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The Sitaram Yechuri Chat

It was an engaging chat. Strong views were put forward, to be deflected by a master with debating foils. Communist Party of India-Marxist Politburo member Sitaram Yechuri stayed on longer than he had intended. And when he left, though he might not have made many converts, he had interred the view that a politician is necessarily a cliché-laden demagogue. Read on.

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 7:58 IST)
Hello everybody. Yechuri is here. Shoot your questions.

Amit Verma (Thu Feb 5 1998 7:41 IST)
Mr. Yechuri don't you think that your party is being hypocritical when it says that it would cross the bridge when it comes to it. The voter has a right to know what kind of a bridge it is and how you would cross it. Please spell out your plans or lack of it on having an alliance with Congress if UF doesn't get a simple majority.

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:0 IST)
Amit Verma: We are going into the elections seeking a full mandate for the UF. In case that does not materialise what we shall do then will depend upon what actually materialises. This cannot be hypocritical, can it?

Parminder (Thu Feb 5 1998 7:45 IST)
Punjab had a legacy of the Communist movement when India became free. And unlike Bengal or Kerala Lahore and Amritsar became the hotbed of religious fundamentalism which graduated to terrorism. Why did you fail in Punjab? Wasn't your negative attitude in 1942 Quit India movement a big reason for it, as the whole of India had awaken to Mahatma Gandhi's call?

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:5 IST)
Parminder: There are many reasons for the Left's inability to grow in Punjab like in Bengal. It would be difficult to go into all of them now. But the reason is not our stand in 1942. This has been grossly misinterpreted. The Communists had supported the worldwide struggle against fascism which in no way constituted the betrayal as some people call it of the Quit India Movement. In fact the President of India, Shanker Dayal Sharma while observing the 50th anniversary of 1942, quoted British secret communiques reflecting the uncompromising anti-British rule of the Communists during 1942. As for Punjab apart from the deep communal divide, the growth of separatist and terrorist tendencies have thwarted the left's growth. Do not forget that more than CPI (M) cadre were martyred in the struggle against the terrorists.

MANOHAR (Thu Feb 5 1998 7:52 IST)
Mr. Yechuri why didn't the party let Jyoti Basu become the prime minister? After you may not get such a chance in the days to come. It is now clear from that historic interview with M.J. Akbar that the reference to the historic blunder was nothing but an expression of his anguish at the party's ways. Tell why didn't the party allow him to take up the offer?

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:11 IST)
Manohar: The CPI-M decided not to join the earlier UF government or to lead it because it did not have sufficient strength in Parliament to influence the policy direction of the government. Under such circumstances Jyoti Basu could have become the prime minister but would have to implement not the CPM's policies but those of the majority of the UF. With some of these the CPM had disagreement and continues to have.

Secondly Jyoti Basu could not have implemented what the CPM considers imperative for India's development. In both cases CPM would be betraying the trust of the people who voted for it on the basis of its programme and policies. The CPM chose not to betray the people but instead to honour their desire for a secular government and steadfastly supported the UF all along. With only 33 members in Parliament out of a required strength for majority of 273, the CPM could not really influence the policy direction. The tail cannot wag the dog. Right!

punekar (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:0 IST)
Is it true that the Left is against liberalisation?

punekar (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:3 IST)
Why is the Left against opening up the economy?

punekar (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:5 IST)
Fundamental issue: What compromise did you make in your ideology when you attested the common minimum programme? I mean, the Left is against liberalisation and that is in opposition to where the UF is going !!

punekar (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:16 IST)
Why is the Left opposed to liberalisation ?

punekar (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:17 IST)
Is it true that the Left was almost entirely funded by the erstwhile Soviet Union ?

punekar (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:18 IST)
Mr Yechuri Why must we pamper inefficient local industry ? If they are good, they will survive !

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:16 IST)
Punekar: You have asked a number of questions regarding the CPM's economic policy. Let me try and clarify. The question is not for or against liberalisation or opening up. No country in the world today can remain insulated or isolated from the global economy. The moot point is how and what terms is this integration going to take place. We are opposed to the manner in which this integration is taking place currently.

The terms of such integration are today loaded in favour of multi-national capital and to that extent detrimental to India's national interests. The CPM seeks reforms on terms that are favourable to India. -- foreign investment that augments existing productive capacity in India and generates employment is welcome. But not foreign investment that comes to gobble up domestic industry. This essentially has been our approach to our opposition to these economic policies.

Murde Lal (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:11 IST)
Mr Yechuri -- let's have an honest answer. Do you think the CPI-M is outdated and irrelevant today? You guys have lost every battle in India so far.

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:19 IST)
Murde lal: Honestly is this your name? Honestly again The CPM has become has become more relevant in Indian politics. It remains the most consistent defender of secular democracy and all that the Indian people have gained over the past 50 years. It is strange that you think we have lost all battles so far. Recollect that the longest serving chief minister in independent India is Jyoti Basu.

Lionel (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:4 IST)
Mr SY-Good Evening to you. You have always come across to me as a person with lots of polish, very suave .What was it in Communism that appealed to you, especially when you could have been a comfortable capitalist.???.

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:22 IST)
LIONEL: The CPM always projects policies and not individuals. Recollect Shakespeare, handsome is what handsome does? Age has never debarred anybody from being handsome or otherwise. Thanks, any way, for your suggestion regarding me.

Vidya (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:11 IST)
Mr Yechury: The communists were the second largest party in the Parliament during the Nehru era. What is the reason that your party could never grow its support base in many states of India???

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:26 IST)
Vidya: Unfortunately the successive splits in the Indian Communist Movement hampered its unified advance. There ae many reasons as to why these splits occurred. Suffice it to say that both internal and external forces acted in concert to weaken the Communist movement. In any case the strength of the Communists cannot be gauged only through the number of seats in Parliament. When the Communists were the second largest party remember they did not have any state government before 1957. Now CPM leads three. And its role in national politics is there for all to see. I wish we had grown faster. If only wishes were horse...

suleman (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:18 IST)
The exit polls say that UF & Left will bag only 120 seats. What is your view ? Will Sonia Gandhi's entry affect BJP ?

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:30 IST)
Suleman: Well exit polls are conducted only after the votes are cast. What you are talking about are opinion polls. They are more notorious for their inaccuracy than even the Indian media. However if a situation arises as you envisage, then the CPM will not either be a part of or support a Congress-led government. But it shall seek to prevent the communal forces from forming a government at all costs. As regards Sonia, her entry has already affected the BJP and will continue to do so adversely.

Murde Lal (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:28 IST)
Mr Yechuri, thanks for the reply, No my real name is not the above. Also, what has Basu achieved except high unemployment, pushing WB down from the #2 industrial state in India to below #10 (despite Calcutta), helped by the useless Congress.

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:37 IST)
Murde Lal: Hi once again. The West Bengal industrial situation is often wrongly attributed to be a curse of the left. It has historical reasons. At the time of independence Calcutta alone employed an industrial work force more than that of the rest of India put together. Correctly at that time Nehru argued for a balanced development all over the country and adopted policies discouraging or even preventing further investment in Calcutta and West Bengal. This discrimination however continued for full 45 years.

Amongst the various measures employed was what is called the freight equalisation policy apart from refusal to grant new licenses to industries. this resulted in a situation where the cost of production in Bengal was kept artificially higher resulting in an out flow of capital. This is the main reason for the inability of Bengal to advance as it should have. Is it fair therefore to blame CPM or Jyoti Basu? Further do not forget that currently Bengal is a food surplus state for the first time in independent India and land reforms have liberated impoverished peasantry. Is this not development?

Rajesh (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:32 IST)
Mr. Yechuri : Who do u think is more communal: the BJP or the Congress, the party which declared some of the NE states as Christian states, allied with the Muslim League in Kerala, declared Friday as the weekly holiday instead of Sunday, opened the Ayodhya site lock, quashed the Shah Bano jurisdiction ?

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:40 IST)
Rajesh: I do not hold any brief for the Congress. In my opinion it has diluted secularism through its compromising attitude regarding communalism. The Congress adopted many a policy which can be considered communal. But what is more dangerous is a party that avowedly adopts a communal ideology and thrives upon hate and separation between different religious groups. The Congress, so far, has been adhering to a secular democratic India. The BJP negates this very concept. Hence it is more dangerous.

Lionel (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:34 IST)
Mr SY-This talk about communalism IS secularism is not suited for the most RELIGIOUS COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. We have always been a religiously divided country and that will not change by talk only.

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:44 IST)
Lionel: Your appreciation of India is misconceived. India has never been a religiously divided country. It has always been a country of multiple religions. Multiplicity can never be equated with divisiveness.

Recollect, what one of the ancient sages of what you call the 'most religious country in the world' said, "like different rivers flow through different paths into the same ocean, so do different people go through different faiths to their almighty."

I am not saying this. This was said by Adi Shankara, whose claim to be a Hindu religious leader, I am sure you would agree, is far greater than that of all the pseudo-Hindus put together.

S S Jamal (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:40 IST)
Comrade Yechuri, Lal Salam! Jyotibabu says he will become prime minister if he is asked. Note the he, not the party. Does that mean the party has come around to the view that keeping him out of the gaddi last time was a mistake?

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:47 IST)
Jamal: Yes, Jyoti Babu will become the prime minister if asked to. But by whom? By the CPM.

sk (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:43 IST)

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:49 IST)
SK: Like Gandhi said to wipe every tear from every eye, the first priority would be to launch a frontal attack against poverty, hunger and misery. The state shall first and foremost undertake the task of strengthening social and economic infrastructure. My priority would be to build, not to demolish (mosques).

Sunanda (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:47 IST)
Your party attempts to convince the Indians that its successive and impressive performance in elections in WB talks about your party's efficiency. But every Indian worth his daily Rs. 1.50 newspaper knows that all these victories are nothing but results of magical "scientific booth-capturing". What's the truth ?

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:56 IST)
Sunanda: It is really strange. when we win elections you call it, "scientific rigging," when we lose it, some say it is because of an outdated ideology. Irrespective of your likes and dislikes one must learn to respect the verdict of the people.

As far as the newspapers are concerned do you remember an old joke: The Vatican had once sent a bishop on a goodwill tour to the USA. He was warned before he was departed to be careful about the press as they were notorious. On his arrival at JFK, some reporters asked the bishop whether his itinerary in New York included a visit to the night clubs. A scandalised bishop, recollecting the warning, brushed aside the question, asking, "Are there any night clubs in New York?"

He walked away satisfied that he had hedged the question. He was aghast however to see the daily papers screaming, "The first question the bishop asks upon arrival: Are There Any Night Clubs In New York?" So much for the freedom of expression and the unbiased reporting!

Murde Lal (Thu Feb 5 1998 8:43 IST)
Doesn't family connections and wealth matter in the CPI-M? You did well due to your family links, Basu because of his wealth, EMS was a brahmin! How come there is no poor, dalit or tribal leader at the top of your parties?

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:1 IST)
Murde Lal: Family connections and wealth are in fact disqualifications for those seeking to be CPM members. Your asides against family backgrounds, unfortunately, however true they may be, cannot be wished away. But let me assure you, they have absolutely no bearing on the position or status of anybody in the party. Unfortunately, neither you nor me can choose our parents. Can we? So why all this fuss about the background. Evaluate a person for what he is and what he stands for.

nami (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:1 IST)
Namaste! Communism followed by your party does not seem to be the original Marxism. What exactly do you want to achieve?

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:3 IST)
Nami: Marxism is a creative science. It is neither a formula nor a dogma. It is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions. What we are following to day are the application of Marxist ideals of human liberation from exploitation in the concrete conditions obtained in India and the world.

sk (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:0 IST)

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:6 IST)
SK: This is one Indian tradition which I don't want to reverse. Film stars come to politics not the other way round!

nami (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:5 IST)
wagh, you rightly said it. People are just using the word 'secularism' to rouse the masses without really intending to do anything for the common benefit

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:11 IST)
Nami: Secularism means the separation of religion from politics and the state. Religion is the personal choice of every individual. It is not a public property. Anyone with respect to human rights would agree that no one has any right to interfere between an individual's belief and his god. Or for that matter interfere with an individual who chooses to be an atheist. I think all of us should leave god alone and everything would be fine with the world! Definitely India.

Sunanda (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:9 IST)
Folks: I think Mr.Yechuri has silently departed -- good for him and his party.

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:11 IST)
Hi I am still here Sunanda.

Arnab (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:5 IST)
Someone was talking about Chandan Basu's escapades - how about talking on them ?

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:13 IST)
Arnab: Many of you seem to be more interested in Chandan Basu than the CPM. As far as I know he is Jyoti Basu's son. Both father and son deeply disagree with each other's politics. That's it.

wagh (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:3 IST)
Is secularism is answer to all the problems of India? Is secularism is the only problem facing us ? Is it necessary that anything which has to do with BJP must be looked through secular glasses ?

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:17 IST)
Wagh: Secularism is not the answer to all of India's problems. But a solution to India's problems is dependent upon it being a secular democracy. A country of India's diversity can be kept united only by strengthening the bonds of commonality amidst this diversity. And not by imposing a uniformity on this diversity.

The former is possible only under secularism. Communalism seeks to impose a uniformity. And unless India remains united and free from social strife its essential problems cannot even be addressed, leave alone solved.

Mr Sitaram Yechuri (Thu Feb 5 1998 9:19 IST)
Thanks for keeping me here 20 minutes more than the schedule. It was very engaging. Promise to meet you again during the course of these elections on the Rediff Election Results Day Chats. Thanks Bye.

Questions Sitaram Yechuri didn't answer