-way among the youth. In north India, we have still not been able to tackle the continued appeal of caste-based mobilization.”
Sen and Bhagwati
Responding to a question about the recent debates between Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati on whether to prioritise growth or also focus on issues of education and health, Mr Karat said that Mr Bhagwati’s critique was from a ‘consistently right-wing position’. “His outright opposition to the Food Security Bill is totally wrong in a country with such high levels of malnutrition and hunger. To call the FSB a waste of resources is typical of the market mindset.” Mr Sen, he felt, had a better appreciation of India’s realities.