Tripura CM Manik Sarkar speaks to The Indian Express about Prasar Bharati not broadcasting his speech
Q. How do you see Prasar Bharati’s decision not to broadcast you Independence Day message on Doordarshan and AIR?
A. This is thoroughly undemocratic, authoritarian and expression of intolerance.
Q. Why do you call it an expression of intolerance?
A. Because in the speech, what they have mentioned is that it not befitting the gravity of a national Independence Day. I do not know how they came to this conclusion. National Independence Day, in my humble experience, is not just a simple ritual function. It is a day for national introspection. What were the aims and objectives of the struggle for freedom? Our freedom fighters, they had some dreams. So on this particular day, it is the job of the citizens of the nation to go for introspection to assess the objectives, aims, dreams and how far it has been translated into action at the grassroots level. Where are the gaps and why there are gaps. How to bridge all these things to achieve our objectives and goals. All these things will have to be done. Keeping that in mind, I made two-three points in my speech. In this situation, how have they come to this conclusion that it is not befitting the gravity of national Independence Day. Who are they to assess all these things. And they have asked a Chief Minister to reshape his speech. They have crossed all limits. This is not proper. This is actually nothing but gagging, not the Chief Minister alone. They are going to gag civil liberties. That cannot be done. This is wrong.
Q. CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury has called this an attack on federalism. He said all the the non-BJP state governments should join together to save centre-state relations as envisaged in the Constitution and spoke about getting in touch with Chief Ministers. Have you spoken to any of the non-BJP chief ministers?
A. No, I have not spoken. At this moment, I am not thinking. What I have done, in my humble view, is to bring to the notice of common people what is going on in our country and society just to make them aware of what is going on. A lurking danger is there. I though that if I had kept mum, it would not be proper. That is why I have done it.
Q. Prasar Bharati stressed on the solemnity of the occasion. The counter argument is that you gave a political speech?
A. Independence Day is a political day. What is it? On that particular day, the speech must be political. That will depend on the understanding of the person who is making the speech. I thought it is a political day, my speech must be political. More so, I am a political worker. What is wrong in it?
Q. You must have given Independence Day messages in the past also. What was the difference then and now?
A. Not like this. Last year the situation was different. Year before last, the situation was different. Factoring the relevance of the ongoing situation, I make my points. Last year, this sort of speech was not delivered. It was in a question-answer format.
Q. What has changed in the last one year?
A. I have dealt with that in my speech.
Q. Three years have passed since the BJP came to power. The perception is that BJP is gaining from strength to strength if one go by its electoral successes and the opposition appears to be weakening or in disarray? Even today, the BJP came second in municipal elections in West Bengal.
A. People of Bengal could not find the opportunity to exercise their franchise. That is the reality. About the national situation, if everything is alright….what happened last month…more than 200 districts of the farming community? States which are run by the BJP. What about the working class…. Recently in Talkatora stadium they had a national convention…. Thousands of people assembled there and they declared their programme. In the coming days, they are going to organise a big demonstration. On what issue? What is going on in the universities, on college campuses. The minority, trading community, everybody is aggrieved. What is going on. Lakhs and lakhs are losing their jobs and crores and crores of people are actually joining the queue for jobs. And where are the jobs? So, it is a mirage. This is the situation. On all this, people have started voicing their resentment and that is why coming out into the streets and movements have started taking shape. From all this experience, one can easily draw a conclusion about what is going on. In this situation, if anybody thinks that by gagging X or Y, he will be in a safe position, it will not happen. People cannot be suppressed this way.
Q. The BJP is aggressively reaching out to the tribal community. Does that worry you? It has tasted success in several northeastern states already.
A. It has been going on since long. Slogans of independent states were raised. Ouster of foreigners — that slogan was raised. Communal tension was mounted, riots were also organised. The people of Tripura fought back all these, got peace, tranquility, strengthened democracy and taken it to the grassroots…. As far as northeastern states (are concerned), Tripura is Tripura. The state cannot be equated with any other state. Every state has its own characteristics, strengths and weaknesses…. So one state cannot be equated with another.
Q. The BJP is making an aggressive bid in Tripura. How confident are you about the coming election?
A. We have full confidence in our people and people have their confidence on us. Because we are not doing anything against the interests of the people or against the interests of the state. That is why we have that confidence. People will act according to their experience in daily life.
Q. What should the opposition do now? At the national level there is talk about opposition unity.
A. Unity cannot develop without an alternative set of policies. Even if the set of policies are identified, unity will not develop until and unless to achieve these policies… there is an united struggle. Unity cannot develop only between the leaders, discussion, arriving at certain understanding and conclusions. That has to be taken to the grassroots. People have been facing, they have been suffering, they should be mobilised on the ground itself. Mass struggle, class struggle ceaselessly on the basis of alternative set of policies.
Q. How is it possible with parties which have different sets of ideologies and policies?
A. That is there. That understanding, unity of understanding on each and every issue, that cannot be, may not be (possible). Issues may very, very limited but let us start with this. Wherever we have an understanding, let us start with that. That way, gradually it will develop.
Q. Is it possible for the CPM to have an understanding with the Congress or for that matter, Trinamool Congress?
A. If the Congress changes its economic policies, then that can be thought of. If they stick to their earlier position, because of which they have been ousted from the seat of power, what they have lost they will further lose. They shall also have to apply their mind to this particular aspect. We cannot advise the Congress. It is the leadership of the Congress. They shall have to think about it. We can at best express our mind. If they change, then people at the grassroots level will decide.
Q. So is that a pre-condition for unity?
A. This policy — neo-liberal economic policy — that has created all this disaster. It is being implemented in an aggressive manner by the present government. That is causing a lot of problems — working class, peasantry, youth, students, SC/STs, small and marginal traders. Only a small minority, the corporate sector, is benefiting. Good days have come for them. Others are under attack either in this way or that way. Under this situation, the political parties all of a sudden cannot change. But if gradually, issue by issue, they start thinking about all these things… then only it (unity) can develop.
Q. At a critical time when the opposition should be unitedly taking on the Government in Parliament, it was amusing to see that your party decided to keep one of your most powerful speakers, Sitaram Yechury, out of Parliament. Why did you do that?
A. That was a party decision. That has been explained. That is my view also
Q. But many leaders in the opposition were surprised when they heard that Yechury would not be returning to Rajya Sabha
A. Sitaram Yechury is our general secretary. Yes he is not there in Parliament. What is that. But he is there in our party headquarters. He is moving around in states. He is moving around the country. What is the problem. He can actually deliver goods, he can take the message to the people.
Q. Shouldn’t the rigidity in our party end?
A. This is not rigidity. Actually he is the party general secretary and we thought he should give more time to the party organisation and other political activities. Nothing else. About his quality, he has proved in the floor of Parliament. About that nobody is raising any questions. That is appreciated. But party thought that he should give more time to the party organisation and other political activities. And that is what he has been doing.