Interview National

‘Mass mobilisation vital for CPI(M) to remain relevant’

State-backed Hindutva agenda will affect growth, says Sitaram Yechury. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty  

What do you expect from the 21st Party Congress?

The basic issue before the CPI(M) and I think, therefore, before the Left and the progressive movement in the country is how to strengthen ourselves. This is important not only for the health of our party or for the united Left which we are trying to strengthen but there is a definite need for an effective Left intervention in the entire agenda that is unfolding under Prime Minister Modi.

In the name of development etc, the economic policies that are being followed and all his foreign visits — all the agreements — are indicative of one fact: That is India would be rendered into a country where its resources — both material and physical which is our cheap labour force — and the markets will be available in a much bigger way for the profit maximisation quest of international capital.

How equipped or prepared is the CPI(M) for this?

That is the crucial point. We have to strengthen ourselves organisationally to take up this challenge. That is why we have already decided — that is the proposal being put to the Party Congress by the Central Committee — that we will have an organisational plenum, preferably in 2015 itself, to correct and strengthen the organisation which is the bulwark for our advance. The process has begun; this Congress will be a milestone in that process.

The challenges are not only in the economic front; we have very big challenges on the political and social fronts. The entire state patronised pursuit of the Hindutva agenda, the campaigns that we have seen — ‘ghar wapsi’, ‘love jihad’ etc, what happened in the Science Congress and the efforts to rewrite the textbooks and Indian history. What is happening is a very serious issue because intellectually it is not only the fratricide between religious communities and attacks on minorities. That is, of course, very important and much more important in the larger context of the unity of our multi-religious, multi-linguistic country. But what is happening is an intellectual attack that is coming up where theology is replacing philosophy and mythology is replacing history. Instead of advancing in this emerging knowledge society in the world and giving it leadership, I am afraid this is only going to retard India’s progress.

The ongoing surge of the BJP is happening substantially at the cost of the Left; particularly the CPI(M). This is particularly so in West Bengal and Kerala.

In Bengal, the current nature of politics has been entirely ‘politics of terror and violence.’ A certain section of the people are finding that the CPI(M) — because all its important leaders and cadre who were the link between the party, and the people are being targeted and eliminated — has been weakened and, therefore, is not in a position to give us protection.

The BJP is in the central government; so hopefully they can protect. You just watch the latest local body elections in the urban centres; you will find a different picture altogether. The so-called marginalisation of the CPI(M) won’t be the case at all. The process of regaining the confidence of the people has begun in Bengal. Its pace will be determined by the intensity of such attacks that are unleashed on us.

The issues that you want to take up affects the majority of the population but still the irrelevance of the Left in the last decade has only increased. Why is it so and how do you plan to stave off the irrelevance?

This is an issue that we will review in the Party Congress. Before that I can’t give you any definitive answers. But the fact remains that unless our organisational capacity for intervention strengthens, what is demanded of the Left by the present situation cannot be delivered: On the question of defence of secularism, on the question of defence of democracy, on the question of the economic conditions. That is the first step that we will undertake. That is precisely the agenda. Our agenda is the future; it is not the past. What’s happened has happened unfortunately. Remember everything progressive in India has always been under the influence of the Left. It is only when the Left is strong that the people’s agenda comes into force. That capacity has to be regained.

Why is it that the AAP was so successful electorally with issues that have traditionally been associated with the Left?

That is the main question. There are two areas that we will examine in the Party Congress: One is the agenda that AAP has taken up are all the issues that the Left traditionally has been raising but people found that AAP was in a better position. The point is our organisational weakness was one factor, and second the credibility among the people in terms of actually fighting for these issues. Our dual agenda for the future is to strengthen organisationally, and strengthen popular intervention in terms of people’s struggles.

You mentioned UPA-I as success of Left politics. A similar — if not more threatening — situation that resulted in the formation of UPA-I is facing the country right now. How do you view CPI(M)’s position in such a scenario?

UPA-I was successful only because they had to accept our suggestions on people’s issues. The point is that the Left should be in a position where it can influence. Left should be in a position to actually change the correlation of political forces amongst the people so that the Left becomes stronger in terms of political support so that eventually the Left can be seen in terms of its policies as a replacement to the present set of ruling classes and policies that they follow. So, this Congress will be entirely focussed on the future.

You made a personal intervention while reviewing the political-tactical line of the party and insisted that there was nothing wrong in attempting a broader coalition but in its implementation. Will this political-tactical line on coalitions continue?

That the Congress will decide because any political intervention by the CPI(M) can succeed only if the party’s strength is there to exercise that intervention. Without our own strength growing, this simply won’t happen. And to address the organisational weaknesses, the Central Committee has decided on the plenum.

What is the scope of engaging with the Congress and the regional parties?

On issues, there is scope like on the land acquisition bill. But the primary focus of the CPI(M) would be to strengthen ourselves first.

On hindsight, do you think that the party’s equi-distance policy towards the Congress and the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was a mistake given that what the Modi Government is doing is along expected lines?

The Congress follows the same neo-liberal economic agenda that Modi is now doing pursuing aggressively than the Congress. On that issue there is a fundamental difference and we will continue to be in the opposition. On some issues there may be an agreement at that point of time on which we will go together. But a broader coalition of any nature cannot be sustainable unless there is an agreement on all the issues concerned. On secularism, yes; on question of people’s rights, yes.

Is the weaknesses faced by the CPI(M) because of its inability to deal with post-liberalisation politics?

That is an important aspect and we have been realising this for many years now because the situations have changed very drastically. The aspirations of the people have multiplied. There is access to information and knowledge even if you are illiterate through the electronic media. Then there are structural changes like the labour force in the country — the working class which is the bedrock of our party. Because of these reforms, less than seven per cent of the total workforce of the country is in the organised sector.

Over 90 per cent of the workforce are in the unorganised sector so they do not have the trade union rights — which were constitutional rights even before we became independent. To organise such people is an entirely different ball game. What is the law for protection of casual/contract labour. These are areas in which we need to work. We have begun the process of studying this but we need to concretise our slogans for this.

Take the example of students. A large section of the brightest minds of our country by force have to go to private institutions where there are no student unions / politics. The access to actually engage the young minds — the battle of ideas — is getting increasingly restricted. These are concrete changes for which we have to device newer organisational methods to reach out to these sections.

Marxism, we have always believed, is a concrete analysis of concrete conditions. The conditions are changing. If your analysis doesn’t keep pace, then honestly you are not a Marxist. If you are a Marxist you have to be constantly analysing and coming to conclusions on what are the concrete changes that are taking place.

Why did this analysis not happen? It’s been 25 years!

It is not that it has not happened. It has not happened fast enough; or not happened enough, maybe. That’s why this Congress’s USP will be how to tackle all these issues and look forward.

Do you think CPI(M) has a larger role in broader Left unification?

Our role would be in keeping these Left forces together on certain programmatic issues. There are issues of day-to-day struggle, there are issues of this period which we will have to intensify mobilisation. On these issues the Left should be seen as a distinctive voice which becomes the rallying point for the most exploited sections of our people to begin with. First task is to strengthen ourselves, second is to strengthen Left unity and then to reach out to democratic forces. Efforts will be also in terms of inclusion. At the all-India level, we have traditionally had four parties. Over the past year, two more have joined — the CPI(ML) and the SUCI. This is not merely a consolidation of different parties but a consolidation to launch united struggles and the CPI(M) has an important role to play in this.

Are you drawing inspiration from the Janata factions?

In India, traditionally there have been two streams of the Left — the Communist stream and the Socialist stream; both of which got divided for various reasons. These two streams — disagreeing, fighting, whatever it is — nevertheless played an important role in influencing the course of politics. The fact that many of these parties that belong to the Socialist Left tradition are now talking of merging is tactical and in response to a particular situation. The Communist unity is not a merger on basis of tactical considerations but would have to be on ideological and programmatic considerations. After all, why did the Left split in the first place. Those ideological issues have to resolved first. Merger is not on the agenda just now but what is on the agenda is working together; that will be much more sustainable.

In Parliament, Prime Minister Modi billed Marxism as an imported ideology. Do you think this will be part of the propaganda against the Left?

Of course. And this is not unfamiliar to us. What is borrowing from the outside world. What is democracy. What is this parliamentary democracy which made Mr. Modi the Prime Minister? What is the RSS ideology which is not much different from the fascists? Where does that come from? Hitler targeted ethnic minorities; here you are targeting religious minorities.

Are we speaking to the next general secretary of the CPI(M)?

None of us now, I believe, are competent also to say anything on it because our party has a very vibrant inner party democracy. The Party Congress — our highest decision-making body — elects the new Central Committee. That new Central Committee elects the new general secretary and the Polit Bureau. I am in the old Central Committee. I am completely out of my jurisdiction to say anything.


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