The party congress is taking place for the first time after the setback in the Lok Sabha elections and the defeat in Bengal. What is the mood in the party?
It was no doubt a big setback. There was disappointment. But our people are back in fighting mode. We have drawn our lessons from all those defeats. On several issues,various sections of the people are in struggle and it is necessary to be in these struggles. There are no [government policies to benefit the people. There is discontent all around. The question is how to channelise this discontent.
What lessons have you learnt?
The basic lesson is that at the end it is the people who decide everything and not the political parties. We got alienated from the people,and there was a setback. There are many reasons,including the behavior of the Left cadres. You come to power in a panchayat,become a sarpanch or a member,and start misbehaving with the people,next time they are bound to fail you. You have to be humble.
You spoke about discontent with the government. What are the possibilities of a third alternative?
In the recent elections,both the Congress and the BJP suffered. Other parties have prospered. Objective conditions are there for some alternative. But frankly today such an alternative is not very clearly in view. It may take time. I do not claim the Left is an alternative. We too drew a blank.
The role of many regional parties,so called,also needs to be analysed. For sharing power,some of them gang up with either the Congress or the BJP,but there are parties opposed to both. Unfortunately they are not clear about their economic policies,but in many issues,they have taken a stand.
The idea of a programmatic front is not clear yet. We will have to go through many struggles before it becomes clear.
What kind of struggles?
The Congress has been trying to concentrate more and more power with the centre. It is important that all these parties stand up defending the federal character of our polity. Struggles might force them to adopt certain positions.
But parties like the BSP and the SP are supporting the UPA on and off.
It is equally true that these parties join the Left for various struggles,against both the BJP and the Congress. They are not communal but opportunistic. These regional parties often dont have enough power to run governments. Their opportunism derives from that,but they can give it up too. The best example is the BJD. Now that it doesnt have to join hands,it is taking forthright positions.
Mulayam Singh Yadav has spoken about the possibility of mid-term elections. What is your view?
I dont take very seriously what Mulayam said. I think that was a way to bargain. This government may last because nobody is very keen to see early elections.
What about the Left?
Of course not. What advantage do we have from a mid-term poll?
Who can emerge as the leader of a possible alternative?
That is not very important. Parties rallying behind leaders,we have seen what disasters take place.
With UPA partners pulling in different directions,will the Left come to the rescue if the UPA collapses?
No. The Left will not come to help the government in order to help it get its numbers.
What about supporting the government on the basis of a common minimum programme like in 2004?
I dont think that [context can be recalled. The Prime Minister wants numbers to push through FDI. How can one support that?
For tactical reasons?
We are not going to save them. It might fall,for adopting a policy not acceptable to the people. And if some regional parties that are with them take a position against them,why should we help them survive? We dont want elections,but if it falls,we are not going to save it.
Between Mayawati and Mulayam,who would you prefer as a third front constituent?
Not Mayawati. Because in the last five years,she never had any policy. It is too early to say if the SP has a policy. At the moment its preoccupation is to give the numbers to the government.
You are set to step down as general secretary. What after? Do you plan to retire from active politics?
There are some who are suggesting amend the constitution or create a chairmans post. Creating a post for an individual,I am absolutely against it… Neither retirement from politics,nor retirement from the Communist Party. It is just that I will not be the general secretary. That is all.
You have been general secretary for 16 years. What is the one thing that you could not achieve?
I could not spread the party in the Hindi heartland. It is futile to think of any radical or social change in Indian politics without the heartland.
Your biggest regret? For many CPM leaders,not making Jyoti Basu Prime Minister was a mistake…
I too think so. It was a historic blunder. The fact that India would have had a communist Prime Minister,maybe for one-and-a-half or two years… That Obama phrase,Yes we can,it is a meaningful phrase.
Your advice to your successor ?
Concentrate on spreading the party in the Hindi heartland. In Bengal,Kerala,Tamil Nadu and Andhra,people will keep fighting. We can never become zero there.
What about unification of the CPI and the CPM?
It is not on the agenda now. Left parties are working together and taking joint actions. It is my belief that if such joint actions continue,the future will decide how long you will continue to have two parties.
Have you ever broached unification with your CPM counterpart?
With [H S Surjeet many times. Not with Prakash [Karat.
They dont have the background Surjeet had.
What do you foresee in 2014?
It will be a coalition government. And neither national party will be there. The national parties will have a role in as much as pulling down the government.