Prakash Karat is a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM), which is the largest Left party in India. The CPM heads the Left Democratic Front government in the state of Kerala.
Karat was the General Secretary of the CPM from 2005 to 2015. He is currently a member of the Polit Bureau of the Party and editor of its official weekly, People’s Democracy.
In an exclusive interview, mainly focused on the polls in West Bengal, Karat explains why the battle for West Bengal has suddenly loomed large in the public consciousness and what triggered the escalating violence during the last phase.
Gulf News: Could you take us through the seven phases of the election cycle in West Bengal? Why seven when even in the 2014 elections there were only four? Was this stretched out polling schedule tailor made for the violence to come?
A. The seven-phase polling in West Bengal was decided by the Election Commission keeping in mind the experience of previous elections. West Bengal had seen widespread violence and rigging under the Trinamool Congress government.
In the panchayat (local bodies) elections held last year, there was an unprecedented scene of thousands of opposition candidates being prevented from filing their nominations.
So, the CPM and other opposition parties had demanded adequate security for a free and fair polls. The seven-phase polling was designed to enable security forces to be deployed in strength for each phase of the polling.
Even then, in the various phases there were attempts to vitiate the polls by strong arm tactics, driving out polling agents of the opposition out of the booths and intimidation of voters.
In the Diamond Harbour seat where the CPM has nominated Fuad Halim to contest against the TMC sitting member Abhishek Banerjee (nephew of Mamata Banerjee), there were reports as early as in April of Dr. Halim and other CPM cadres being attacked. Is this a prestigious seat with wider implications for the TMC should it lose this contest?
Yes. The Diamond Harbour seat is a prestigious one for the TMC as Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and heir apparent is the candidate. This has been a traditionally Left seat which the TMC won in 2014. The TMC is using all methods, including violent attacks to suppress the opposition. Fuad Halim has been physically attacked three times during the campaign and he sustained injuries. If the polling is held fairly and peacefully, Abhishek Banerjee would lose.
You had said that Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad is a clear indication that the Congress is targeting the Left in Kerala. Was this one of the key reasons why the Left decided that any understanding, however loose, with the Congress is untenable? You said “Rahul is fighting the Left and not the BJP”.
Our party had strongly criticised Rahul Gandhi’s contesting from Wayanad in Kerala. We said that he is going there to fight the Left Democratic Front which is the major force in the state against the BJP. If Rahul Gandhi had to fight from the south, why did he not contest a seat in Karnataka where the BJP is a major force?
This had nothing to do with the Left not having any understanding with the Congress. In Kerala, the main fight has always been between the Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front.
At the all India level too, we could not have an alliance with the Congress as we have basic differences. But we were committed to extending support to the formation of a secular government at the Centre even if it included the Congress.
Could you give your views on the vandalising of the statue of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar? Mamata Banerjee has used the narrative “insult to Bengali pride” to her advantage.
The BJP goons who went on a rampage inside the Vidyasagar College and destroyed the bust of Vidyasagar have behaved in the typical style of the Saffron Brigade. They are hostile to all progressive and rationalist ideas. Breaking of statues of Periyar in Tamil Nadu, Lenin in Tripura and Dr. Ambedkar in various other places was the work of such forces.
Mamata Banerjee also cannot escape responsibility for the incident as she has promoted lumpen politics and outright goondaism (thuggery).
Some media have reported that CPM cadres have joined the BJP en masse. First (2011) to start with some of them joined the TMC and now the BJP. Are these elements non-ideological and driven by fruits of power?
It is a canard to say that CPM cadres are joining the BJP. This is being propagated by the BJP itself to try and win over Left supporters. The fact is that the BJP has grown in West Bengal because of the opportunist politics of Mamata Banerjee and the attack on democracy by her lumpen followers. Since 2011, when the TMC came to power they have launched a fascistic type of terror against the CPM and the Left. More than 200 of our party members and supporters were killed by the TMC gangs.
It is this drive to suppress the left which has given the opportunity to the BJP and the RSS to penetrate and introduce its communal agenda. Both the TMC and the BJP are indulging in communal politics to polarise the situation for their own advantage. If the BJP has made any gains, the blame has to be squarely on Mamata Banerjee and the TMC.
Coming to the national situation, can the BJP come back to power?
This election has seen the most divisive and communal propaganda by the BJP and its leaders, particularly Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. They have also deployed unprecedented amount of money.
What about the performance of the CPM and the Left parties? Will you be able to reverse the decline in your strength? How many seats do you expect?
I cannot give you a specific number. All I can say is that the Left parties will improve upon the performance of 2014 when we won 12 seats. This increase will take place despite the poll irregularities in Tripura and West Bengal.
What are the changes of the so-called non-BJP non-Congress alliance (the Federal Front) to form a government?
There will be a secular government at the Centre. But it is unlikely that there will be a non-BJP, non-Congress government. The exact nature of the government and who will lead the government will depend on the final numbers.
Finally, how can the Election Commission, a constitutional body that was once revered (akin to India’s Supreme Court) redeem itself?
It is a matter of deep concern that the credibility of the Election Commission has been affected by its acts of omission and commission during this election. This has been a feature of Modi rule — the undermining of all constitutional bodies and institutions.
This experience should lead to a review of the way the Election Commission is constituted. At present, members of the Commission are appointed by the executive. There is a need for a more independent mechanism to select the election commissioners.
Ravi Menon is a Dubai-based writer, working on a series of essays on India and on a public service initiative called India Talks.