Brinda Karat is the first woman to ever be elected to the Communist Party of India-Marxist Politburo.
In the second segment of a two-part interview with Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt, Karat agrees that a section of Indian society is uncomfortable with her party's ideology.
On work that satisfied her
My work as a trade union leader with textiles workers was highly satisfying. For six to seven years, I felt my day was incomplete unless I went to the mill gates in North Delhi. Only after living with them did I understand the issue of class. I also understood gender oppression within the class-based society of India through the issues of the textile workers of Delhi.
Secondly, as an activist working with the poor women in the slums of Delhi, I understood gender issues. These women continue to inspire me.
On women in India today
I have a mixed feeling about the position of women. Better-educated and middle class women have a better opportunity to understand the world and have far more access to information than before. But as far as the assertion of women is concerned it's a mixed bag. I find there's a much greater mobilisation of women against oppression. But at the same time, forces working to prevent that and a kind of backlash against women's assertion is also very great.
On becoming a member of the Politburo
In our party we are not trained to see things as personal or individual achievement. There have been inspiring political leaders who have created history in Indian politics. Godavari Parulekar, Vimal Ranadive, Ahliya Rangnekar, Suseela Gopalan, Kanak Mukherjee are some of the great Communist women who have made history.
They have created a way for other women to join the party. They have sensitised the polity at so many different levels.
On husband Prakash Karat and her being a power couple
Fortunately, people I work with know well that my work and Prakash's work are independent of each other. I work in a totally different area and different field. Yes, it is a coincidence that we are married. We have our own political views within the party framework.
The Communists do not appeal to India's mainstream
It is true that a certain section of Indian society is uncomfortable with our ideology. We are rooted in the lives of the poor. On the other hand, look at our party profile. Sixty per cent of our members are below the age of 40. The CPI-M is a youthful party.
If you redefine mainstream India you will get an idea what it means. To me mainstream are the workers and labourers of India. Mainstream is poor people, majority people. They are the mainstream and I don't think a majority of them have contempt for the CPI-M.
On the Leftist rethink on caste to reach voters
Caste as a method of mobilisation, not necessarily on democratic lines, has become a phenomenon that has really overcome (the issue of) the unity of oppressed people. Look at the Dalits or look at other oppressed backward classes -- economically they form the basic classes for any revolutionary movement.
If you want to organise the basic classes in India, you just have to look at the way the caste system is still operating. I will not say that caste will be our focus, but I will say it is an important focus. Look at Kerala. The birth of the Communist movement in Kerala was closely linked to the anti-caste system. Like the movement we fought against the discrimination on entering temples. In Hyderabad (the late CPI-M general secretary P) Sundarayya led the movement against untouchability.
What Leftists have now to grapple with is the way bourgeois politics has coopted caste mobilisation to strengthen the unequal and inequitable status quo.
On Indian Leftists after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the paradigm shift in China
We are not against foreign direct investment per se. We are discriminatory in granting permission for FDI. How do people gain from FDI? What should be the conditions to allow FDI? We have parameters set by the party and our government in West Bengal decides accordingly.
West Bengal has been the victim of the most dreadful discrimination by the central government for years. Big industrial houses has been cruel to West Bengal. They want to invest where there are grave labour conditions. The West Bengal government says we are going to protect labour laws. We are saying you cannot suspend labour laws.
Certainly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and destruction of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe, America is trying to spread its hegemony all over world. People like us who are working for a different world are more isolated than we were before. Now, every country will have to find its own path.
In India there is so much exploitation because of capitalism. The only advantage is that there is a Constitution which guarantees democracy. At the same time you have the most undemocratic economic structures, which bulldozes the rights of a large majority.
China is fighting its own path in a world, which is not as conducive to change as before. The Communist party has expressed concern over inequitable economic development. I don't want to be judgmental about China.
Photograph: Ranjan Basu/Saab Press
Image: Uday Kuckian
Image: Uday Kuckian