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Kanhaiya Kumar interview: ‘It’s not a referendum on Modi, absolutely not… Talk to anyone in Bihar, the anger is against Nitish’

In an interview with The Indian Express, CPI leader Kanhaiya Kumar says Bihar elections are not going to be one-sided and there is much anger, especially against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

CPI leader Kanhaiya Kumar says the biggest challenge the Left and progressive forces in Bihar face is to stop the communal agenda of the BJP.

How do you frame this election?

I have two observations. First is that the elections should not have happened given the coronavirus situation. I think for the political parties and their leaders, their work and power are more important questions while the safety of the people and the pandemic are secondary. There was speculation about how the elections would take place, how rallies would happen, how crowds assembled, how people would come out to vote, but slowly it has become clear that elections are taking place just like they used to be in the past.

Secondly, there was a sense that it was going to be a one-sided election and the NDA has an edge, that there is no competition. But, as the campaigning has picked up pace, that perception has been broken. It is not a one-sided election and there is much anger, especially against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

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The Left has tied up with the RJD and you are in alliance with the Congress, a party whom you have always attacked. Why?

Lalu Prasad became Chief Minister for the first time in 1990 with CPI support. Interestingly, the BJP had given outside support to that government. See, in Indian politics, all parties have at some point of time or the other entered into alliance with everyone, barring the Congress and BJP… In the Bihar context, the BJP has been running the government indirectly for the last 15 years. Nitish no doubt has been the face, but all the policies, if you look at from the economic perspective, have been neo-liberal policies. And the BJP has been consistently taking its communal agenda to the Hindi heartland.

The BJP wants to replicate in Bihar what it successfully did in Uttar Pradesh. In UP, it formed a government with the SP and BSP alternatively and the situation today is that it has a full-fledged government there. And you know what is happening in UP. A reporter from outside the state cannot go for reporting, incidents of rape are reported every day and the government tries to protect the accused… So the biggest challenge before us today is that when Nitish Kumar is getting weakened, there is a possibility of the BJP directly capturing power in Bihar. The biggest challenge the Left and progressive forces in Bihar face is to stop the communal agenda of the BJP. So we have formed this Left, democratic and secular alliance.

There is a perception that you are deliberately maintaining a low profile this time.

I have always been a low-profile person; the media increases and decreases my profile. I have a political commitment and I fight for that. The thinking (this time) was that anti-BJP votes should not be divided and we should enter into an alliance. Whatever responsibility the party (CPI) is giving me, I am fulfilling that.

What is your view on the projection of Tejashwi Yadav as the CM candidate of the alliance? His opponents call him inexperienced, others say he is a reminder of the ‘lawlessness’ of the Lalu days.

In a parliamentary democracy with first past the post system, the biggest party which has the numbers will have the CM or the PM. When the alliance itself is formed in such a way — the RJD is contesting in 144 seats, the Congress in 70 and the Left in 29 — so obviously the CM will be from the RJD. And it is the decision of the RJD who it wants to make the CM. We cannot change that decision. What is the basis of our alliance? Our alliance was formed on a common minimum programme. And what is the political line in that? We have to stop the communal forces, end the neo-liberal loot and work for the development of Bihar. Let wealth trickle down, people have better infrastructure, food security, education, job opportunities. All the leaders of the Grand Alliance are focusing on employment and migration. We entered into the alliance with that agenda. The question of who will be the CM if we get a majority is not that important for us. Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister, people thought Sonia Gandhi would be, and when differences cropped up with Singh on policies, we (the Left) pulled out. Any political party which enters into an alliance can face that situation.

How is the projection of Tejashwi impacting, positively or negatively?

That we will come to know on November 10th. How can we predict that? What we are seeing now that as a leader of the alliance people are coming to his rallies. The response is good. The youth are supporting him aggressively. So now the impact seems to be positive. Some things can be analysed pre-poll, some post-poll.

How do you see Chirag Paswan’s decision to contest alone? There are various theories…

People have different views. My view on political parties is simple. See, when the AIMIM contests, it is said that the BJP is behind it to divide the secular vote. I don’t agree. In a democracy, every party — big or small — or an individual has the right to contest. If he (Chirag) feels his party should assert independently, he should do it. How can you delegitimise anybody’s right to contest elections? I don’t support the political analogy of vote-splitter (made for the AIMIM). It means India should have a two-party system and not a multi-party system. When we have a multi-party system, how can you call one party a vote-splitter of another? The beauty of democracy is that everyone is free to contest elections. A multi-party system is always considered better.

You recently said that the opposition is always reacting to the BJP, NDA agenda. Why?

I have been saying this for long, this is not about the current elections in Bihar. The context is different. The context is we should set our agenda rather than reacting to the agenda set by the BJP. They will raise a mandir issue one day, a masjid issue another day. The BJP’s tactics is to divert and rule, like the British’s divide and rule. There are so many important issues… the farm laws, labour laws… Many of the welfare schemes have been done away with in the name of reforms. The country’s growth rate has gone down, Ambani’s wealth has gone up. The country has gone down on the hunger index. There is accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few and people are facing difficulty even to access basic things.

So the Opposition should avoid reacting to divisive issues?

No… (But) consistently, the Opposition should wage agitations and carry out movements and political programmes. It should not be that if there is an incident, you react to it and then stay silent. We have to keep working consistently on issues — whether farmers’ issues, employment, security of women or the working class. I am not saying the parties should be silent on issues, you react to a particular issue but then continue working on issues of the people. I always say rozi, roti, kapda, makaan ispe baat na ho isliye desh mein hota hai Hindu aur Musalman (I always say that to ensure that no one raises questions regarding basic essentials, there is talk of Hindu, Muslim). So if there is a Hindu-Muslim (issue), as a political party you have to give a response. Give a response but consistently raise issues of farmers, unemployment, security of women, atrocities.

Is the Bihar election a referendum on the Modi government?

No, absolutely not. In the political discourse, the entire attack is on Nitish Kumar. The anger and discontent are against Nitish. So it will not be a referendum on Modi’s government. He is not in the political discourse. Talk to anyone in Bihar, the anger is against Nitish Kumar. Modi is not in his political analysis or discourse. Yes, if the BJP wins, they will project it as a victory of Modi to cover up the failure during the lockdown. This election is for Bihar and is centered on Bihar. And the head of the government is Nitish. So the attack is on him and the anger of the people is against him.

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