Cong must be realistic, accommodative: D Raja

Cong must be realistic, accommodative: D Raja

BJP has nothing to show and that is why they are raising Ram Mandir
The issue is Mazdoor Bachao, Kisan Bachao, Yuva Bachao. How to do it? It is Desh Bachao, BJP Hatao

CPI National Secretary D Raja, one of the prominent Opposition leaders in the country, believes that BJP is now raising the pitch on Ram Mandir because they have nothing else to talk about ahead of the elections. Overthrow the BJP regime to save the country, he says. Raja spoke to DH's Shemin Joy on a variety of subjects from the agrarian crisis and rise in unemployment to the Congress' 'soft Hindutva' and the upcoming Parliament Session.

Delhi just witnessed a massive farmers' rally. What message has it sent to the government?

The Indian farmers are going through unprecedented distress. The farming sector is in deep crisis. Agriculture has become non-remunerative. Farmer suicides are happening across the country in huge numbers. The government has now stopped releasing the figures on farmer suicides. The primary cause for suicide is indebtedness. They are not able to come out of it. On one side, the input costs of agriculture are going up. But farmers do not get remunerative or fair price for their produce. When I say input costs, it is not about just fertilisers or equipment. Now even for seeds, they are at the mercy of multinationals. The neo-liberal economic policies really have adversely impacted agriculture in the country.

Do you think the farmers have realised this and are taking a political call?

The agrarian crisis has really forced farmers to come out and express their anger and grievances. It is not isolated, it is happening across the country. Farmers are organised under different banners. Now the significant feature is that they all have come together and are conducting joint agitations. Other sections of the society, be it middle class or professionals or artistes or youth, they have come in support of farmers. Everyone feels that farmers are the backbone of our economy. That sense of concern has grown. It was well articulated in Maharashtra (Long March in March). Now in Delhi, they have come together (November 29-30 Kisan Mukti March). These cannot be seen in isolation. Overall economy is in bad shape. The government talks about growth in GDP. But what is the ground reality? Is the growth reflected at ground level? There is a mismatch, disconnect with the GDP figures and ground reality. Otherwise, why are farmers committing suicide? Why are people dying of starvation? There are reports that India has the highest number of starving people. So unless we address their concerns in proper perspective, it is going to be a big challenge. This is where the government comes for questioning. Modi promises doubling the income of farmers. Where is the money in farmers' hands? What is their purchasing capacity? Even farmers are asking for pensions from the government. The budgetary allocation for agriculture is not as we expect.

Do you think farmers, youth and joblessness will be the main agenda for the Lok Sabha polls at a time that the BJP is raising the pitch on Ram Mandir?

Now, farmers are asking for Minimum Support Price (MSP) and the BJP is talking about Ram Mandir. The question is - where are the jobs? Jobs mean not only for educated young people. Even rural youth, they do not have jobs. Where are the jobs for agricultural labourers, landless labourers? Even in MNREGA, in terms of figures, the government can claim it has increased allocation. But the question is - how many days people get to work, what is their wage? When the whole thing was conceived and brought in as a legislation, it was to begin with 100 days of work and Rs 100 per day. Everything was to begin with. It does not mean it should remain at the same level. That's why it was demanded that it should be as per minimum wages. People do not get money. Unemployment and underemployment are serious issues. Even professionals like engineers are ready to take up any job for Rs 7,000 or Rs 8,000. People should visit Chennai, Bengaluru etc. where the so-called IT industry have come up in a big way. People are willing to work there for very low salaries because if they don't take up a job for want of salary, they will lose the edge later. These issues will also come up during the elections.

Why is BJP raising the Ram Mandir issue?

They have nothing to show. Modi talks about development. Demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax actually led to more trouble because they were all ill-conceived, ill-timed and ill-implemented schemes. Particularly they affected the informal sector. Even today, 85 to 90% employment is in informal sector. They have been affected. Exports are not picking up. Investments are drying up. There is crisis in the industrial and agricultural sectors. There is little job growth. What we have is a job-loss growth. The BJP has no answer to these questions. They do not have answers to the questions of youth who have a very uncertain future. Farmers are agitating. They have no answers. Now, the formal job scene is also dismal. The contract system has come up and there is no job security. Workers are losing jobs. That's why trade unions have called for a national strike on January 8 and 9. Finally, it all leads to one focussed political question. That is 'Mazdoor Bachao, Kisan Bachao, Yuva Bachao' (save the labourers, save the farmers, save the youth). How to do it? 'Desh Bachao, BJP Hatao' (save the country, remove BJP). That is where the BJP is rattled. It thinks it can raise the Mandir issue, it can play upon the so-called faith and religious sentiments of the people. But people are mature enough. I don't think the Indian people can be misled or deceived by raking up such issues. That is why the BJP gets desperate.

How will the Opposition take advantage of this situation? Is there any progress on unifying Opposition parties ahead of Lok Sabha polls?

Elections are elections. People should come out and vote against the BJP. In a democracy, people would not like to waste their votes. They will have to vote for those who are capable of defeating the BJP. Throwing BJP out of power is accepted by parties. So in elections, people should vote in such a way that anti-BJP votes are consolidated. Parties in opposition must take a realistic approach and must be accommodative to each other. Electoral tactics would have to be worked out accordingly taking into consideration the state-specific situations and alignment of forces. That is how parties in the Opposition are going to work. The recent Assembly elections may give some lessons that will really help parties to draw certain lessons about how they should conduct their activities and how to work out an electoral strategy.

But there is a grievance among regional parties that the Congress has spoilt the game by engaging in one-upmanship. What is your response?

All said and done, the Congress is a pan-Indian secular party. At the same time, the Congress is not strong in all the states. Regional parties have become a reality. Regional parties in the past used to swing from the Left to the Right. Now, the understanding should be that regional parties must take a centrist position. They should not move or be allowed to move to the Right. We must take note of this. For instance, the DMK is the major Opposition party in Tamil Nadu. When all secular parties come together, the DMK will play a leading role. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK will have to be accommodative so that the coalition wins. Same way, it can be worked state by state. Wherever the Congress is a big force, it has to be more accommodative to other parties. It should not be rigid on a certain number of seats. The primary objective must be to remain together and defeat the BJP.

For the past year or so, there is an assumption that the Congress is playing the soft-Hindutva card with Rahul Gandhi's frequent temple visits and now, we have the promise of building 'gaushalas' (cow shelters) in the Madhya Pradesh manifesto. What is your reaction?

If somebody goes to temple at a personal level, it is their faith. We have nothing to say. But one should not mix religion with politics and elections. The Congress might think that the BJP cannot have monopoly to represent Hindus. Now the RSS speaks in the name of Hindus, the VHP speaks in the name of Hindus. Who gave them that authority to represent all Hindus? All Hindus do not agree with the BJP-RSS. Even though Hindus are the majority in the country accounting for 80% of the population, ordinary Hindus are not sectarian and communal as claimed by the RSS-BJP. The common Hindus are very secular. The RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and other Sangh organisations claim they represent Hindus. That is challenged. That is where the Congress tries to say that you are not the representative of real Hindus. But this should not slip into politics and it will then be called as soft-Hindutva. This is where the Congress leadership should be careful and cautious.

How hopeful are you about the results of the coming Assembly elections?

I think it will be a great warning for the BJP and it will be a great boost for the Opposition. Let us see.

The Parliament's Winter Session is starting on Dec. 11. What are the main issues?

There are wide range of issues to be discussed. The Opposition would like to have a special sitting on the agrarian crisis. Jammu and Kashmir developments will be discussed. Rafale is going to be a major issue. The way the institutions like the RBI and the CBI are undermined by this government will be another subject. Another issue will be the aggressive corporatisation of the medical sector. But we don't know whether the government will concede to discuss these issues in a meaningful manner. We will have to see that. We do not have much hope in the government when one sees the way the BJP MPs are speaking about an ordinance or legislation to build the Ram Temple by bypassing the Supreme Court. Under the present Constitution, there is no scope for such a law. But they can go to any extent. The way they are raising this issue and taking it to such a pitch, do they want to change the Constitution? They must make it clear whether they are challenging the basis of the Constitution.