The best option in 2014 is the formation of a non-Congress, non-BJP government based on alternative policies, says CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury
Communist Party of India-Marxist senior leader and member of Parliament Sitaram Yechury tells Aditi Phadnis why people are angry with the Trinamool Congress, and what will be party’s strategy in 2014
A member of your own party has apologised for incivility in the behaviour of party cadres with the chief minister and the finance minister of West Bengal outside the Planning Commission.
You have to see things in perspective. An innocent boy, who was peacefully exercising his lawful democratic right, died in police custody. The post-mortem report suggested the police version that he had died due to an accident was incorrect. There were multiple wounds on various parts of his body. The anger and indignation over this was reflected in the demand for a judicial probe into the murder.
But excesses in judicial custody happen all over India all the time. We don’t see the Communist Party of India-Marxist taking those up. The Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights and the Organisation for the Protection of Democratic Rights scream about these all the time. Excesses on Soni Sori, Binayak Sen... One of your own died, so you’re making it an issue...
You’ll find this is not true. We did raise the issue of Binayak Sen, and from time to time do raise the issue of violations of civil liberties. If you examine this, you will find that where ever custodial death has taken place, we have demanded punishment for the guilty.
But, here, the students were taking part in a demonstration duly permitted by the police. We asked for a judicial probe, but our demand was not accepted. The chief minister is on record as saying this is a “petty” matter. That aroused national indignation. So we planned a protest at the Planning Commission.
Our protest was on when the police informed us that the chief minister would enter the Planning Commission through gate no 4. They provided her police escort, but she opted to enter through gate no 1, where demonstrators were protesting peacefully. She walked through the demonstrators with the finance minister in tow. She entered the Planning Commission, but the finance minister was left behind. You have to ask him the reason he didn’t go with her.
In the meantime, the police locked the gate. Some protesters followed the chief minister, and in the melee, some people were roughed up. We have condemned the melee.
What happened next?
Immediately, after April 9, when this incident took place, more than 1,000 party offices of the CPI-M and other Left parties and mass organisations were attacked, ransacked, destroyed and burnt. Those included CPI-M district committee offices in Siliguri, South 24 Parganas and Hooghly. Party leaders and activists were physically assaulted in every district. CPI-M state committee member Manabesh Choudhury, All India Democratic Women’s Association State Secretary Minati Ghosh and former ministers Ashok Bhattacharya and Narayan Biswas were attacked. Houses of Left leaders were attacked. In many places, clubs were attacked, too; a library was burnt.
That the ruling party was out in the street to spread an all-encompassing terror was proved when they barged into the PresidencyUniversity campus, beat up students, molested girls, and vandalised the famed heritage Baker Laboratory, where C V Raman did his research and got the Nobel Prize: What could anyone possibly have got by attacking the lab? Incidentally, the target at PresidencyUniversity was not the Students Federation of India alone; it was mindless hooliganism.
There is a view that what goes around, comes around. When the Left Front was in power, an ordinary citizen could not even go to the police station and register an FIR (first information report) unless he carried with him a “chit” from the local party committee; the police would just send him away unless he could prove he had the protection of the party.
I don’t agree with that at all. In fact, one continuous complaint that cadres used to have was: we are in power, and yet, so many of our people have been killed by political opponents. Why is this happening? This is the question we used to be bombarded with all the time. Far from utilising the police to advance our interest, we couldn’t even protect our own comrades.
Between the parliamentary elections (of 2009) and the assembly elections (of 2011), 500 of our comrades were killed. Now, they are claiming numbers, and we are claiming numbers. The difference is, in our case, we have the names and addresses, and in many cases, even photographs. We know where they lived, who their parents are… They haven’t even given us the names, forget addresses…
So it is not the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, not the Vishva Hindu Parishad, not the Bajrang Dal that is killing your cadres, attacking you politically, using State force to decimate you. It is the Trinamool Congresss. In this context, do you think it was a mistake to repeatedly characterise the Bharatiya Janata Party as your principal and primary enemy?
(Smiles) It is not a question of violence on cadres alone. At the heart of the contradiction is economic forces and land. Because of Operation Barga and the land redistribution programme, people’s land was taken away and given to those who didn’t have it. While our government was in power, millions of landless got legal rights on land that they were tilling. The former landlords, those who used to hold land above the ceiling, are seeking to reclaim their land. This is naturally being resisted by those who have the land now.
This is the class struggle that we are seeing. Those who are defending the rights of the landless are holding the red flag. Those who are trying to regain the land -- they could be the BJP or the Congress. But this is the real issue.
Of late, you have collaborated on a number of issues with the BJP. Does this mean a rethinking on basic premises?
There are some issues on which we have come together, such as foreign direct investment in retail. But our understanding is only on immediate, specific issues. But there has never been any question about the BJP. We feel its political project is antithetical to the secular and democratic foundations of the IndianRepublic.
Many of your erstwhile friends have drifted away from you -- the Samajwadi Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Have they gone away from you? Or have you gone away from them?
We remain where we were. They have to answer this question.
But don’t you feel they have used you and betrayed you?
It is not betrayal. They must have their reasons and compulsions. You have to ask them. As far as we are concerned, our equation with any other party is on the basis of principles and policy. When we allied with the Congress, at that time, we were protecting the country from the attack of the BJP. Our support is always based on policies.
What about 2014?
At the moment, we stand completely opposed to the policies of the Congress. And our resolve to oppose the communal nature of the BJP’s politics stands. The best option in 2014 is the formation of a non-Congress, non-BJP government based on alternative policies.
Could that include parties that are now part of the BJP or the Congress stable? Because without that, such an alternative is impossible.
We are trying; we are working on it.