CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury says West Bengal unit’s decision to form an electoral pact with all secular parties for the 2021 elections, including the Congress, is necessary because it will maximise all the anti-BJP, anti-TMC vote in the state and defeating the BJP is important because it poses a “grave danger” to the Constitution.
Speaking exclusively to News18 in a wide-ranging interview, the veteran leader denied that the decision to join hands with its arch rival in Bengal would impact the political scenario in Kerala, addressed allegations of corruption in the state, and gave his projections for the elections in Bihar.
Here are the edited excerpts of the conversation:
Question: The central committee has for the first time approved a tactical alliance with the Congress in West Bengal. What were the compulsions for this and how will it be different from last time?
Sitaram Yechury: There are various reasons that have gone into it… particularly, the situation in the country during the last one year - the aggressive manner in which the Constitution is being destroyed in various ways and the undermining of the constitutional authority. This is a grave danger to India, and therefore, containing and defeating the BJP is important. This is what we had decided in our party congress also. The main thrust would be to defeat the BJP.
In WB, the TMC has got a very high degree of anti-incumbency, which is why the BJP is gaining like we have seen in the last Lok Sabha elections. Now, in order to contain that gain of the BJP, we thought it was better to pool, to maximise all the anti-BJP, anti-TMC vote. So on this basis, we decided to have an electoral understanding of seat sharing with the Congress party along with the entire Left front and the Left. So that is the decision we have taken.
So, your principal opponent in the state would be the BJP and not the TMC?
SY: The principal opponent is the BJP but without defeating the TMC you cannot defeat the BJP. Trinamool was a vehicle through which the BJP entered Bengal. Trinamool and the BJP have been together on many occasions in the past. In fact, the chief minister herself was the cabinet minister here in the NDA government led by the BJP. So that being the situation, to defeat the BJP, it is essential to defeat the TMC also.
In West Bengal, has the leadership of the Congress party here given the go ahead for such an alliance?
SY: Well, that is for them to answer. But, our credentials are before the people of Bengal and India. In today’s situation, the objective of defeating the BJP has to be done through the maximisation of the anti BJP, anti-TMC vote in Bengal.
How do you think this election will be different from last time?
SY: In the sense that there is an alternative to either of them. Last time, with both contesting separately, the entire anti-Mamata vote went to the BJP. So that is the bipolar polarisation that is happening. So here you have an opportunity to break that bipolarity, which is absolutely necessary for Bengal and for India.
In WB, you have very strong faces - you have Mamata Banerjee from the TMC, you have home minister Amit Shah, who will perhaps campaign there very aggressively. Who is the face of your alliance in WB? Who is that one strong opponent who can stand beside them and pose a challenge?
SY: First of all, you see, we do not want to reduce our elections, parliamentary election into a presidential form. That is what is being done by various other parties, which we think is very wrong and it violates our own constitutional foundations. Secondly, that they will discuss there at the local level. Once we have taken this decision, now it is up to the Congress party, how they respond, it is up to the other allies that we have there, those discussions will take place there.
The TMC in WB has alleged that the BJP and especially the Governor over there has acted extremely undemocratically in many ways, many forms. So when such allegations come up and when Mamata Banerjee says that she is a victim of what she calls is the undemocratic ways and means of the BJP, where do you stand vis-à-vis her and party?
SY: See, on this issue of the Governor and their interference as political leaders, CPM has been very strongly condemning it. We condemn that and we say that the Governor is a constitutional post, it is being reduced to a political post and it has been happening in many parts of India, in many states and this is something that is not acceptable and is a violation of our constitution.
On this issue, does the chief minister of West Bengal have your support?
SY: If there is anything that is done to de stabilise the elected government like Article 356 etc, on that we are very clear. We oppose that tooth and nail. We always opposed misuse of that article and we continue to oppose it.
So, should I say that in case of these kinds of allegations, Mamata Banerjee has your support?
SY: On this issue. On the issue of misusing the Constitution to try and destabilise or remove an elected government, on that, anybody, whoever is targeted against, the CPM is firmly opposed to that.
Do you believe that Mamata Banerjee is being targeted by the BJP in WB?
SY: In many cases, we have been very very critical and in fact condemned what the government is doing. Governor has to rely on the basis of the official reports that he gets and that is the constitutional position that he holds and that Constitutional position is being reduced by the BJP government at the Centre by appointing such people as governors who are well-known RSS pracharaks.
Coming to Kerala, your government is on the back foot when it comes to issues of corruption. Since CPM is a party that prides itself on ideology, on honesty, do you believe that when such allegations are made especially against people who are close to the two top most people in the government and the party over there, it does cast a shadow and is an embarrassment for the party?
SY: Well, first of all, I don’t think we are on the back foot in Kerala. Secondly, allegations can come anytime against anybody from anybody. The point is what is your attitude, or the government’s attitude or the party’s attitude to investigate those allegations. The allegations that have come against the former principal secretary to the chief minister - remember that he is an IAS officer, and IAS officers are appointed by the Centre, they are sent to the states but they have central cadres, they are under the Centre. So how has the Kerala government got into it?
The moment such allegations came, he was removed from that position by the chief minister, he was suspended. And we said that this is an issue of smuggling which is a central subject, there are central laws, so thy must be investigated in accordance with those laws That investigation is going on and very clearly, we have stated over and over again and categorically, based on the investigation whoever is guilty must be punished in accordance with the law. So where is the issue of shielding anybody or being on the back foot? On the contrary, we are mostly on the front foot. I am saying that you investigate this properly and then take action.
But when you talk about perception at least, and politics is so much about perception, does it not dent your perception at least? Is it not a moral blow?
SY: You see, perception created by the media is one thing and perception of the people is another and the only thing I want to tell you is media should not be under the illusion that they are the people and you have seen that happening in many cases. What was the whole case about the unfortunate suicide of an actor? What was the perception created by the media and what turned out to be the reality? So media perception, who is creating it? So go to the people in Kerala, you will see the perception, what people are thinking.
What about the arrest of the state secretary’s son over there?
SY: State secretary’s son is not a member of the party, number one. Number two, the state secretary himself said if you have arrested him on certain charges, you are investigating those charges, on the basis of that investigation, whatever is found , whatever issue on which he is found guilty, he must be punished. And our party very clearly stated that there is no question of any protection of anybody against whom these charges are levelled.
You are heading for a crucial election in Kerala. So, when such allegations come up, as general secretary of the CPM, how do you see it? Should there be no investigation from your side, should there be no pressure from your side on the state committees, state government to act? Why is it coming up again and again?
SY: Because elections are coming. Because as elections come closer, all such allegations will come. How do you deal with these allegations? We deal with them by saying as it should be done, by saying, ‘investigate, find guilty, punish’. No question of any protection to anybody.
If investigations prove that your state secretary over there is somehow implicated, then?
SY: Then we will see. Let anything come. But that is out of the question. State secretary himself said the son is an adult, he has been an adult for a long time, he is independently doing things and has nothing to do with the party. So as far as the son is concerned, the party is not answerable. As far as the father is concerned, we said please investigate, if found guilty, punish .That is the difference between us and the other people against whom charges are levelled, they try to protect them. We are saying please investigate, please investigate properly and then take action.
In WB you are tying up with the Congress party, in Kerala, you are bitter rivals. How do you think this is going to be taken by the people in both states?
SY: Well, I don’t think that the people are confused at all. They go by the reality that exists on the ground. And this has not happened now, this has happened in the past.
In the past, when we have openly declared in 2004 we will support an alternate government to the then Vajpyee government of the BJP and that alternate government could not be minus Congress. When that was very clearly stated that we are working for a secular alternative government. In that situation, opposing the Congress in Kerala, in those parliament elections, the people of Kerala elected 18 Left front candidates out of the 20 seats in the state. What does it show? People are mature. They decide on the basis of the existing reality and what has been their own experience.
For Bihar elections, what are your projections for the Mahagathbandhan over there? What are the expectations for the Left over there?
SY: Well, I think the RJD leader, Mr Tejashwi Yadav has said very clearly he will fight for not only social justice but economic justice. Economic justice is the agenda that the Left has advanced and we will continue to fight on these issues. So we think, on this economic justice issue, the government, the Mahagathbandhan should deliver and I am sure that is the commitment they have made. They have made it publicly, they are making it every day.
And I must compliment Mr Tejaswi Yadav that he is doing more than 16 public meetings a day. He has beaten the record of Shri Lalu Prasad ji with whom I used to accompany him on a helicopter, maximum we could do was about 12, not more than that. Now he is doing, on an average, 16, which is very very good, he is reaching out to people and we are seeing how the people are responding.
In terms of seats (what are your expectations)?
SY: That we will have to wait and see. A lot of factors are at play. Money power of the BJP has already started operating and every speech that the prime minister makes is actually designed to sharpen the communal polarisation, seeking the consolidation of the hinduvta communal vote bank. So these factors are there and we have to see how it will translate into votes. But I am sure the people of Bihar are not swayed, that is the response we are getting. None of the communal polarisation issues are working at the ground level.