New Delhi: A defiant Prakash Karat, General Secretary, CPI(M) has made it clear he alone cannot take the blame for the Left rout in the Assembly elections.
Speaking out for the first time after the debacle in an exclusive interview to CNN-IBN, Karat said he won't be stepping down.
CNN-IBN: Mamata’s campaign that the Left has become the feared usurper of the land was the single most important for factor for loss in Bengal.
Prakash Karat: The land issue figured in the losses we suffered in 2009 also, but don’t think its the single major cause alone for the loss. It is one of the factors but don’t know if we can say it is the single factor.
CNN-IBN: Was it an important factor?
Prakash Karat: Yes definitely. We saw it in the 2009 Assembly elections, and some impact of that in the Panchayat elections also.
CNN-IBN: Buddhadeb failed to gauge the political impact of the land agitation.
Prakash Karat: We gauged it, we tried to make amends, we said land acquisition was one issue that will be dealt with carefully, land won't be taken away without the farmers consent. But I think the damage was already done at that time.
CNN-IBN: Would you have done it differently in hindsight?
Prakash Karat: We learnt our lessons, not a single piece of land was acquired in Nandigram or elsewhere where there was an issue.
CNN-IBN: 34 years of uninterrupted rule brought what some would say was arrogance of power. Was there arrogance?
Prakash Karat: I don’t think there was arrogance. Because every year, whether it was Assembly or Panchayat elections or a Parliament election, we were being accounted to by the people. If we were arrogant all through people wouldn’t have reposed their confidence in us again and again, but 34 years of historic rule despite our achievements produced some negative factors.
CNN-IBN: CPM cadre is accused of having an attitude of with us or against us, of being violent and that comes from 34 years of power.
Prakash Karat: The strength of the CPI(M) is the cadre. Without the cadre we wouldn’t have established this rapport with the people. The Opposition has repeatedly demonised our cadre; it is our detracted and sacrificing cadre that have kept the party going.
CNN-IBN: Did the CPI(M) show haste in conceding defeat in Kerala? The CPM was the single largest party and there was still a possibility of getting some from the UDF camp to switch sides.
Prakash Karat: We accepted the verdict after the last seat was counted and declared. It was only after the final declaration we said we accept the verdict. We do not see as an indicted of the Left front government.
CNN-IBN: In the run up to the polls, CPM state secy Pinarayi Vijayan expressed concern over pictures of VS in posters, saying its a news trend that needs to be looked into. Communists don’t believe in personality cults. Do you agree with him?
Prakash Karat: We don’t believe in personality cults but in elections, the main campaigners, the most popular leader, their pictures and posters come out because people recognise those leaders. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. VS Achuthanandan was projected because he was the Chief Minister, the pre-eminent leader of the party and the movement in Kerala.
CNN-IBN: Why then did you first take a decision to deny this 'pre-eminet' leader' as you say a ticket?
Prakash Karat: That’s wrong, nobody denied him a ticket. March 18 was the day we declared our candidates list and his name was there. There was a process in the party where various candidatures were discussed. We are a democratic party, there may be views for and against different candidates. Everything was taken into account and a decision was taken.
CNN-IBN: Are you saying that in the state committee meeting in which you and SR Pillai were observers no such decision was taken to deny VS a ticket?
Prakash Karat: The decision then was that the proposals should be taken down to the districts and their views sought. Before a decision was taken, we had nothing to do there. If there was a need for intervention we would have done it, but we knew the process was on and we didn’t need to intervene at that stage.
CNN-IBN: I will paraphrase my question, were the state committee have decided then not to give VS a ticket would you have intervened?
Prakash Karat: Politburo would then have discussed and taken a view on whether VS needed to contest and we would have taken responsibility to ensure he does, but that did not arise because the decision was taken by the State Secretariat.
CNN-IBN: You are saying there was no error in judgment?
Prakash Karat: There was a lot of discussion, even in 2006 over VS Achuthanandan. In this case also there were discussions but the final decision was he should contest.
CNN-IBN: So you are saying the 'official faction' did not want to deny VS a ticket?
Prakash Karat: In our party there is no official faction. There is only the majority view and the minority and the majority view becomes the collective view and the State Secretariat view was that he be given a ticket. We do not have a high command and we do not foist candidates on our state units.
CNN-IBN: The performance in Kerala election was admirable. Do you think the major portion of the credit should go to VS?
Prakash Karat: I listed out the 4 factors - VS Achuthanandan, performance of the LDF, Unity in the LDF and the issue of corruption.
CNN-IBN: Some reports said your loss in some seats in strongholds of Kannur was due to sabotage.
Prakash Karat: There is nothing to show so. Due to delimitation there was some skewing. There is no possibility of any sabotage. There is no question of factionalism in Kannur. In fact the number of votes we polled has gone up from the 2009 election.
CNN-IBN: Do you take moral responsibility for the electoral loss?
Prakash Karat: In our party this does not arise. It's like when our ship goes through stormy weather, nobody jumps out of the ship, you see. They have to steer the ship to the right course and get out of the difficulties. There is no question in the party for elections in communists. Our communist party, we don't hold anybody accountable for electoral losses. If there is any organisational indiscipline, somebody has not worked properly in an election, as you said, sabotaged the party's decision then action would follow. Otherwise, elections are a part of our overall political activity. We do not see it as the prime activity alone. So the collective responsibility is there, the individual accountability is there. All that is taken into account.
CNN-IBN: By jumping the ship I take it you are saying it hasn’t crossed your mind that you should step down.
Prakash Karat: Nobody will jump the ship. None of the leaders...because of an electoral loss, we do not say that this person is of no use, let's throw him out of the ship nor is that person is allowed to jump ship. Everybody takes the responsibility. So the talk about Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee quitting...just does not happen in our party.
CNN-IBN: Buddhadeb had said withdrawal of support to the UPA and formation of third front cost the party?
Prakash Karat: We have reviewed all this in our party, we have a method, decisions are taken, the central committee took a decision. It was unanimous. We have reviewed that subsequently in our meetings, it has been endorsed. There is no issue in our party regarding these matters.
CNN-IBN: Do you believe that the withdrawal cost the party?
Prakash Karat: That is an issue that we cannot compromise on Congress led government. Our party is very clear and our decision is correct. The issue was only what we said was that the nuclear issue was a difficult issue electorally to mobilise people. That we have said already in our position. And even in West Bengal, in Kerala or anywhere else in the Lok Sabha election, this was not an issue on which we could go to the people and mobilise them easily.
CNN-IBN: Did you not inadvertently get the Congress and the Trinamool congress together in west Bengal?
Prakash Karat: When has the Congress helped the CPI(M) and West Bengal. The Congress party in class terms has always fought and tried to defeat or weaken the CPI(M). There has never been any history of co-operation between the Congress and the CPI(M) either in Kerala or West Bengal.
CNN-IBN: So u say the withdrawal didn’t bring them together, they would have come together anyway?
Prakash Karat: They came, they were together in 2001, they were together in Panchayat election. We have seen that BJP, Congress and Trinamool worked together. This is the class reality in Bengal.
CNN-IBN: You talk of collective responsibility but do you think you failed to provide leadership where you should have?
Prakash Karat: No no, as far as the political line of the party, the policy of the party, if there is any issue on which we have come to a conclusion that the policy and line is wrong then the responsibility will lie with the leadership. It lies with the politburo, it will lie with the general secretary and it will lie with the central committee. We will come to that. If there is any necessity to pin down that we will do it. But we have methods; it will not be mixed up with elections.
CNN-IBN: Are you saying there will be fixing of responsibility as far as policy is concerned?
Prakash Karat: Policy and political approach, elections are an outcome of that. What tactics we adopted in elections comes from an overall tactical line. If we find something wrong we will take responsibility for that.
CNN-IBN: And what would that entail, taking responsibility?
Prakash Karat: That we will decide in our party forum. If we have to formulate a news line, who could do it. Who should be in the leadership all that we will decide in due course of time.
CNN-IBN: Who could be in the leadership? Are you suggesting a leadership change?
Prakash Karat: By leadership again, I mean the politburo or the central committee.
CNN-IBN: Will you take up the issue of limiting number of terms for the general secretary?
Prakash Karat: Many communist parties in the world are discussing it - fixed terms for party functionaries. I am not denying, I am not ruling out that this may be discussed in the party. It’s a proposal that's all.
CNN-IBN: AB Bardhan said if the leadership doesn’t change and adapt they will be the ones for whom the bell tolls.
Prakash Karat: We have been changing all the time, this is the only Communist party in the world which has so creatively applied marxism to Indian conditions. No other communist party has this kind of experience in parliamentary politics. We change and adapt according to the changing situation.
CNN-IBN: But in this parliamentary politics, since you took over in 2005, barring 2006, there have only been electoral reverses.
Prakash Karat: It has nothing to do with individuals or individual units of the party. As I said it depends on where we are politically whether we have the correct approach. So neither will I take credit for 2006, nor will take responsibility alone for 2011. This just doesn’t depend on individuals. It's the organisation and we have our methods of reviewing and correcting of there are any mistakes or distortions.
CNN-IBN: Your critics would say that you are seeking refuge behind numbers when you talk of vote share, because as a national party you are in power in only one state in Tripura.
Prakash Karat: 41 per cent shows we have mass base. Its not the end of the party. We have not hit rock bottom.
CNN-IBN: But isn’t it going to be a tall order from here on. The last red bastion has been breached.
Prakash Karat: Elections only reflect something else, our movement exists, our opportunities for developing movements and sruggles exist. State governments are not the end all for our party. Our party exists despite not winning elections in so many places.
CNN-IBN: Was decision for third front politically naive?
Prakash Karat: It's not the end of the possibilities of having a third force or front, but right now it is not in the making. In 1996 we did it. It's an ongoing process. It will have its ups and downs. It's a phenomenon that will recede and then come up again. There is a relevance. The congress and the BJP together did not poll 5-5 of votes in the last Parliamant election.
CNN-IBN: Somnath Chatterjee campaigned in west Bengal.
Prakash Karat: Why should I comment on individuals. It wasn’t just him, several communists of the party came to join our campaign.
CNN-IBN: Will he be taken back?
Prakash Karat: That’s not a matter we have discussed.
CNN-IBN: Will that be discussed?
Prakash Karat: Any thing can be discussed.
CNN-IBN:Do you see the Left take the social democratic step like the new Labour?
Prakash Karat: The new Labour has proved itself bankrupt and now the Tories are back in power.
CNN-IBN: Is there a crisis of leadership in West Bengal?
Prakash Karat: No we have another serious problem, what we have done over the years has come under attack, people trying reverse our land reform etc.