'Take credit for Azhar but you escorted him out'

'Take credit for Azhar but you escorted him out'

Question raised on the EC is very ominous for India's democracy: Yechury

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury. PTI file photo
Impossible for BJP to retain all seats it won in 2014
Question raised on the EC is very ominous for India's democracy
Imran's remarks prefering Modi's return put the nail on head

CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury believes BJP is on the backfoot after campaigning for his party candidates in the Lok Sabha election. He says that question marks being raised on the Election Commission is very very ominous for India's democracy. He finds fault with BJP taking credit for the designation of Masood Azhar as global terrorist saying people from even the remotest parts are asking who released him and escorted him out of the country. Yechury spoke to DH's Shemin Joy on ongoing Lok Sabha elections, Opposition's prospects, BJP's campaign plank and his views on Election Commission.

Till now, 373 out of 543 Lok Sabha seats have gone to polls. How is the Lok Sabha election panning out? Where is it headed to?

I would divide the elections into two – first three phases and the rest four phases. In the first three phases, the total number of seats to which elections were held was 302. Out of this, BJP has 113 sitting MPs. It is universally accepted that at least in one-half of the seats, the chances of BJP coming back are very slim. Even if they retain 60, in the rest of the four phases, they will have to get more than 200. In these four phases, only 240 seats are going to the polling booths. They already have 161 sitting seats in this. So they have retained all of them and then win another 60. It is an impossible task. This is the ground reality. What is likely to emerge post elections is the efforts to establish an alternative secular government.

BJP is the ruling party and it may have an advantage in a post-poll scenario. How do you see this?

Such an advantage is always there. If you are a single-largest party, you are called to form the government. Then you can use the time. Normally till now, the longest period given to a government to prove its majority is 13 days given to A B Vajpayee in 1996. In those 13 days, that government could not sustain or establish its majority. So it had to go. Then it was followed by the United Front government. Efforts were made even then to entice, to pressurise all other parties to try and support the BJP. That didn't work then. They will try all that now. Now they have a lot more resources. But I am sure BJP will not succeed. Given the mood of the people, any party that was given such a mandate in 2014 and that had betrayed promises in such a manner would end up losing.

If you go by the campaign, one does not see much of Opposition narrative. Is that perception correct? Has the Opposition faltered?

Not at all. We don't feature in media. The media is only with the ruling BJP. That is all that they are projecting. This is the period which is worse than the period of Emergency when no news about the Opposition is carried by the media. So I also don't think that the media has any relevance left. It only has some relevance with the chatterati class. In the real India, the debate is all on the question of what has happened to their livelihood in the last five years. I was in interior Madhya Pradesh a couple of days ago. What was the basic issue? Every single piece of agricultural land you see is now fenced in Madhya Pradesh. The farmer has to fence his land to protect it from cows that are not being looked after now. What were these slogans on cow protection? These cows are damaging crops. This is the complaint from entire rural north India. The blame is squarely put on cow vigilante groups, which are sponsored and patronised by the BJP, for this situation. This is only one example I am giving. In UP, it is the sugar cane farmers, in many other places it is the entire farming community which is suffering. The youth are aimlessly wandering. They are looking for jobs. Now another report has come from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), which showed that the unemployment rate has further risen from last month in a very significant way. The economy is going down the hill. The actual living conditions of people have been completely destroyed. Now whatever you try to sell, on the question of fighting terrorism, communal polarisation and all, the point is if you cannot continue to survive, then all these are completely extraneous issues.

BJP is highlighting nationalism, national security, the designation of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist etc and that what Opposition is highlighting doesn't matter. BJP says what matters is that people want Modi back. Isn't their pitch high?

This is something we have seen earlier. This narrative is a replay of what happened 15 years ago – that people want Vajpayee back. What happened? Vajpayee lost. Now take the issue of Masood Azhar. Even at the remotest part of India, people are asking who went and escorted Masood Azhar? Who did that? It was the BJP government. It was present National Security Advisor (Ajit Doval) who escorted him. Now you (BJP) make a big issue out of it. You are the one who released him. These are the questions people now ask. You said you did surgical strikes and there will be no more terrorism. Then came Pulwama. You said Balakot will ensure there is no more terrorism. On Wednesday, you had the Maoist attack in Maharashtra's Gadchiroli where at least 15 security personnel were killed. Even in Jammu and Kashmir after Balakot, more than 25 armed forces personnel have become martyrs. These all are people who died, who are related to people living across India. Everybody knows what is the truth about fighting terrorism and what is reality. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's statement put the nail on the head when he said that he would prefer Modi to come back.

CPI(M) and particularly you have written a series of letters to Election Commission citing a violation of Model Code of Conduct. Has the EC disappointed you?

Unfortunately, the question marks being raised on the EC is very very ominous for India's democracy. The EC is the only authority under the Constitution of India, which has the power and mandate to ensure a free and fair election. This is the lifeline of our democracy. Now the EC itself actually appears to be not sincere in going ahead in dealing with violations of the code of conduct they themselves have put. Then that is a very serious matter. Now, the matter is before the Supreme Court. Let us see what emerges out of it. We would have been much happier if the EC actually exercised its authority and ensured a level playing field for everyone.

At least twice, there were directions from the Supreme Court to act on code violations. The CPI(M) has approached the EC with several complaints, particularly against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Do you think the EC adopted a kids-glove approach towards the Prime Minister?

From what is appearing, you can draw such a conclusion. I do not wish the EC to become that. Honestly, for the sake of Indian democracy and the Indian republic, the EC should rise up to the expectations that is mandated to do under the Constitution. That is why I say, Prime Ministers may come and go, but EC stays. There is an old English saying: Mayors may come, Mayors may go the office clerk remains. It is not the individual office clerk but the institution. If that is compromised, then it is very very ominous for Indian democracy.

You have been saying a pan-India coalition can emerge only post-poll. Your emphasis was on state-level pre-poll alliances. Are they working?

Yes, wherever there are state-level alliances, they are working well. In some of the states, the elections are over. All reports indicate that they are going to perform very well. In the states where the elections are going on, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for instance, 'gadbandhan' (coalition) is working very well.

What are the CPI(M) prospects in this election?

Our prospects are good. The elections are still on. We are in a political war. I can only say that we are going to win. We are aiming to win the seats we are contesting. I think our performance is going to be better than last time.