‘I’ll prefer to sit in the opposition than support the Congress’

Stalwart The CPI’s Bardhan has a key role in building Left’s coalitions Photo: Tarun Sehrawat

How do you think this election will change anything?
People will vote in such a way that a new alternative to the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA will be in place. This alternative government will be based on a more Left democratic programme.

Are you saying that the new government would necessarily have to be a friend of the Left?
It will have to be. Nowadays, barring the extreme rightists and communal parties like the BJP, all other parties want to be close to the Left.

It is possible that the Left will not be in the equation after the election.
I don’t see such a possibility. I don’t think that the Congress or the BJP will gain in this election. They will be the losers and other parties will gain relatively more. That will create conditions for the formation of another alternative government.

How would this alternative government be structured?
The Left parties rule three states. We expect good results there. In Tamil Nadu the Left parties have entered into an alliance with the AIADMK. We hope to broaden that front with the possible inclusion of the PMK in the coming days. In Andhra Pradesh, the Left has entered into an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). In Karnataka, we have come to an agreement with the Janata Dal (S). In Assam and Manipur, we have arrangements with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and local outfits like the Assam United Democratic Front. Similar arrangements, I hope, will be reached in some other states before and after the polls.

In which states do you see these developments taking place?
In the coming days, you may see some arrangements maturing before the polls in states where regional parties are anti-Congress and anti-BJP. In other states they may be willing to join the formation of an alternative government after the election results are out.

The NCP is in talks with the Shiv Sena and the Congress. The AIADMK, JD(S) and TRS are also talking with the Congress. How do you reconcile that?
These are state-specific arrangements. We have a very specific non-Congress, non-BJP agenda. Some of the other secular parties may not have exactly the same agenda. That is why I said that in some cases, it might be a post-poll arrangement.

Bihar and Orissa are led by the Janata Dal (United) and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Are they parties you might work with?
We are certainly in touch with them.

How would this alternative be different from similar alternatives in the past?
India is different now. The situation is also different. Similar alternatives in the past did not have a clear picture about domestic, economic and foreign policy. Now we do. Moreover, the parties are far more experienced than what they were. It is not merely a question of power now. It is a question of power for what and for whom.

An issue that confuses voters is the number of people who want to be Prime Minister in the third alternative. Could you clarify this?
Everyone knows that becoming a Prime Minister is not a joke. There have to be numbers. Anybody can dream of being a Prime Minister. Nobody can take away the right to dream. There have to be numbers. There has to be a basis. And then, it ultimately comes down to one or two people whom you can think of as Prime Minister. Only when an alternative is capable of taking over reins of the government does the question of becoming Prime Minister come up. Till then, there are a number of people who go on projecting themselves. They are free to do so. I don’t think that people will be fooled by it.

Are there some basic things you would look for in a Prime Minister apart from just numbers?
I am not looking to any qualities of the person who can be Prime Minister. Obviously, it has to be from a party that has the required numbers in a coalition. In that case, it becomes easy as to who should be the Prime Minister.

Say the numbers look good for the Left. Is the Left in a position to project a candidate of its own?
The Left is the only group which is not immediately thinking of that. We have the required patience. We have fought all these years for socialism. We can afford to wait till our base spreads.

So, the Left will not have a candidate for the Prime Minister’s post.
We don’t have one at the moment.

Have things gone so bad that you will not support a Congress government after this election?
We broke with them on the issue of policy. Not on the issue of this election or that. I’ll prefer to sit in the opposition rather than support or participate in a Congress government, which will carry on the same policies. What would be the point in it?

Would you be agreeable if the Congress agrees to be part of a government it is not leading?
Don’t think a leopard suddenly changes its spots. Even today, the Congress is saying we are the only national party that exists in the country. Let us see what happens to them when they have such megalomaniac traits, forgetting the reality in the country today.

How different would a non-Congress, non-BJP government be, assuming it is formed, in terms of policy?
In economic policy we would like to give up the neoliberal capitalist path, which has brought disaster. The economic slowdown started from the US, but it has affected other developing countries also, including India. Therefore, we want changes in economic policy. We would like to see policies being undertaken based first on agriculture, which is the major industry in India. We want the domestic market to be built on the basis of employment-oriented industries, rather than only technology and capitalintensive industries. That will create a market in our country. It will put money in the pockets of our people.

The fast economic growth of the past five years has put money in the hands of a few and deprived the masses. We have an ocean of poverty with a few jutting out as billionaires, like rocks in a sea. We don’t want that type of development. The dalits, the adivasis, the minorities, Muslims in particular, have been excluded from economic, educational and social growth. We want these people, who add up to 40 percent of the country, to be part of development. We also look forward to changes in foreign policy. We would like to see an independent foreign policy being pursued by our country and not a policy that is aligned with the US.

Would the third alternative create the state of Telangana?
That is a commitment we have given to the people of Andhra Pradesh. It is immaterial how many months this takes, but steps will have to be taken. It is a commitment. We must fulfil it immediately. Otherwise, we will lose credibility.

It won’t stop with Telangana. There are demands from other places also.
There are demands everywhere. Telangana is not merely a demand. It is a movement. There is a struggle.

Would the third alternative seek a reversal of the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement?
It is not an equal deal. It affects our sovereignty and self-reliance in nuclear energy. But I don’t know how a reversal will take place. We have to examine this question now that the deal has been signed. The point is how far to go with the agreement even if you don’t reverse it. The latest report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has pointed out that we have uranium reserves. The government has deliberately created a scarcity of uranium to be able to justify going to the US and other countries.

Do you expect a non-Congress non-BJP alternative to have caste-based reservation in the private sector as well?
Sure. Affirmative action has to draw in the masses in our country that have been excluded for centuries. Reservation is a must, and not only in the public sector, particularly at a time when the government is privatising the public sector more and more. Therefore, reservation has to be there in the private sector as well if it is to continue.

The largest chunk of money in Swiss banks is from India. Would you expect the third alternative to take steps to get this back?
The Deputy General Secretary of our party, Sudhakar Reddy, has asked that the government make an official effort to find out deposits from India in Swiss banks. They are black money deposits, made by all sorts of manoeuvres by robbing the exchequer and exploiting the people. The amount of money lying in Swiss banks is many times the GDP of our country. If that money is brought back, it can help to tackle at one go the question of food security, education and healthcare to the masses. The government must find out. Many things are also being done brazenly through the tax haven of Mauritius. That also has to be put an end to.

How does the third alternative propose to deal with agricultural distress and its fallout?
We need thorough land reforms. A new class of landowners is being created with the so-called Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Plenty of real estate is being given to them. These SEZs are becoming a weapon for the capitalist and monopolist class. Thousands of hectares of land are being grabbed. What for? What industry requires so much of land? All this is leading to real estate speculation. We cannot allow that.

So SEZs would not be encouraged.
Certainly not.

Do you expect the TDP, AIADMK, TRS, NCP, and maybe the Bahujan Samaj Party, to back these policies with a clear understanding?
Even today they are taking positions on many of these issues which we think are correct. They will have to go a long way but I think experience will drive them towards that end. It is a daunting task but with patience and plenty of goodwill, we will be able to bring them together.

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