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We learnt our lessons: Prakash Karat

Last updated on: May 18, 2011 13:45 IST

We learnt our lessons: Prakash Karat

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In an exclusive interview to CNN-IBN, a defiant Prakash Karat speaking out for the first time after the poll debacle says he won't be stepping down and makes it clear that he alone cannot take the blame for the Left rout in the elections.

Mamta's campaign that 'the Left has become the feared usurper of the land' was the single most important for factor for loss in Bengal

The land issue figured in the losses we suffered in 2009 also, but don't think it's the single major cause alone for the loss. It is one of the factors but I don't know if we can say it is the single factor.

Was it an important factor?

Yes, definitely. We saw it in the 2009 assembly elections and some impact of that in the Panchayat elections as well.

Buddhadeb failed to gauge the political impact of the land agitation

We gauged it and tried to make amends. We said land acquisition was one issue that will be dealt with carefully, and won't be taken away without the farmers' consent. But I think the damage was already done at that time.

Would you have done it differently in hindsight?

We learnt our lesson. Not a single piece of land was acquired in Nandigram or elsewhere where there was an issue.

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Image: CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat
Photographs: Prakash Karat
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'The opposition has repeatedly demonised our cadre'

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Thirty-four years of uninterrupted rule brought what some would say was arrogance of power. Your comments?

I don't think there was arrogance. Every year, whether it was assembly or Panchayat elections or a Parliament election, we were being accounted to by the people. Had we been arrogant, people wouldn't have reposed their confidence in us again and again. But 34 years of historic rule, despite our achievements, produced some negative factors.

CPM cadre is accused of having an attitude of with us or against us, of being violent and that comes from 34 years of power.

The strength of the Communist Party of India-Marxist is this cadre. Without the cadre we wouldn't have established this rapport with the people. The opposition has repeatedly demonised our cadre; it is our detracted and sacrificing cadre that has kept the party going.

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Image: CPI-M activists in Vijayawada
Photographs: Snaps India
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'Nobody denied VS a ticket'

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Did the CPM show haste in conceding defeat in Kerala? The CPM was the single largest party and there was still a possibility of getting some from the United Democratic Front camp to switch sides

We accepted the verdict after the last seat was counted and declared. It was only after the final declaration we said we accept the verdict. We do not see as an indicted of the Left Front government.

In the run up to the polls CPM State Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan expressed concern over pictures of VS Achuthanandan in posters, saying it's a news trend that needs to be looked into. Communists don't believe in personality cults. Do you agree with him?

We don't believe in personality cults. But in elections, the main campaigners, the most popular leader, their pictures and posters come out because people recognise those leaders. I don't believe there is anything wrong with that.

VS Achuthanandan was projected because he was the chief minister, the pre-eminent leader of the party and the movement in Kerala.

Why then did you first take a decision to deny this 'pre-eminent' leader' a ticket?

That's wrong. Nobody denied him a ticket. We declared our candidate list on March 18, and his name was there. There was a process in the party where various candidatures were discussed.

We are a democratic party, so there may be views for and against different candidates. Everything was taken into account and a decision was taken.

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Image: VS addresses an election rally
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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'We do not have a high command'

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Are you saying that no such decision was taken in the state committee meeting in which you and SR Pillai were observers?

The decision then was that the proposals should be taken down to the districts and their views sought. Before a decision was taken, we had nothing to do there.

If there was a need for intervention we would have done it, but we knew the process was on and we didn't need to intervene at that stage.

I will paraphrase my question. If the state committee had decided to not give him a ticket, would you have intervened?

The Politburo would have then taken a view on whether VS needed to contest and we would have taken responsibility to ensure he did. But it didn't come to that because the decision was taken by the state secretariat.

You are saying there was no error in judgment?

There was a lot of discussion even in 2006 over VS in this case. There were discussions as well, but the final decision was that he would contest.

So you are saying the 'official faction' did not want to deny VS a ticket?

There is no political faction in our party. There is only the majority view and the minority. The majority view becomes the collective view, and the state secretariat view was that he be given a ticket.

We do not have a high command and we do not foist candidates on our state units.

The performance in Kerala election was admirable. Do you think the major portion of the credit should go to VS?

I listed out the four factors VS Achuthanandan, performance of the LDF, unity in the LDF and the issue of corruption.

Some reports said your loss in some seats in strongholds of Kannur was due to sabotage.

There is nothing to show so. Due to delimitation there was some skewing. There is no possibility of any sabotage.

There is no question of factionalism in Kannur. In fact, the number of votes we polled has gone up, compared with the 2009 elections.

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Image: A Left Front rally

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'Elections are not our party's prime activity'

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Do you take moral responsibility for the electoral loss?

This issue does not arise in our party. It's like when our ship goes through a stormy weather, nobody jumps out of the ship. They have to steer the ship on the right course, and out of the difficulties.

We don't hold anybody accountable for electoral losses in our party. If there is any organisational indiscipline; or somebody has not worked properly in an election, or as you said; sabotaged the party's decision, then an action would follow.

Otherwise, elections are a part of our overall political activity. But we do not see it as the prime activity. So we take into account the collective and the individual accountability.

By jumping ship, I take it you are saying it hasn't crossed your mind that you should step down?

Nobody will jump the ship.

If we have had an electoral loss, we don't write a person off and then throw him or her off the ship, nor is that person allowed to jump ship. Everybody takes the responsibility. So the talk about Buddhadeb Bhattacharya quitting doesn't happen in our party.

Buddhadeb had said withdrawal of support to the UPA and formation of third front cost the party?

We have reviewed all this in our party, we have a method -- decisions are taken, the central committee took a decision -- it was unanimous. There is no issue in our party regarding these matters.

Do you believe that the withdrawal cost the party?

That is an issue that we cannot compromise on a Congress-led government. Our party is very clear, and our decision is correct. We had only said that it was difficult to mobilise people over the nuclear issue.

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Image: Buddhadeb Bhattacharya at a rally

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'The Congress and the TMC would have worked together anyway'

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Did you not inadvertently get the Congress and the Trinamool Congress together in West Bengal?

When has the Congress helped the CPI-M and West Bengal? The Congress has always fought and tried to defeat or weaken the CPI-M. There has never been any history of co-operation between the Congress and the CPI-M in Kerala as well.

So you say the withdrawal didn't bring them together; they would have come together anyway?

They were together in 2001, and they were together in the Panchayat elections. We have seen that the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress and Trinamool worked together. This is the class reality in Bengal.

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Image: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi with Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee at a poll rally in West Bengal
Photographs: Reuters
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'Elections are an outcome of policy and political approach'

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You talk of collective responsibility. But do you think you failed to provide leadership where you should have?

No. As far as the political line or the policy of the party is concerned, we have come to the conclusion if they are wrong, the responsibility will lie with the leadership. It lies with the politburo, with the general secretary and the central committee.

Are you saying there will be fixing of responsibility as far as policy is concerned?

Policy and political approach -- elections are an outcome of that. The tactics we adopted in the elections come from an overall tactical line. If we find something wrong, we will take responsibility for that.

And what would that entail?

That we will decide in our party forum. For example, if we have to formulate a news line, who could do it? Who should be in the leadership? We will decide all that in due course of time.

Who could be in the leadership? Are you suggesting a leadership change?

By leadership again, I mean the politburo or the central committee

Will you take up the issue of limited number of terms for the general secretary?

Many communist parties in the world are discussing fixed terms for party functionaries. I am not ruling it out. It may be discussed in the party congress. It's a proposal, that's all.

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Image: CPM-M general secretary Prakash Karat
Photographs: Reuters
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'We are a creative party'

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A B Bardhan said if the leadership doesn't change and adapt they will be the ones for whom the bell tolls

We have been changing all the time. We are the only communist party in the world which has applied Marxism to Indian conditions so creatively. No other communist party has this kind of experience in parliamentary politics. We change and adapt according to the times.

But in this parliamentary politics, since you took over in 2005, (barring 2006), there have only been electoral reverses.

It has nothing to do with individuals or individual units of the party. As I said, it depends on where we are politically, or whether we have the correct approach.

So, neither will I take credit for 2006, nor will I take responsibility for 2011.This just doesn't depend on individuals. We are an organisation, and we have our methods of reviewing and correcting if there are any mistakes or distortions.

Your critics would say that you are seeking refuge behind numbers when you talk of vote share, because as a national party you are in power in only one state -- Tripura.

Forty-one per cent shows we have mass base. It's not the end of the party. We have not hit rock bottom.

But isn't going to be a tall order from here on- the last red bastion has been breached

The Elections only reflect something else -- our movement exists -- our opportunities for developing movements and struggles also exist. State governments are not the end all for our party. Our party exists despite not winning elections in so many places.

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Image: A CPI-M worker in Kolkata
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
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'Pepple are trying to undo our work'

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Was decision for third front politically naive?

Its not the end of the possibilities of having a third force or front, but right now it is not in the making. It's an ongoing process. It will have its ups and downs.

It's a phenomenon that will recede and then come up again. The Congress and the BJP together did not poll 5-5 of votes in the last parliamentary elections.

Somnath Chatterjee campaigned in West Bengal

Why should I comment on individuals? It wasn't just him. Several communists party or no party came to join our campaign.

Will he be taken back?

That is not a matter we have discussed

Will that be discussed?

Anything can be discussed.

Do you see the Left take the social democratic spec like the new Labour Party?

The new Labour has proved itself bankrupt, and now the Torries are back in power.

Is there a crisis of leadership in West Bengal?

No, but we have another serious problem. What we have done over the years has now come under attack. For example, people trying to reverse our land reforms.

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Image: Former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee

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