The Lok Sabha elections are around the corner. By May-end, India will have a new government. On one side of the fight is the Narendra Modi-led BJP while on the other are the Opposition parties, which are yet to finalise alliances in crucial states. CPI National Secretary D Raja spoke to DH's Shemin Joy on the elections, the issues, the Opposition campaign, alliances and more.
What are the issues that will decide the next government?
Firstly, the 2019 election is going to be very critical and crucial for the country and its future. The past four-plus years of Narendra Modi-led BJP rule is really a misrule. Ever since Modi became prime minister, the RSS and other Sangh Parivar outfits have come to the centre stage of politics, propagating and imposing their agendas of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra. Their ideology is very sectarian, divisive and communal Fascist. Now, what we witnessed in the past four-plus years is that the very fundamentals of our democratic republic are at stake. When I say that India is a secular, democratic republic, it means that the Constitution, which defines India as a secular and democratic republic, itself is under attack. There is an attempt to subvert the Constitution using political power.
The fundamentals of our Constitution, which are about equality, fraternity and liberty of all citizens and talks about social, political, economic justice to all citizens, are under attack. This government is going against the mandate of the Constitution. Otherwise, this question of brazenly patronising corporate houses would not have taken place. The economy is in very bad shape, whether it is unemployment or black money or farmers’ distress or no foreign investments or no increase in exports. These are all the problems of managing the economy and this government failed to manage the economy as envisioned in the Constitution. It is brazenly serving the interests of corporate houses.
Do you mean to say that the main issues of the 2019 elections are the agrarian crisis and unemployment?
Yes. That is why we think the BJP government should not be repeated. Somehow if it happens, that will really place democracy in peril and result in subverting the Constitution. The Indian nationhood will be at stake. Because it is the RSS ideological position that they would like to redefine Indian nationhood through their own ideological understanding, making India as a Hindutva nation. This means majoritarian ideology will be imposed and the secular democratic traditions of the country will be broken. That's why we want this government to be defeated. Now BJP is raising certain narratives that are just to hoodwink Indian voters. One narrative is its discussion on nationalism. In fact, they raise it because of self-guilt as they did not fight for the independence of India. They never had any role in the freedom movement and they never had any positive role in building modern India. BJP-RSS outfits did not have any role. Now it is irony that they won the last elections and they think they are the most patriotic and nationalistic force in the country. That is not true. It is a myth. It is a falsehood they try to spread. But they are not successful.
That is why they are raising the Pulwama terror strikes and subsequent developments. The way they are trying to barter the sacrifices of the soldiers for votes is something shameful and condemnable. People are wise enough to see all these things. Now then, we have the new campaign theme by Modi which says “Mein Bhi Chowkidar”. What is this? He is the prime minister. His mandate is to give good governance, good administration. But he says everyone should become chowkidars (watchmen). But now the question is, after four-plus years, he is saying he is chowkidar. The question is whose chowkidar you are. Are you the chowkidar of the nation or chowkidar of Adanis, Ambanis and other corporate houses. In reality, people are seeing Modi and his government as caretakers of corporate houses.
'Sabke Saath Sabka Vikas' (development for all) slogan has completely proved to be bogus and deceit. Farmers are agitating. Workers, women, youth students are agitating. All sections of working people are agitated. It is clearly seen that Modi's government is not with these people. It is with the other side. How can Modi deny this? Chowkidar is just an election time slogan to hoodwink people. Now he has to answer which chowkidar allowed Nirav Modi to flee from the country. Which chowkidar allowed Mallya to flee from the country. Which chowkidar has failed to get them back?
You say Modi has failed on all fronts. Is it why BJP is raising the decibel levels on Pulwama and post-Pulwama developments?
Exactly. But Pulwama and post-Pulwama developments have thoroughly exposed the crude attempt of the BJP-RSS to politicise the operations of our armed forces for the sake of elections. BJP president Amit Shah went on record to say 250 people were killed. Who gave him that figure? When he mentions that figure, others will have the right to ask what exactly happened.
There are two issues. One is that nobody is questioning air strikes because it is the mandate of the military to take appropriate action to defend our borders and it is the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force. It is not Modi Army, Modi Navy and Modi Air Force. This politicisation of military operations is quite wrong, quite dangerous. Number two, after Pulwama happened, the home minister convened a meeting of leaders of all parties. The prime minister was not present, the defence minister was not present. All of us asked where the prime minister is. We wanted the prime minister to convene a meeting of leaders to discuss these issues at the highest level. It was not considered. After the air strike in Pakistan's Balakot, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj convened a meeting. Again the prime minister was not present, the defence minister was absent. Third, when Sushma Swaraj referred to air strikes, she said it was a non-military, preemptive, anti-terror strike. Repeatedly, she was saying this.
We all said that it is a moral position the country should take. But how come the BJP-RSS leaders started saying it was a great strike and it will enhance BJP's seats in Lok Sabha elections, that this will win elections for Modi. They themselves politicised it. Now, Modi, he has become chowkidar. That itself is an admission that we have lot of problems. The government has failed to provide security to the people and ensure adequate living conditions to people. Why we need a chowkidar unless there is a theft, unless there is a disturbance, unless there is some evil, there is some loot.
Take the instance of Rafale. Who is answerable? The prime minister himself is answerable. Modi government resorts to two things. One rhetoric. Starting from 'Sabke Saath Sabka Vikas', Achhe Din, now this chowkidar. In between all this, Stand Up India, Make in India, Skill India, Digital India. These are all demagogy. The other thing is authoritarianism. There is literally no collective responsibility in this government. All decisions are taken by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). The finance minister was unaware of demonetisation is one example. He was kept in the dark. In Rafale, neither the external affairs minister nor the defence minister were involved. The decision was taken by the prime minister alone. That is why there were parallel negotiations.
The collective functioning of the government has been demolished. Power has been grabbed and concentrated in the PMO and the prime minister. This authoritarianism and demagogy are the surest ways for allowing fascism to emerge. Already we are seeing various aspects of Indian fascism. Lynching of Dalits, Adivasis and minorities, cow vigilantism, lumpenisation of society are elements of modern fascism.
So, you believe the Opposition has better prospects in the 2019 polls?
People themselves are fighting against this government. What did we see in the farmers' protests across the country? There were protests across the country by Dalits, students, industrial workers, agricultural workers and youth. General strike happened. People have their own experience of the misrule of the Modi government. So people have started reacting and they reject the BJP. That is why BJP and RSS are getting desperate. That is why they raise the Mandir issue also to polarise the people to vitiate the situation. Politicise Pulwama. Mohan Bhagwat went on say that we will put aside the Mandir issue and work on Modi's return. They are desperate, panicky.
Five years ago, we witnessed that Left had the largest fall. Where does the Left stand in this? What are your prospects?
It is a concern but in country like India, the relevance of Left will always be there. The Left will have to play an important role inside and outside Parliament. The Left will have to rework its strategies to reconnect with people and win back the support bases that have been somehow lost over these years. This is one thing.
In the given situation, the Left is giving hope to other secular, democratic forces, to the people at large. Because Left is the consistent force that is fighting against the rightwing extremist, fascistic policies of the present government. The Left is the consistent force uncompromisingly fighting against Modi. That is why they are targeting universities and all Constitutional bodies also. They think they will have to control these universities and bodies because Left is the consistent force everywhere. People have also started realising this. People also express that the Left should remain and that it should regain its strength and it should grow. That feeling is there with common people. So I hope in the coming elections, Left will increase its seats and Left will emerge as a force that can be the hope for the people.
There is a united Opposition fight against Modi. But as we are nearing the elections, we do not see much unity among the parties while BJP is going ahead with stitching alliances. How do you respond to this?
The point is BJP is stitching alliances due to various factors. For instance, the Tamil Nadu government is considered to be a puppet of the BJP. They use certain levers of the administration like ED and CBI. It is an opportunistic coming together of parties in Tamil Nadu. Same way, Shiv Sena and BJP were fighting in Maharashtra but suddenly they came together. Shiv Sena had even abstained from voting during the no-confidence motion against the Modi government despite being in the government. Akali Dal was always critical of BJP. People are wise enough to understand. On the other side, at the national level, there is a common understanding. Parties in Opposition agree that BJP should be removed. When it comes to elections, seat-sharing arrangements, the electoral tactics have to be state specific. There of course, there are certain difficulties. As the Left, we have been saying whether it is Congress or a dominant regional party, they all should be very flexible, very realistic to accommodate other parties so that the primary objective of defeating BJP will be achieved. In some states like in Tamil Nadu, we have already stitched an alliance. In Bengal, the Left has offered some sort of cooperation with the objective of defeating BJP. Now the question is states like UP, Bihar - how the alliance will be worked out. Those talks remain inconclusive.
Are you getting a little late in this exercise?
No, this is how it happens. Because one should not become very restless about this. It happens like this.
How hopeful you are about dislodging the BJP government?
That is our confidence and with that confidence, we are going to the elections. We hope that people will, from their own experiences, agree with us and vote out Modi. People have already started reacting. We have seen the results of the recent state Assembly elections. People are rejecting the BJP. Nobody should take people for granted. People will give their verdict and that verdict we believe will be against the BJP-RSS combine.