October 9, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/Saifuddin Chowdhury

'I will float a party by the year end'

Former Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Saifuddin Chowdhury is a dejected man after the party's central committee refused to renew his primary membership of the party.

Chowdhury, Sofida to his friends, has been in the eye of the storm for long, primarily due to his outspoken nature and differences with the party leadership on many contentious issues.

Known as a liberal leader within the CPI-M, Chowdhury was vocal on the party mandarins' reluctance to change the CPI-M's programmes drafted way back in 1964. He has never minced words in describing clause 112 of the programme as defunct, for this was the factor that put paid to the octogenarian Marxist Jyoti Basu's aspiration to become prime minister in 1996. According to this clause, while the CPI-M cannot be a part of a coalition government at the Centre, it can form a multi party government at the state level.

Basu himself had called the move a historical blunder. To evaluate whether or not it was indeed a historical blunder, the issue was intensely debated during the party's Calcutta congress in 1998.

Chowdhury has often maintained that a true Communist should not confine himself to a time warp. "It is ridiculous if we don't change our policies in accordance with the fast changing world," he had said.

Chowdhury enjoyed the support of many a senior CPI-M leaders, including the West Bengal Sports and Transport Minister Subhas Chakraborty. But, while the party's highest decision making body has spared other rebels, Chowdhury alone has been punished. Since his unceremonious exit from the central committee in 1995, Chowdhury was never allowed to hold any important post in the party.

Soon after the news of his exit from the party spread, he spoke to Rifat Jawaid at the former's Belgachia residence in north Calcutta.

How do you feel about the decision not to renew your primary membership of the party?

To tell you the truth, I am not amused. I knew this would happen one day. But what has shocked me most is the timing of the decision.

Only a week ago, I had said that we should not indulge in verbal exchanges on our ideological differences since the state was witnessing the worst ever floods in last century. Millions of people had been rendered homeless.

I feel sorry. Had this decision come a little later, I wouldn't have grumbled. I had not expected the CPI-M leaders, with whom I remained associated for about three decades, to show such political immaturity.

Do you feel let down by the liberal camp within the CPI-M who did not come to your rescue? Even Basu, a known moderate heavyweight, kept mum.

I have no qualms about it. There is no question of anyone standing by you. They all have their own individual compulsions and standing in the party which influence their decisions. This is not something I never thought of. I have been readying myself since 1995 for such an eventuality.

All I wanted was for the leadership to give me an honourable separation. But they chose to do this.

You have been accused of being a rebel. But there are many other leaders who had adopted similar stands in the past but escaped disciplinary action. Why do you think you were singled out?

Ask those to whom my presence in the CPI-M was unbearable. I know there are certain things that can be done individually and some by collective efforts. To remain in the CPI-M for nearly 35 years was a conscious decision. I have no regrets that I had to be dropped in such a fashion. I still feel that CPI-M is the party of the working class people. By simply improving certain gray areas, the party could have easily lived up to its true reputation of being a party of peasants and labourers. My criticism was never meant to wash dirty linen in public. In fact, it was constructive. Though they did make some attempt in bringing about changes in a few clauses like multiparty democracy, multi-sectoral systems etc, I feel these things were done in a half-hearted manner. Having said this, I have no bitterness against the party leadership. Neither should they have any grudge against me. Despite political and ideological differences, our aim should be to work for the upliftment of the working class.

What next?

A new horizon with a new party. It will be secular, without even tacit links with communal elements. My party, which is likely to come into being before the year end, will focus on development oriented policies and strive for the equality of people. As for the party's shape, it will largely depend on the number of people who join.

Have other known moderate leaders within the CPI-M extended their support for your proposed party?

I am receiving calls. I can't say who are calling and who will eventually desert the CPI-M to join my party. But I am quite optimistic about the future. I feel that if you have right policy and an honest stand, people will support you.

What do you think of Jyoti Basu? Do you think he should have called it quits?

Basu is a towering personality of Indian politics. He reflects a true combination of Marxism and Leninism. He is never been rigid in his approach and always shown flexibility to criticism. But for the party to force him continue as chief minister even at 87 is indicative of how cruel they can be to an aging personality. He (Basu) should have been relieved from active politics long ago.

I will not make any more comments since this is something which doesn't concern me anymore.

Do you agree with the Opposition when they say the CPI-M is sponsoring terror and violence in Midnapore?

It is for the state government to decide. I don't think a party like CPI-M will indulge in such violent activities. If indeed some CPI-M cadres are resorting to violent measures, they should be brought to book.

You are considering floating a new party in West Bengal. But your detractors accuse you of spending most of your time in Delhi.

See even when I was formally dropped from the CPI-M, I was in Calcutta and those who accused me of spending most of my time in Delhi were in the capital. So tell me how do they justify their allegations? I left my family for a month during the last Lok Sabha elections and campaigned for the party. I never wanted to be a politician whose activities and popularity are confined to a particular state. Delhi is an inseparable part of India, so what's wrong if I stayed for a long duration there. If they are trying to prove that Sofi doesn't have mass support base in Bengal, they are blissfully ignorant. They shouldn't have denied me a Lok Sabha ticket in 1998 from Katua. I wanted to fight the election, but they refused for some mysterious reasons.

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