'The Bihar verdict has shown that the people of Bihar don't desire to go back to the mandir-masjid rhetoric.'
'Jobs, wages and development are the aspiration of the people of Bihar and we hope the next government will keep that in mind.'
Out of the 30-odd seats allocated to the Left parties in Bihar, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation won 12 out of the 19 seats it contested.
Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretary of the CPI (M-L), explains to Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com what the Bihar 2020 verdict means for the state. A must-read interview!
How do you look at the CPI-ML's spectacular performance in the Bihar election? Your party won 12 out of 19 seats that you contested compared to three out of 90 contested in 2015?
There's nothing really very spectacular about our party's performance.
Our party, even while contesting independently, has won seven seats in 2005. And we have been winning five-six-seven seats and polling half a million votes quite consistently.
This time around, I think what really added to it was the alliance factor. We wanted this alliance to stop the BJP and the NDA.
Obviously, when you forge an alliance, and if you manage to consolidate the anti-NDA votes, that benefits all alliance constituents. So it benefited us. And it also benefited the RJD big time.
Everybody in the Mahagatbandhan alliance benefitted. One reason for our success is the alliance factor.
The other reason is the specific nature of this particular election. This was an election being held in very adverse circumstances.
First, a COVID-19 big election. People suffered tremendously during the lockdown. So this election took the shape of a veritable people's movement, almost like an upsurge of the youth, workers.
It was not just a routine normal election. It was just like an agitation.
That agitational mode suits the Left, a party like ours, which keeps fighting for people's causes 365 days a year. We keep fighting for all the people's issues.
We always wondered why the issues that matter to the people, on which we keep fighting, year after year, day after day, disappear during the election. They never really become an election agenda.
But this was one election where the people were able to assert and shape the agenda of the election.
So you had the issues of jobs, equal pay for equal work, recognition of remuneration for women workers, the farm bills, the issues of agricultural labourers, rural labourers, their concerns for security and equality for women.
These issues became the campaign points of the Grand Alliance (Mahagatbandhan) by default.
Yet the Mahagathbandhan couldn't cross the 122 mark. What explains this loss?
Please note that till a month ago, nobody actually gave any chance to any Opposition in Bihar.
People were thinking that it would be a cakewalk for the NDA. One must look at the final outcome of this election in this context.
In 2019, the NDA swept the (Lok Sabha) polls. If you go by the 2019 figures, the NDA led in 200 plus constituencies.
Compared to 2019, you will find the NDA's as well as the BJP's vote share has seen a drastic decline.
But national election and state elections are fought on completely different issues. Isn't this comparison superfluous?
This comparison cannot be completely superfluous because it's the same NDA which is (ruling) at the Centre, which is ruling the state.
I don't see, for example, as many people think that this is an anti-Nitish verdict.
Nitish Kumar doesn't exist in a vacuum. He doesn't represent an independent party; he is part and parcel of the NDA.
So this whole anger against Nitish Kumar -- even though the BJP tried to sort of articulate in that fashion as though it (the Bihar election) is some kind of individual, personal, anti-incumbency vote against the Nitish Kumar government.
But then the BJP has been part and parcel of this government, and it cannot escape its responsibility.
On top of it, the agenda in Bihar also revolved around the (nationwide) lockdown that created immense hardships for the people of Bihar too.
Lockdown was a central government policy.
If you talk about jobs, you will find it with young people in Bihar, they're particularly concerned about the spectre of privatisation, especially Railways being privatised, which means job opportunities will disappear.
Privatisation also means the scuttling of reservations. So, it is the central government's policies that became very relevant. The farm bills, for example, are issues which have dominated in Bihar too in this election.
The NDA keeps talking about the double-engine government, that's a common metaphor they use to refer to the BJP and JD-U alliance. What the people discovered is that there may be two engines, but both were driverless. There are no drivers to pull those engines along.
So the people at large abandoned both the parties and voted for us.
Yet, the double-engine won the election and will have the same Nitish Kumar as chief minister for the fourth time.
I don't deny that, but it's only that we couldn't cross the (122 seat) line. But the people of Bihar brought us so close to it (the 122 seat mark necessary to form a government), yet we couldn't cross the line, I agree.
By no means is this an endorsement of the NDA; by no means it can be called the victory of the so-called Modi factor.
If you look at the Axis exit poll data, and the issues that matter to the people, among which they put the Modi factor as an issue before the people, only 3 per cent of the respondents said that they voted because of the Modi factor.
Only one per cent said that they voted because of Nitish Kumar. But 38 per cent said their votes were influenced by their concern for jobs, development, price rise, etc.
Despite this data, the people of Bihar did vote for Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi. They have once again become the ruling parties in Bihar.
Today, the (election) system in India is very, very, skewed. There are no checks and balances left any more in India.
India is no more a country where you have some kind of institutional balance, where you have any balance in the media; everything is skewed in favour of one political party. So the central power has absolute grip over the entire State.
State politics, district politics, panchayat politics, is becoming a very, very, tight kind of a system where they (the BJP) won't leave any space for any kind of Opposition.
Factor this circumstance and in this kind of situation of almost a totalitarian government, totalitarian kind of politics, here are people (the voters of Bihar) who managed to battle it out against these totalitarian forces in a democratic process.
The RJD's Manoj Jha has alleged that there was electoral fraud. Do you agree with what he has said?
I won't call it election fraud, yet. But we too are concerned (with certain instances of election malpractice).
There have been at least a dozen seats where the victory margin has been very narrow. Where people (Mahagathbandan candidates) were told (by the state election commission's returning officers) that they have won and then only to be told that the final results have gone against them.
Now, the thing is we want a recount in these constituencies.
Are you going to ask the Election Commission for recounting in these dozen-odd seats?
We have already sent a letter to the EC; the EC, of course, hasn't accepted our request.
All our candidates (in these constituencies) have asked for CCTV footage of the counting process and other relevant documents like Form 17 and so on and so forth.
We'll take a closer look and if we find that there is a reason to suspect any kind of election fraud or malpractice, then we will definitely try and explore whatever legal remedies are available.
As of now, I will not say that there has been something because there have been very narrow margins (victories) at many places.
A few of those narrow margins have also been in favour of the grand alliance (the Mahagathbandan). So, it is not the case that every narrow margin victory has gone in favour of the NDA.
The Left parties won 16 out of 29, out of which the CPI-ML won 12. What do these numbers say about the political success of Left parties in Bihar?
Do you think these election wins will have some impact on the CPI-M in West Bengal, which is the next state heading for assembly elections, where the BJP is going all out to take on Mamata Banerjee?
Will we see a resurgence of the CPI-M and other Left parties in West Bengal?
Surely, but not immediately or not directly, because of (the Left's electoral victories in ) Bihar. There are important takeaways for the Left as well as for every political party that cares for the future of India's democracy.
The one positive that has emerged is that the young voters from Bihar have brought back the focus of politicians on people's issues like jobs, farm wages, agriculture and development.
That's the message. If we (the Left) can build on this and awaken more people to these causes, then this is definitely a good message for the future of India's democracy.
The other thing is we are told the BJP is invincible. Amit Shah is a Chanakya...
But he didn't campaign in Bihar this time...
He didn't do it in Bihar this time, but in a very revealing way, he was campaigning in West Bengal.
Perhaps the BJP knew they already have Bihar in their pocket and so they wanted to use Amit Shah's Chanakya-niti in West Bengal?
I don't know whether they knew they got it (Bihar) in their pocket. It could also be that the last time he (Shah) campaigned in Bihar he failed miserably, so they wanted to keep him away from failure and so took him to West Bengal.
Perhaps, that was the reason why Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP kept harping on making Nitish Kumar the chief minister so that in case they failed they could make Nitish Kumar the fall guy and save the Modi-is-invincible image.
If you look at it very closely, the NDA's 125 to the Mahagathbandan's 110 was a very see-saw kind of battle.
We have the option of seeking legal remedy in those 10-15 closely fought seats, which are very crucial, and could eventually, actually, determine the fate of the next government in Bihar.
The Bihar election has once again made it clear that elections can still be fought and won by focusing on people's agenda; you can make a battle out of it and that the BJP and Modi are not really invincible.
This election has also taught us that the BJP has to be taken seriously in West Bengal. That's where the CPI-M in West Bengal has to fight doggedly against the BJP while not letting the steam off the Trinamool Congress.
The CPI-M need not have to be too obsessed with opposing the TMC; the TMC government, of course, has got its own brilliant track record in West Bengal on issues related to corruption and terrorising opponents and destroying democracy. The Left will have to fight the TMC government on all these issues.
But having said that, it needs to be underlined squarely that the BJP poses the single biggest threat to democracy in India, to the Constitution.
Bengal is now literally encircled by the BJP. They have captured Assam, they have almost come back to power in Bihar.
So, the Left in Bengal must target the BJP as the most important political challenge without giving any concession to the Trinamool Congress.
Do you think the Congress failed to put all its might behind the 70 candidates it fielded in Bihar in 2020 as compared to the 40 it contested in 2015?
The Congress should not have contested 70 seats.
In today's context, it probably proved too large a number for the Congress to handle effectively.
This is kind of loud thinking on my part that when they contested 40 seats in 2015 and won 27 of those assembly seats. Now, probably, if the Congress had once again contested only 40 seats they could have concentrated better.
With 70 seats they overstretched themselves; they spread their energy resources, organisational machinery too thin for any effective results.
Maybe 40 seats for the Congress could have produced better results for them. 10 each out of the remaining 30 contested by the RJD; CPI-ML, CPI-M and CPI five seats each could have had a better result and that could have been the difference.
That could have possibly been the difference between what has happened now and what could have happened.
These are all issues that we all need to sit together and review.
Can Nitish Kumar provide a stable government now that the JD-U has been relegated to the third biggest party in Bihar, and the BJP will be running a remote-controlled NDA government implementing the BJP's agenda?
That's not a new thing in Bihar, especially for Nitish Kumar. He has always done the BJP's bidding.
He has never really tried to assert any autonomy even when he was in the NDA before Modi (during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's time), except for that small interregnum when he left the NDA and came over to this side (was part of the Mahagathbandan) between 2013 and 2016.
But for this small window, Nitish Kumar's political career has been spent in the BJP's subservience.
Subservience to the BJP has defined Nitish Kumar's political career from the mid-1990s, late 1990s onward till recently.
So I don't really think that this is a new thing for Nitish Kumar. But he will find it more difficult with the BJP trying to exact its pound of the flesh, all the time controlling him with a very crude remote control.
As far as we (the Mahgathbandan) are concerned, the agenda has been set.
When we talked about 10 lakh jobs, the BJP's initial response was we cannot provide 10 lakh jobs because we don't have the resources. Then a couple of days later, they (the BJP and NDA) came back with the promise of 19 lakh jobs.
We sensed the pulse of Bihar's youth that the issue of jobs and employment was actually very important for them. So, we successfully set the agenda for the Bihar election.
I would expect the new government delivers on that agenda and sticks to the agenda that the people of Bihar have set for the future government.
The Bihar verdict has shown that the people of Bihar don't desire to go back to the mandir-masjid rhetoric.
Jobs, wages and development are the aspiration of the people of Bihar and we hope the next government will keep that in mind.