"Caste politics have affected Left's prospects in heartland"

deepak-rastogi

Deepak Rastogi | May 8, 2014




With UPA on backfoot, non-Congress secular parties will gain ground in the 2014 general elections, believes CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat. In an exclusive interview with Deepak Rastogi, he talks about the perils of caste-based politics, the absence of a Modi wave and how AAP will not be able to conjure magic outside Delhi. Edited excerpts:

In the current political situation, where do you see a non-Congress, non-BJP formation ending up?
We expect the non-Congress, non-BJP parties to do well in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. This is because of the general anti-Congress mood in the country. Non-Congress secular parties, including the regional and Left parties, will benefit from this. There is the possibility of a non-Congress secular formation emerging.

Secularism was one of the reasons for your support to the UPA-1 government. Why are you against the  Congress this time?
We have never said that the Congress is a secular party. Moreover, it is very weak at present and in such a situation one cannot depend on it. We are trying to put up an alternative political vision. That is why we are in favour of a non-BJP, non-Congress alternative.

How do you react to media reports predicting a bleak future of the Left Front? How do you view your prospects in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, bastions of the Left in the past?
We are confident that the Left parties will improve their performance in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. Since these are the states that provide the maximum number of Left MPs to the Lok Sabha, one can be sure that the Left will improve on its 2009 performance. The strength of the Left movement in the country is not based only on its electoral performance and, therefore, media reports about an adverse future for the Left are unwarranted.

Left parties are mass movement parties but some new entrants like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or the Trinamool Congress (TMC) have been able to successfully tap into the working class and strengthened their support base. Why did the Left lose out?
The Left parties derive their political influence from the movements and struggles of the working class, the peasantry and other sections of the working people. The Trinamool Congress is not a new entrant in politics. It has existed for more than a decade. It is a reactionary force that has arisen to counter the Left. As far as the AAP is concerned, it cannot replace the Left as its politics is different. It will not have much of an electoral impact outside Delhi.

Left parties have been associated with taking up the cause of land reforms in West Bengal and labour-centric industrial issues across the country in the past. Why have you not been able to mobilise farmers and labourers in the current political situation?
In West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, where Left-led governments have existed or exist, we have shown the way forward through implementation of land reforms and putting alternative policies into place. All over the country, the Left is actively mobilising the workers and peasants to fight for their demands. But there are other political parties which also influence them either through the caste appeal or using patronage.

Do you think the Left parties’ prospects in the Hindi belt have diluted due to caste-based politics? How do you plan to tackle this problem?
Caste-based politics have definitely affected our prospects in the Hindi region. It has been a barrier to developing the united movements of the working people. We have to tackle issues of social oppression and discrimination while at the same time counter the divisive caste-based politics. It is a difficult task but we are trying to do so.

How do you plan to address the problem of caste-based politics?
We are trying. It may take one or two decades to overcome this situation.

On the secularism agenda why are Muslims not supporting your views? For example, in West Bengal the Trinamool Congress has eaten up your share of the Muslim vote bank.
We do not subscribe to ‘Muslim vote bank’ politics. We take up the issues of the Muslim masses whether they are workers, peasants, artisans or wage labourers. We are also firmly defending the rights of the minorities. It was by taking up land reform measures, which gave land to the poor Muslim peasants, and by defending their rights as citizens that we won their support in West Bengal. The Trinamool Congress plays communal politics to win over their support. This will harm the interests of the Muslims in the state in the long run.

During your Varanasi visit why were you not able to convince parties like SP, BSP and Congress to have a common candidate against BJP’s Narendra Modi?
I had been to Varanasi to extend support to the CPI(M) candidate who is fighting the elections there. The major non-Congress secular parties are not willing to consider a common candidate. In such a situation there was no point in us making any effort. It is necessary to have a Left candidate so that we can mount an effective campaign against the BJP and the Hindutva forces in Varanasi.

What does the Left Front think about the Modi wave?
As I said earlier, there is a general anti-Congress mood. This cannot be taken to be a wave in favour of Modi and the BJP. As far as the Left is concerned, the BJP has right-wing economic policies and it stands for the divisive Hindutva platform. This is what we are countering and exposing.

What do you expect from the new government on foreign policy?
We must have an independent foreign policy. Both, the earlier NDA government and the UPA government, tilted towards the United States. We should not have a strategic alliance with the United States and instead develop friendly ties with all major powers including Russia, China, European Union and the south-east Asian countries. We should pay special attention to improving our relations with our neighbours in south Asia.

What do you think about solving the Kashmir issue?
We have been consistently advocating a political process of talks and consultations with all shades of political opinions in Jammu & Kashmir to arrive at a solution. At the same time we should continue the dialogue with Pakistan to sort out outstanding issues. The new government will have to adopt this approach.

In Afghanistan the US has toyed with the concept of good Taliban and bad Taliban. They seem to believe that good Taliban can be co-opted into the Afghan regime and made to work with president Karzai in some way. Do you believe such a thing as good Taliban actually exists?
The Americans have left a mess behind in Afghanistan. The task of ensuring that there is an independent, sovereign Afghanistan requires the cooperation between all the countries in the region. The question regarding the Taliban is whether they can be drawn into the efforts for a political settlement in Afghanistan. At present, they show no signs of willingness to negotiate with other forces in the country. This is something which cannot be decided by external powers.

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