Lok Sabha Polls 2024: On democracy, polarisation & survival | An interview with CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury

The CPI(M) is fighting a crucial battle for survival. General Secretary Sitaram Yechury spoke to DH’s Shemin Joy about the elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign rhetoric, the I.N.D.I.A. bloc, and his party’s prospects.
hemin Joy
Last Updated : 26 April 2024, 02:57 IST
Last Updated : 26 April 2024, 02:57 IST

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New Delhi: The CPI(M) experienced its worst electoral performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This time, the party is fighting a crucial battle for survival. CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury spoke to DH’s Shemin Joy about the elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign rhetoric, the I.N.D.I.A. bloc, and his party’s prospects.

The polling for a new Lok Sabha has begun. What are your thoughts and expectations?

If the elections are free, fair, and conducted cleanly, there is a good chance that the Modi government will face an uphill task. Forget their propaganda of winning 400-plus seats. The way the first phase has unfolded, they will find it very difficult even to retain what they have. The BJP has this realisation, and the stridency with which the Prime Minister is now campaigning is an indication.

You refer to free and fair elections. Do you think the Election Commission is doing enough?

It is not doing enough. You see the violations of the Model Code of Conduct, and on that, it does not appear to be fair and equal. Even the most brazen violations by the Prime Minister and the BJP are allowed to pass. Now, that is not being free and fair. You are allowing a type of propaganda to whip up emotions for vote-catching. It should be absolutely uniform in its criteria. If you are punishing an Opposition leader by barring him from campaigning for two days for saying something, then you are not taking any action against a ruling party member for saying even worse things.

As phase 1 voting completed, one saw a change in Modi's campaign vocabulary. Why is Modi saying what he is saying?

My interpretation is that it borders on desperation because they are losing seats they previously won. Besides the subjective assessments of whether you're winning a seat or not, one has to consider the fall in the voting percentage. A decline in the voting percentage is never good for the ruling party. Secondly, the drop in the voting percentage also indicates that there is no wave, no single motivating factor. Without a wave, winning for Modi has always been difficult. These are objective indicators. With all these factors considered, it appears clear that they are not performing as well as they had anticipated. Consequently, they resort to the only card they have left -- communal polarisation and stoking hatred between Hindus and Muslims.

Do you think this ‘communal card’ will work?

I don't think it will work the way they hope. I believe this strategy has been overused and pushed to the extreme. Unless, of course, they engineer riots and similar events, then it's a different story. But as it stands, this type of polarisation isn't resonating. Regardless of whether you're Hindu or Muslim, the real concerns are about day-to-day life. Modi remains notably silent on these issues. He doesn't address employment, hunger, or the essential benefits people need to survive. Instead, he talks about mutton and perpetuates myths like the idea that the growing Muslim population will erode Hindu rights. This myth about Muslim population growth has been debunked. Then there's the issue of quotas, where Modi claims that SCs and STs' benefits will be given to Muslims, which is an absurd notion as you cannot alter the Constitution. Additionally, there's the unfounded claim about Hindu wealth being stolen, including the notion of mangalsutras being snatched. Modi's speeches have become increasingly atrocious and outrageous, which reflects a clear sense of desperation.

But the I.N.D.I.A. bloc, which opposes the BJP, is facing internal divisions. What are its prospects?

As I've mentioned before, I've been saying that seat adjustments will only be possible at the state level. There's nothing that can be worked out at the national level. It took some time to convince our allies, but now things are progressing at the state level, and quite satisfactorily. We have coalitions forming in Maharashtra, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu. In other states, major parties have reached understandings, like the Samajwadi Party and Congress in Uttar Pradesh. In Rajasthan, we contested only one seat with the Congress, which is a new and positive development, considering we might have otherwise contested 4-5 seats. At the state level, I.N.D.I.A. parties are moving forward as expected. In some states, we knew from the start that it wouldn't work out. For example, in Kerala, it has to be a contest between LDF and UDF to squeeze out the BJP, and the same applies to West Bengal. The objective is to defeat the BJP. So, if a contest between LDF and UDF helps achieve that objective, then it's successful. In Bengal, defeating or minimizing the BJP can only happen with a triangular fight. If there's no triangular fight and there's adjustment with the Trinamool Congress, Congress, and Left, then all the anti-incumbency sentiment gets absorbed by the BJP, which would greatly benefit them. The same applies in Punjab; if AAP and Congress reach an understanding, the advantage would go to the Akali Dal and ultimately to the BJP. All of this is being done to defeat or reduce the BJP's seats.

You asked for more seats in some states. Was Congress flexible in its approach?

There should have been greater flexibility. The RJD and DMK were fairly accommodative. In Maharashtra, it became a bit complicated due to the involvement of too many parties. However, in other states where the Congress was the major party, it should have been more accommodative. This would have made the situation much better.

But there is a lot of bad blood between I.N.D.I.A. partners in Kerala. Leaders like Rahul Gandhi have directly attacked CPI(M) Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. How do you see this?

This kind of tone in a campaign is not very healthy. It usually doesn't work out well. In the last Assembly election, they referred to the Chief Minister as 'Modi in a mundu (dhoti)'. However, it turned out to be counter-productive. For the first time in Kerala's electoral history, a political front returned to power. It is very unfortunate that such a comment came from someone with the stature of a former president of the Congress. Actually inviting Modi to arrest the Kerala Chief Minister is most unfortunate.

There has been a decline in CPI(M)'s electoral strength. What are your expectations from the 2024 elections?

There has been a decline in CPI(M)'s electoral strength over the last 20 years, reaching its lowest point in the last election. Now, I expect the reversal process to begin in this election. We should start gaining ground from this point and move towards improvement.

Published 26 April 2024, 02:57 IST

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