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February 18, 1998


The Election Interview/Jyoti Basu

'The Congress has come to such a pass that it is dependent on a housewife'

Jyoti Basu As election pundits predict that the Bharatiya Janata Party, even if it wins the maximum number of seats in the forthcoming polls, may not be able to form the next government, Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Jyoti Basu emerges once again as a hot candidate for the prime minister's job. Excerpts from an interview with Pritish Nandy:

In the event of yet another hung Parliament, will the Left Front back the Congress to keep the BJP out of power?

No, we have no such ideas. With only days to go for the elections, we are asking the electorate to vote in such a way that we get an absolute majority. By we, I mean the United Front, so that we don't have to depend on irresponsible parties like the Congress.

Was your decision to stay out of the United Front last time the right decision? Or was it a consequence of internal bickering within the CPI-M?

When such decisions are taken by my party, they are always political. There is never a personal angle to it. The consensus in the party is that we should not be a part of the United Front; that we should stay outside and support it, and only be part of its core committee. So I had no option but to accept the decision. It was a political decision. Nothing more.

You had the choice of becoming prime minister. Why did you refuse that?

It was not a question of my personal choice. We are guided by majority decisions in my party. This time, we decided at the last central committee meeting -- held when the election was announced -- that we have to reconsider the decision. It is no longer a closed chapter.

This means you will accept the offer if you are asked to be prime minister again?

I have never shirked any responsibility. I have been in politics for 50 years, 20 as chief minister. Whatever my party has wanted me to do, I have done. And now I say: Yes, I will accept it, health permitting.

If in the post-election scenario you are stuck in a situation where you have to either work against the BJP by joining hands with the Congress, or you have to keep the Congress out by joining hands with the BJP, whom will you choose?

We do not want to face such an alternative just now, when we are going to the people. That is why we are telling people to vote in such a way -- consciously, in full understanding of who their friends and their enemies are and who will advance the cause of India -- so that the United Front comes to power. For is the only front which can save India.

There is no question of any other option arising at this moment. Last time, what happened was that we were a minority. We told the President that we would like to form the government. (Congress leader P V) Narasimha Rao sent a message twice. That he and the Congress would not support the BJP if it wants to form a government; and another message, a little later though, that he would support the United Front government unconditionally. That is how we got the support of the Congress.

If that happens this time again, will you accept that support -- now that you describe the Congress as irresponsible?

How do I know what will happen this time? But the Congress has been so irresponsible that I do not feel like seeking their support. (Can they explain to the nation) why they have withdrawn their support to the United Front twice in 18 months? Nobody knows why.

What is your guess?

Probably the Congress leaders thought they could break our Front and take away some people with them or get some support from outside. But nothing like that happened. They failed to break us.

But they may try the same game again?

Is such a thing happens, yes, we will have to think twice. We will have to seriously consider whether, after our last experience, we want to take their support again. We will not seek their support. But if they give it to us, it is all right with us. After all, minority governments also function in parliamentary democracies.

There is a feeling that the Left obsessively dislikes the Congress and because of this obsessive dislike, you have (in effect) helped the BJP. By not being able to forge a national secular front.

The Congress is helping the BJP. What can we do about it? It has been the ruling party for 45 years out of the 50 years of Independence, and it has identified itself as a party which is corrupt. This was a party that fought for our Independence and see what they have done to it now!

In your scheme of things, which is most taboo -- communalism, casteism, corruption, or the criminalisation of politics?

Casteism does not fall in this category. But the other three are issue we have identified that we must fight. To rouse the consciousness of the people. And the Congress is identified with all three of them.

In that case, why did you accept their support last time?

Well, we were a minority government. We had no choice.

Your economic policy seems closer to that of the BJP today than that of the United Front, which has pushed ahead with structural reforms that you do not appear to agree with.

I do not agree. Look at the BJP manifesto and you will know what kind of party it is. If such a party comes to power, God help India. I call it a barbarous party. It destroyed a 500-year- old mosque! It is barbarous. Its methods are barbarous. It uses religion to divide the people. I say that they are insulting the Hindu religion also.

Here, of course, in Bengal, they have not come up in the way. But one group of the Congress has broken away and they are trying to unite with it.

Will the Trinamool Congress, which I presume you are referring to, in association with the BJP, make a dent in your vote bank?

I don't think so. The BJP got only 6 per cent of the votes last time. I do not think they can improve upon that.

You recently described Sonia Gandhi as just another housewife without any understanding of politics and economics. Is this gender bias or do you genuinely believe that a housewife can have no role to play in Indian politics?

Sonia Gandhi Housewives can play a very good role. In fact, we could not pass the women's women's bill in Parliament. We have put this in again in our manifesto, not only for the Left Front parties but also for the United Front. That 30 per cent women must be elected to the Lok Sabha and the assemblies. I have nothing against women. They are half the population of India! I want their rights to be established.

What I said (about Sonia Gandhi) was that I have not known her as being in politics. I know her; I have met her; I have had lunch with her and her husband. She was looking after the children and all that. She did not want Rajiv Gandhi to join politics. For valid reasons. I think. Anyway, Indira Gandhi inducted him. But I do not know of the wife being in politics.

I said that the Congress has come to such a pass. To depend on this housewife! I wish her luck. What else can I say? But she is in a party which is destroying India. That is why I feel sorry for her.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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