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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 35

Left Must Do its Utmost to Protect Parliamentary Democracy

Tuesday 19 August 2008, by A B Bardhan

You have been supporting the Congress-led UPA Government for the past four years. On July 9 you formally withdrew support to the ruling coalition at the Centre by saying that the government went ahead to operationalise the Indo-US nuclear deal by approaching the IAEA to get the draft safeguards agreement, worked out by it with the IAEA, distributed to all the members of the international atomic watchdog’s Board of Governors even before it had been discussed threadbare in and cleared by the UPA-Left committee set up to study the nuclear deal. How is the situation today different from the one in 2004 when you decided to extend outside support to the UPA Government?

ABB: The situation today, that is, that prevailing after the withdrawal of the Left parties’ support to the government, is entirely different from what it was before. That is because they (the government) came out as the main driving force behind execution of both the neo-liberal policies as well as the strategic partnership with the US, the principal objective behind the nuclear deal.

The term ‘strategic partnership’ is confusing because the Chinese are developing a strategic partnership with the US—that is precisely the term used in the context of the present level of Sino-US relations; the Russians are also having a strategic partnership with the US. So what’s the problem if we too have a strategic partnership with the US?

ABB: In our case it is different from what the Chinese or the Russians have with the US. In our case it is a military strategic partnership between the two countries along with economic overlordship of the US in this country—the two are inseparable since one is a reflection of the other.
But by withdrawing support to the UPA Government aren’t you weakening the fight against communalism nationwide? Wasn’t this—that is, united struggle against communalism—the reason for the extension of your outside support to the UPA in 2004?

ABB: I don’t think that our support to the Congress-led UPA Government has prevented the BJP from coming to power in different States in the past months. The defeat of the Congress in the State Assembly elections in the recent past was primarily due to the economic policies of the Congress we had been opposing and in place of which we listed several alternate measures; but these were unfortunately rejected by the Congress. So our withdrawal of outside support to the Congress-led UPA has not weakened the fight against communalism. Rather, it is the Congress’ economic policies which have resulted in the people’s alienation from and antipathy towards the Congress and it is those policies we of the Left have all along opposed. But here I must say one thing: we are opposing the Congress, not their allies in the UPA. We think they have been taken along the path the Congress is treading by the leadership of the principal constituent of the ruling coalition.

Which is the main danger today—imperialism or communalism?
ABB: Both are equally dangerous. But as it happens in a Communist Party, at a given point Right deviation becomes more pronounced than Left deviation and vice-versa, likewise one danger takes a larger dimension than the other. However, we are very clear on this point: you cannot fight imperialism by allowing the communal forces to grow in the country.
The situation in Jammu has not yet become normal. This is being sought to be exploited by the forces of Hindutva including the BJP. Did you in the last four years try to use your support to the UPA Government to reinforce the struggle against communalism and raise it to a higher level?

ABB: Well, as far J&K is concerned, we had made it clear to the PM sometime back that the Governor, being an appointee of the BJP-led NDA Government, he should be removed by the UPA Government and replaced by its own appointee, because he could take steps that would complicate matters in the State. Of course, this was much before the present crisis in J&K. But the PM expressed his inability to remove him, saying: “He is such a senior General…” However, our point was that he has been there for about five years and it was high time he was removed. But you know, it is the CM, that is, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who wanted ensure that he (General S.K. Sinha) gets an extension. He (Ghulam Nabi) is equally responsible for the mess the State is in as a result of transferring the forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB).

Did you try to force the Congress-led UPA Government to reverse the policies adopted by the BJP-led NDA Government?

ABB: Of course. Broadly we used to say to the leaders of the government: your coming to power must lead to a break with the past policies. But they spoke of continuity. And the biggest supporter of continuity was Chidambaram who said in governance there should be continuity. On several economic issues that was their position.
Many people think that you should have withdrawn support to the UPA Government on the issue of price rise and not the nuclear deal.

ABB: You see, support could not have been withdrawn by us of the CPI alone. It had to be a joint Left decision. But when we withdrew support, we made it abundantly clear that the government was concentrating on getting the nuclear deal implemented instead of focusing attention on how to tackle price rise. Sometimes the issue that triggers a certain step is not the main issue.

There is some confusion between the Third Front and Third Alternative. Would you like to explain?

ABB: The Third Front is for electoral purposes. The Left and democratic Third Alternative that we are striving for in the long term will be the precursor of a different class alliance, something which will aim at ending the bourgeois monopoly of power and also the two-party system. In this the Left should play the motivating role. However, this is in the long term.

What are you striving at present?

ABB: At present we are campaigning with the UNPA and the BSP highlighting five specific issues: price rise and inflation; agrarian distress and crisis heightened by the farmers’ suicides; nuclear deal; struggle against the communal forces; and politicisation of the government institutions.

Is this a Third Front?

ABB: We are just campaigning together. A Third Front will emerge later.

Why did you project Mayawati as the PM?

ABB: When I was asked a specific question I said so many people want to become the PM. But it is only when Mayawati expresses the same desire that she is attacked. Why should that be the case? She has all the credentials to be the PM. But I also said: we don’t want to project anyone as the PM.

She (Mayawati) is being blamed of being a casteist leader. It is true that she represents the Dalits. But it is also true that her party came to power in UP only because she was able to forge a ‘rainblow coalition’ with the upper castes. But you are not underlining that fact, are you?

ABB: Of course, we are doing so. And you know, this idea that Mayawati can become the PM has electrified the depressed classes across the country. By depressed classes I mean the Dalits and the Most Backward Classes. In Maharashtra and even in the South it has had a lot of impact. And as a result Mr Advani is most depressed today because he didn’t expect his prime ministerial ambition to be punctured in this way.
Electorally what are the prospects?

ABB: At present this is merely a combination. But if this combination of the Left, UNPA and Mayawati’s BSP is properly worked out, it would manage to get 150 sets or even more. There is every possibility of Mayawati securing 60 seats in UP. In that situation the Congress would perforce extend support to it to keep the BJP out of power—it could be a 1996-like situation when the Congress provided outside support to the United Front. If you make a Statewise assessment, the BJP-led NDA’s prospects are dim. It will lose seats in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, it has reached the peak in electoral terms in Gujarat, in fact it cannot get more seats in any State other than Bihar where Nitish’s JD(U) will get more seats than before. In Karnataka too the BJP will not do that well.
What about AIADMK in Tamil Nadu?

ABB: Well, that is a big question. And we don’t know which way Jayalalitha will eventually go.

What about the Left’s prospects? Would its strength in Parliament come down?

ABB: Perhaps. But you know, I was in Kerala recently. And the journalists there told me that sometime back it appeared that the UDF would do very well in the State; but now that may not happen because of inflation and price rise. So I think it’s not clear what will finally happen.
Let me ask you another question—how do you assess the growth of the Maoists in the most backward regions of the country? Isn’t it a failure of governance on one side and the established Left on the other? How would you tackle the problem?

ABB: Of course we acknowledge the failure. And we are of the strong view that we have to tackle the problem politically. That is why I attacked Salwa Judum at the national seminar on the Role of the Left organised by the RSP here today. But you know, and this has not been highlighted in the media: in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand where the Maoists are strong, we of the CPI also have a strong presence. When I addressed a public rally in Dantewada recently even the pro-BJP mediamen said such a huge rally had not been seen there in recent times.

But you are not coming in conflict with them, are you?

ABB: No, we are not. We want to politically engage them. But we also want them to know while being totally opposed to the Salwa Judum we are clear that the Maoists cannot continue in the way they are functionaing at present.

But you have not raised the demand for the release of Dr Binayak Sen and the local CPI activist being detained and incarcerated in Chhattisgarh.

ABB: We have raised the demand.

Not in Parliament.

ABB: That’s true. But our Deputy General Secretary Sudhakar Reddy has highlighted the demand in different forums.

Where is the CPI growing?

ABB: In Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, parts of Madhya Pradesh. In Bihar and Andhra Pradesh we have consolidated our position.
And the CPM?

ABB: In the Hindi belt they have grown only in Rajasthan. In Andhra both the Communist Parties are of equal strength.
So how do you view the national scene on the eve of Independence Day this year?

ABB: It is fraught with tremendous political instability. And that is why the Congress doesn’t want to convene the monsoon session of Parliament—because they cannot fulfil the aspirations of either Shibu Soren or the SP. We, on our part, have demanded that the session must be convened. In the SP there are serious differences on whether or not to join the government at the Centre. Jnaneshwar Mishra has come out with a statement opposing their joining it. In fact the PM went out of his way to accommodate their demands to get their support in the trust vote. He even wanted to get Soren sworn in before the Parliament debate on the trust vote. That did not happen for other reasons.

So you are saying till the elections take place and a new government is formed there’ll be this kind of instability?

ABB: That is why we want this combination to survive, this combination of the Left, UNPA and BSP.

You think it has a future?

ABB: I do think so. The ground reality will be in our favour. Somehow some of us feel the BSP is coming to power.

And the BJP?

ABB: Realising that its electoral prospects are becoming increasingly bleak, it is now turning to items in the Hindutva agenda—the Amarnath movement in Jammu and the Sethusamudram issue in the South. But I tell you, the Sethusamudram issue is not catching up in the South. But Jammu is still burning.

However, the all-party meeting in the Capital was a success, wasn’t it?

ABB: Yes, it was successful. But now let’s see what happens there.
What about the future of parliamentary democracy after the latest happenings in Parliament?

ABB: Those were really unprecedented, especially the show of money power on the crest of which the Manmohan Singh Government won the trust vote. It has corroded and degraded Parliament and parliamentary democracy beyond measure. In the circumstances it is the Left which will have to do its utmost to defend and protect parliamentary democracy. And in the process it is the working class that has to become the conscience of the nation.

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