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You will not find in our party a different political line in different states: Prakash Karat

Amid calls for a tie-up with Congress in Bengal, the former CPM general secretary highlights gains made in the battle against Congress-led UDF in Kerala and underlines a uniform political line across states.

Written by Sheela Bhatt |
Updated: March 18, 2016 10:42:15 am
CPM, CPIM, Left parties, Parkash Karat, west bengal elections, kerala elections, Kerala left party, Kerala CPM, Bengal CPM, bengal cpm cogress alliance, kerala udf, india news, latest news, Former CPM general secretary Prakash Karat (Source: Express file photo by Subham Dutta)

There is a churning in the CPM, with the Bengal CPM proposing a poll alliance with the Congress to counter the TMC.

We will have elections in five states. Kerala and Bengal are most important to us. In Bengal we are facing an exceptional situation. The TMC government is out to finish the opposition. They are not allowing it to function, there is violence, people are being driven out of their homes… We will have our central committee meeting after two days [February 16]. The West Bengal state committee has given their suggestions; we will discuss Kerala and other states also.

Will the decision on West Bengal impact Kerala?

I can’t say what the central committee is going to decide.

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What will be the framework under which the decision will be taken?

Our party being a national party, it formulates election tactics according to the political tactical line adopted at the party congress last April. Our line is that the main direction of our fight is [against] the BJP government, the Modi government. Also, we don’t envisage any understanding with the Congress. But at the central committee, we will have to discuss the situation in Bengal and how we can meet the challenges there.

Is the core of your political line a secular approach against communal forces?

No. It’s not only secular. We have to carry out a fight against their communal agenda as well as their economic policies.

Can you have one alliance in Delhi and a different one in states?

Our party’s political line is a central, all-India line. When we concretise those tactics, we will take into account specific situations also. In each state, we don’t take decisions divorced from the overall political line.

It means if you have some alliance in Kerala, it will be the same in Bengal also?

You will not find in our party a different political line in different states. If we are against BJP in Gujarat, it does not happen that we will not be against BJP in Maharashtra. It doesn’t happen that way in our party.

Mulayam Singh supported the UPA in Delhi but fought the Congress in UP. We are a communist party. They are regional parties who are state-bound.

Is the BJP becoming Kerala’s third force?

The BJP is making serious efforts to rally other forces. By itself it cannot be a third force… The theory of Mr Amit Shah seems to be to gather Hindu caste organisations. They have tried to fight local body elections with SNDP. It didn’t make much of a difference in terms of a electoral breakthrough but they could increase their percentage of votes. If you study carefully, the SNDP base has not shifted to the BJP… Actually we have gained. We lost the 2010 local elections but this time around we won in panchayat elections.

But the the BJP is targeting the Ezhava votes — your votes mainly.

What I am saying is, the experience of local elections shows the base of the CPM is not affected. People make a mistake in reading our base. Our base is also a class base… Ezhava workers, Ezhava farmers, Ezhava labour are solidly with the party… Most working people and poor people come from SCs and backward classes. The BJP’s caste-based tactics are not going to work in Kerala… All they can do is get an MLA or two and have their representation in the assembly [laughs], that’s all they can do. They have never had an MLA.

Many Christian voters are looking for an alternative. The BJP may try to woo them.

I don’t think they would succeed.

In your party there is factionalism. V S Achuthanandan has 50 years in public service but your support is for P Vijayan.

We won in 2006, we lost in 2011 by a narrow margin. That time also there was talk of factionalism but didn’t reflect in the results. People in Kerala who support CPM support the party, not individuals. It’s not like Tamil Nadu where people veer around a film star.

But Achuthandan has been the CPM’s moral rallying point.

He is the most popular leader because he has fought for working people. He has a long history of struggles and sacrifices. The question is, who will lead the campaign in Kerala? The state committee will meet and discuss.

Is it likely to be Vijayan?

I can’t say. Many times we have decided differently. After the election we will decide who will be CM. Many times it has happened.

This time too?

Maybe. I can’t say.

What are the issues in Kerala?

As it stands today, the LDF is poised to win due to an extremely favourable situation. The UDF is in a shambles, not only because of corruption scandals involving its CM and ministers. Look at the alliance itself… the Kerala Congress is angry because its minister had to resign but the Congress minister facing similar charges remained. A lot of resentment is there against the Muslim League that has dominated the government. There is sharp polarisation [between UDF and LDF]… There are very limited indecisive, floating votes.

It may happen that floating voters cultivated by the BJP go entirely with the Congress, a strategy to stop the Marxists.

I don’t share that. In Kerala the BJP is interested in expansion. It’s in power at the Centre and would like to show off their increased vote share in new areas. You are right in one sense. Traditionally, the BJP has always transferred votes to the UDF…

Such as, in Shashi Tharoor’s case?

Not only in Tharoor’s case, in many other cases… This time, the BJP is not interested in bailing out the Congress… But I can’t say. It’s still possible at some local level, vote transfer may take place. But we have factored that in. It won’t stop the momentum in favour of LDF.

Is corruption your core issue?

Not corruption alone. The economic condition in Kerala is very bad. All the traditional industries are in the doldrums — cashew, coir, handloom… The economic downturn is affecting jobs [in these industries]. The slowing oil economy has started affecting remittances from the Gulf. Right now, all indications are saying the UDF is heading for defeat.

That obviously means you can’t tie up with the Congress in Bengal.

Let’s see. These types of arguments, we will hear inside the central committee.

How do you view Amit Shah’s strategies in Bengal and in Kerala?

I think the RSS is concentrating on Kerala and Bengal along with two, three other states. The RSS has always had a network in Kerala. The RSS is in fact stronger than the BJP in Kerala… The BJP is making serious efforts at using the RSS network. The person (Kummanam Rajasekharan) who has been made the BJP president is not known as a BJP leader at all. He was working on RSS issues.

In which state is this threat to you larger?

Kerala’s background is different. Don’t forget Bengal was partitioned. There has been communal violence in the past, a history of refugees coming over. Across the border, in Bangladesh, you have Muslim fundamentalist forces who seek to cross over. So, you have this dangerous mix of RSS and Islamic fundamentalists. I think its [RSS’s] presence is more problematic in Bengal. And Mamata Banerjee’s approach will deepen it. She caters to and patronises Islamic fundamentalists.

Many think Mamata is ahead of the rest.

How do you define “ahead”? Does “ahead” mean [laughs] you don’t allow your competitors to work? In many areas they don’t allow anybody to enter. The Congress and the BJP are also worried, ask them.

It’s possible that CPM will reach a covert understanding with Congress in Bengal.

We don’t believe in covert politics. Whatever we do, it will be in the open.

As part of the JNU student movement, how do you view the curent tussle?

I was president of the JNU Students Union in 1973. We were part of the first batch and drafted the constitution of the union that is in force today. I don’t know how this situation developed this way, except that the government is active in it… They directly intervene when the ABVP or others complain. In Hyderabad minister Bandaru Dattatreya complained, here BJP MP Mahesh Giri complained. Even Home Minister Rajnath Singh gave a statement asking the police commissioner to act strongly. They arrested the president of JNUSU, Kanhaiya Kumar. He had nothing to do with it. In fact he had gone there to prevent a clash between the ABVP and people who had organised ‘Afzal Guru day’. The ABVP was trying to attack them… The police went there and arrested the JNUSU president under sedition charges. It’s a draconian law. In Thiruvananthapuram someone was charged with sedition just because he didn’t stand up when the national anthem was playing. This is a ham-handed way to use the law.

How do you find the Modi government?

They are heading into difficulties. The crunch is finally about the economy. The expectation of people was that Modi would deliver… There is a lot of discontent amongst rural people and farmers; even industrialists are not happy with him. Some Marwari businessmen who were his great supporters were telling me, “Bazaar main paise hi nahin hai. Kuch kaam nahin ho raha hai.”

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