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September 7, 1999

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The Rediff Election Interview/ N Sankaraiah

'The regional leaders will feel deserted when the BJP reveals its fangs'

The Tamil Nadu party offices of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), polar opposites in the Indian ideological spectrum, are located on the same road in Madras, separated only by a couple of blocks. A little before noon when rediff.com had an appointment with N Sankaraiah, the CPI-M's Tamil Nadu general secretary, the party office was almost deserted.

Sankaraiah had gone out for campaigning when Shobha Warrier reached there a little before 12. The few party workers around assured her that he would be back on time for the appointment and to her surprise he did!

In the course of a lengthy interview the Marxist leader attacked the BJP and warned that its divisive politics would lead to the splintering of India. He justified his party's decision to support the Congress and align with the AIADMK to fight the common enemy.

Recently you said the BJP was taking the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam for a ride. Karunanidhi is a very senior and experienced politician. Do you think he is na´ve enough to let the BJP take him for a ride?

The DMK's decision to ally with the BJP will do immense harm to both Tamil Nadu and the country. It is not as if he is na´ve; he is of course a calculating politician. But he has calculated badly.

Why do you say his calculation is bad?

Because he thought he would perhaps have better leverage with the BJP if it came to power and he would be able to put more of his men in key positions in the central government.

Your party, the CPI-M, has always attacked corruption and now you have joined hands with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam?

You cannot say that. The fight today in the 1999 general election is against the BJP and it is an all-India issue. The question is whether to allow the BJP to come back to power or replace it with a secular government. In this context, all the other issues -- like the court cases against Jayalalitha -- should be ignored.

But how can you justify the corruption charges?

Let these matters be decided in the courts. We are not interfering. You cannot condemn a party because there are charges against some of its leaders.

But isn't the AIADMK synonymous with its leader Jayalalitha?

We don't agree with that. The AIADMK is a very big party with millions of members and it does not depend on any one individual. There are cases against some of our ministerial colleagues also. Our stand is, let the court decide the cases. We don't want to stand in the way.

But the role Jayalalitha is playing, the role the AIADMK is playing is very positive. For example, people say the Vajpayee government was strangled to death, but we differ. It died a natural death because the party which gave them support withdrew that support.

They [the AIADMK] withdrew it because from their experience they found that the BJP was communal and even endangered national security. They told us that the BJP was not only a communal party but a fascist one too. While the DMK is aligning itself with a communal party and helping it come to power, the AIADMK is preventing that.

You call the BJP a communal, fascist party. How then did they get partners from almost all the states in India?

These regional parties have no power in their respective states. They do not reflect the aspirations of the people of these states. The BJP is led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and unfortunately most people cannot see how dangerous this is.

The BJP is not like any other bourgeois party. They will not just rule for five years and go away. Once the RSS captures the country's administration and the polity they will go over to a fascist type of Hindu raj. Fascism in India means Hindu rashtra: one language, one country and one religion.

The BJP's partners speak different languages and belong to different regions. Chandrababu Naidu represents the Telugus, Ramakrishna Hegde the Kannadigas, Mamta Banerjee is from Bengal and then they have people like George Fernandes etc.

Unfortunately, they do not see or understand the danger posed by the BJP as a communal party. Naidu is worried because he knows that his image will get affected if he hobnobs too much with the BJP. He is very careful about his vote bank. Mamta Banerjee is guided by her anti-CPI-M stand.

Do you consider corruption a lesser evil than communalism?

These corruption cases relate to only one state. India has more than 25 states. You cannot compare both. Communalism is a danger, which if it succeeds, will end in the break-up of India.

Do you think the people of India don't understand how dangerous the BJP is?

Yes. Because the Congress failed in its efforts, a vacuum was formed and the BJP moved into it. But it will be not be there for long because the BJP has no positive plan for the development of the country. Its policy is to kill the public sector, open the doors of the Indian economy to multinationals, etc.

But it was the Congress, which started the liberalisation programme in 1991.

The big difference is that the Congress is a secular party. As far as its economic policies are concerned, they are similar to that of the BJP. That is why we are trying to create a third alternative. Today the most important thing is to prevent the communal forces from capturing power. And you can take all the other issues after the election.

Did the BJP function as a communal force in its 13 month-rule?

Of course, in the long history of India, no state government ever did such a horrible thing as the BJP regime did in Gujarat. The BJP government at the Centre did not condemn the happenings the way it ought to have. Christian churches were desecrated and Christians were forced to migrate?

What is happening in Orissa? What is the ideology that incites these sections to commit such crimes? It is the RSS ideology. In the state education ministers' conference, the BJP introduced Saraswati vandana. They hired a RSS industrialist to deliver the keynote address.

The Srikrishna Commission condemned Bal Thackeray, but the Maharashtra government put the report in a dustbin. If Vajpayee is a serious prime minister interested in the integrity of the Constitution, he should have pulled up the Maharashtra government and asked it to implement the recommendations.

Now a man condemned by the Supreme Court as an anti-democrat sits along with Karunanidhi and Vajpayee. How can we expect them to defend democracy? Here, in Tamil Nadu, Vaiko and Ramdoss are asking for Eelam. They seek the division of Sri Lanka. We want to ask the NDA whether it supports this. Whether they approve of it or not. If they don't, they should condemn it. Such irresponsible units are there in the NDA. The NDA is a conglomeration without a common ideology.

All the opinion polls show the regime at the Centre getting a pro-incumbency vote in all the states and nearly 70 per cent of the people supporting Vajpayee. How did this happen if his government was so bad?

We don't believe in these prophecies. They are all distorted. The ground realities are different. In TN, the front lead by the AIADMK is going to sweep the elections. We will win in all the constituencies.

The AIADMK had demanded the dismissal of an elected DMK government? In 1998, in the election rallies, Jayalalitha used to say if elected to power she would see to it that the DMK government was dismissed. What do you say about this?

We have a different idea. We are for the use of Article 356 only in extreme cases, that is, when the party in power in a state indulges in communal activities or when a state becomes vulnerable to foreign infiltration.

See how Karunanidhi has degraded womenfolk. He has said if it was a conflict between a man and a woman that ended the 13-month rule of the BJP, now with these two women -- Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalitha -- joining hands their government would end in three months. That is the low opinion he has got of women.

You have repeatedly harped on a third front, but it is non-existent now as all your partners have gone their separate ways.

Just now the situation is not favourable for a third front. The idea of an alternative front, which will be left and democratic in character with an economic policy for the poor will materialise after these election.

Recently, in Thiruvanathapuram, Harkishan Singh Surjeet said he was there to campaign for two candidates, one the CPI-M candidate and the other, a Congress candidate in Nagercoil. How can he talk like this in a state where the Communists and the Congress are sworn rivals?

Our major opponent is the BJP and our main aim is to defeat the BJP at the Centre. In Kerala, both the Congress and the Communists are opposed to the BJP. The BJP is not going to get a single seat in Kerala.

Yours is the party, which moved an impeachment motion against Justice V Ramaswamy. Now how can you ask your cadres to canvas for him in Sivakasi?

The question today is not that. Did you read a recent report in The Hindu? It says that in Gujarat all the goondas are with the BJP. Here you have got a misunderstanding. It is not for us to go into the process of the selection of candidates by parties. We are supporting parties and not individuals. There may be candidates with bad track records.

What about ideology?

If Ramaswamy had committed any criminal mistake, the Election Commission would have debarred him. Tell me under what provision can he be debarred? If the EC did not find anything to prevent him from contesting the election why do you say he has a bad record? Parliament did not condemn him. The DMK and Vaiko supported him!

It was your party, which moved the motion.

Yes, we moved the motion. Ultimately, Parliament did not condemn him. So he is a free man. Parliament did not support the impeachment motion. So, you have to accept the decision of Parliament.

You have always been against dynastic rule. Now, how do you support Sonia Gandhi whose only qualification is to have been Rajiv Gandhi's wife?

We will not interfere with the internal affairs of the Congress party. It is for that party to elect its own leader. Calling Sonia a foreigner is jingoism. Our Constitution allows her to try for the top post. Nobody raised the question of nationality when she was elected the president of the Congress party. Where were these people, who now talk about her nationality, then?

Then, she was only the president of a party. Now she is trying to be the prime minister of the country.

There is no basis in that argument. The DMK objected to MGR being a Malayali. They asked, what has he got to do in Tamil Nadu? We warned the DMK then and asked them not to go into linguistic madness. They said, only a Tamilian must rule Tamil Nadu and not a Malayali but people elected a Malayali! That is why Karunanidhi is not talking about Sonia Gandhi's nationality now. The people of India are broad-minded and they think Sonia Gandhi is an Indian.

Tell me what is the charisma of the BJP? The charisma of Golwalkar? That of Naturam Vinayak Godse who murdered Mahatma Gandhi? That is the heritage of the BJP, a heritage which is against the nation.

Don't underestimate the communal danger posed by the BJP. It will result in the break-up of India. The BJP does not have the maturity to involve people belonging to various religions who speak various languages because their ideology does not permit them that. The regional leaders who are now supporting them will feel deserted when the BJP reveals its fangs, its real fangs!

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