The Lok Sabha elections are just round the corner and the political parties are slowly and surely going into the election mode. These elections will again be a very important election for the future of the country. In the last elections we had seen the defeat of the communal fascistic BJP led NDA Government which posed a serious threat to the secular fabric of India. The Left called for defeat of the NDA Government and increase in the strength of the Left within Parliament. The result was unprecedented number of seats in the Lok Sabha for the Left which supported the Congress led UPA Government from outside. While as a result of the pressure of the Left parties, the UPA could not implement many anti-people policies, still their major thrust was towards following pro-imperialist and neo-liberal policies, the high point of which was dragging the country into a strategic alliance with the USA. The Left resisted this move of the Government and withdrew support following which money power and all sorts of deals were struck by the UPA to save the Government.
In this backdrop of the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, the Central Committee of the CPI(M) notes:
"The Party should conduct a vigorous political campaign in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls. We should call for the defeat of the BJP and the NDA alliance to ensure that the communal forces are kept out of power at the Centre. The BJP’s communal approach to terrorism should also be exposed. The campaign should attack the UPA government’s anti-people economic policies and the harmful consequences of the strategic alliance with the United States for national sovereignty. We should call for the defeat of the Congress and the rejection of the UPA in the election. We should demand alternative policies to protect the jobs and livelihood of the workers, peasants and all sections of the working people. The Left parties alongwith the secular parties should work together to make a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative realizable."
In this interview given to CNN-IBN, Com. Prakash Karat describes the strategy of the Left and the evolving third alternative with other non-BJP and non-Congress parties. We are providing the full text of the interview below:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to The Devil's Advocate. How credible is the Third Alternative being put together by Left parties? That's the key issue I shall explore today with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Prakash Karat. Mr Karat, I want to talk to you about the Third Alternative the Left parties are putting together. The more I find out about it, the more it seems to me that it is based on opportunism rather than ideology and principle. Is this in your eyes an act of political maturity or desperation?
Prakash Karat: Let me make it clear. We are working for an electoral alternative which is popularly called the 'Third Alternative' or 'Third Front', and the nature of it being an electoral alternative; yes we will be coming up with parties with which we do not necessarily have full agreement ideologically or politically.
Karan Thapar: But isn't that opportunism then?
Prakash Karat: No, because we have made it clear that the Left by itself will have its manifesto, will have its stand but to the extent that we can work with other secular parties with which we can have some minimum agreement, we will go ahead with that.
Karan Thapar: You say to the extent that you can work with secular parties. One of the reasons why I interpret this as opportunism is because it conflicts with something that you have repeatedly said is your core principle. You say you are committed to the fight against communalism and yet the parties that you are either embracing or courting are allies of the BJP. Jayalalithaa has supported a BJP government, she has attended Narendra Modi's swearing in, she hosts lunches for Narendra Modi in Chennai. Mayawati on three occasions has been brought to power by the BJP, she has even campaigned for Narendra Modi. Why then do you see these people as secular?
Prakash Karat: There are number of secular parties, number of regional parties which have been either with the BJP or the Congress. We have said that we would want to have a combination which will fight both the Congress and the BJP. The parties which are not with the Left parties have always been either with the Congress or the BJP. If we succeed in bringing them onto our platform, I think that is good enough.
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that they are BJP allies. Look at two other parties. You are personally reaching out to Kumaraswamy in the JD(S), Mr Bardhan is extremely keen to bring into the fold Naveen Patnaik from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). One is a present ally of the BJP, the other a recent former ally. Again, this is undermining the fight against communalism.
Prakash Karat: No, I think in the case of the BSP, these parties have to show that they are capable of defeating the BJP in the biggest state in the country - Uttar Pradesh. And BJP has been progressively weakened by parties which are secular in Uttar Pradesh. We have had an understanding earlier with the Samajwadi Party but since they have gone with the Congress, we have decided that we will have an understanding with the BSP.
Karan Thapar: That may just work for the BSP although it is questionable. But what about the JD(S), what about Mr Bardhan's keeness to bring in the BJD?
Prakash Karat: The Janata Dal (Secular), headed by Mr Deve Gowda had always been with the Left parties, except for one period when they went with the BJP in Karnataka when we broke with them. But they have now changed their stand and they have decided to come with the Left parties.
Karan Thapar: Can I quote to you your political resolution passed by the 19th party Congress on March 31, 2008. Para 2.88 says, 'The CPM will have no truck with regional parties who ally with the BJP'. Have you done a U-turn?
Prakash Karat: All of them have broken with the BJP. If they are allies with the BJP there is no question of us having anything to do with them. All these parties have, at various periods of time, clearly demarcated from the BJP, including the Telugu Desam Party.
Karan Thapar: As recently as March, I am referring back to the same political resolution and you have said of the JD(S) in that resolution - 'The JD(S) headed by Deve Gowda has tarnished its secular image by entering into deals with the BJP'. Are you saying that in a matter of mere a eight months it has cured itself?
Prakash Karat: If you read the rest of the resolution, it also asks our party to work to detach these secular parties from the BJP alliance. And we have done that.
Karan Thapar: So you believe that you have actually scored a point in detaching them?
Prakash Karat: Well some of them have from their own experience. Like the Telugu Desam Party decided to have nothing to do with the BJP, and for others, we have discussed with them and we have come to a common understanding.
Karan Thapar: In which case, how do you explain that Deve Gowda today wants to bring in to your fold the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. Are you in favour of political alliances with outright religious organisations?
Prakash Karat: He has not discussed this matter with us at all.
Karan Thapar: But he said so to the Hindustan Times. He said so openly.
Prakash Karat: He has not discussed this. And we don't know of any party being formed yet by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. They have not yet formed the party.
Karan Thapar: So, is he doing this behind your back or at least not with you permission?
Prakash Karat: He is free to discuss any issue about having alliances with parties and when he discusses with us, we will make him aware of our position.
Karan Thapar: Let me come to the second set of reasons why I primarily look at your 'Third Alternative' as opportunistic. Your new found friends face serious charges of corruption. Let's take Jayalalithaa first. She has not only done time in jail but she still faces three cases, including one to do with her assets and she could very well end up in prison again. By associating with her, you are damaging you own parties image for integrity and poverty.
Prakash Karat: But all political parties outside the Left have charges of corruption raised against them. Till they are proved in the court of law, we do not see that necessarily as an impediment for us to have an understanding with the party. We are not having an understanding with individuals. We have had an understanding with RJD which is led by a party president who has faced corruption charges. There are many inside the Congress party who have faced corruption charges. There any many in outside and BJP who have faced corruption charges. Why should we make this criteria for deciding whether we should have an understanding with the political party? Then you cannot have an understanding with any political party.
Karan Thapar: I will give you two reasons. First of all, without Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK wouldn't exist, and these are charges of corruption are personally about her.
Prakash Karat: I am afraid that applies to a large number of other parties as well.
Karan Thapar: It doesn't apply to BJP, it doesn't apply to the Congress.
Prakash Karat: Well that is questionable.
Karan Thapar: Looking at the other ally, Mayawati, by her own admission, she accepts that her personal assets have increased by over 3,000 per cent in just three years from 2004 and 2007, and Mr Bardhan, your ally, has gone on record to say she is the best person to the Prime Minister of India.
Prakash Karat: No, I don't think he has said that. Anyway, what he has said is, when asked a question, whether Mayawati can be a prime ministerial candidate, he said, yes that can be possible. That it can be considered.
Karan Thapar: Forgive me, I must correct you. On July 27, 2008, on this programme, Mr Bardhan said not once but twice that she is the best person to be prime minister.
Prakash Karat: Well, that's his view. That is fine. What is wrong with that? I beg to differ. You are picking on parties which have recently entered the fray. The Congress party is the prime source of corruption in this country, followed by the BJP. All other parties come in a lower category.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. Many people say that the Left believes and practice the principle that in politics, Ceaser's wife should be above and beyond suspicion. Shouldn't that principle apply to your allies, shouldn't that apply to the people that you endorse as future prime ministers of India?
Prakash Karat: Fighting corruption is an issue which has to be there on our agenda of the country and the political parties but you cannot make corruption an issue for deciding political programmes and the understanding between political parties. Because then, there will be no political party which you can ally with. Here you have a government which refuses to even order an enquiry over one of the biggest corruption scandals in the telecom sector, Rs 1 lakh crore.
Karan Thapar: But you are meant to better, you set the bar higher. Don't compare yourself to Congress. Compare yourself to your own likes.
Prakash Karat: No, you talk about a party which is a premiere party - the Congress, which does not even want to look at corruption in its own government.
Karan Thapar: You said a moment ago that fighting corruption should be on the agenda. How can you fight corruption if your ally, the BSP, has 63 MLAs out of 206, that is 30 per cent who have criminal records, and 33 MLAs who face two or more cases to this day. How would you fight corruption with them?
Prakash Karat: I would beg to differ again. The way the media talks about politicians with criminal records, all of us have criminal records. If you look at my case, I have had three criminal cases against me because I had gone and attended protests. I have broken the law by breaking IP section 144, I have been charged with rioting. You should not confuse criminal cases with cases like murder and rape. Criminal cases are there against all politicians if they are with the people.
Karan Thapar: Except that I was really talking about corruption cases, cases to do with moral turpitude and those are not the sort of cases you face.
Prakash Karat: If there are cases of corruption and moral turpitude then they must be tried by law.
Karan Thapar: But you are allying with the ladies who are facing these cases.
Prakash Karat: Let them be convicted. Let us see if it happens.
Karan Thapar: Let me come back to Jayalalithaa, let me move beyond the issue of corruption.
Prakash Karat: I don't know why are you obsessed with these two ladies.
Karan Thapar: Because they are at the forefront of this alliance.
Prakash Karat: I would like to tell you that what we are forging alliances in each states. There are major regional parties who have substantial mass base, who have taken a position that we will fight both Congress and BJP. Only with such parties are we allying. So, if you think that corruption should be the main criteria, I am afraid that is not the way our Third Alternative or Third Force looks at.
Karan Thapar: Not just corruption, the Left is identified in the public mind as a party that stands for rationality, for a scientific mindset, for a modern attitude in contrast, Jayalalithaa believes in astrology and numerology, her partymen prostate in front of her...
Prakash Karat: I am afraid you are blind to the reality that every non-Left leaders consult astrologers. Why are you picking on Jayalalithaa? The entire Cabinet goes to astrologers.
Karan Thapar: They say a man should be judged by the company he keeps. In the company of Jayalalithaa and Mayawati, the JD(S), perhaps the BJD, possibly the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, the Left looks tainted, compromised and desperate.
Prakash Karat: Well, I can define secularism in a way which most of them don't agree with. I am seen in company of the Congress, but I have taken a political decision at that time to defend secularism and exit the alliance. The company I keep will be on the basis of the politics and the policies that I would like to advocate.
Karan Thapar: Can you defend secularism in the company of parties that are not just communal but have been allies of the BJP?
Prakash Karat: I told you they have broken with the BJP. And because of the stand that the AIADMK will take, they took a decision not to go with the Left now. Ms Jayalalithaa had asked us eight months earlier before we even withdrew support to the UPA Government that they would like to have an understanding with us and the BJP will be left with not even one seat in Parliament from Tamil Nadu.
Karan Thapar: Let's turn to the future, despite your former alliance with them, the BJP claims that both the TDP and the AIADMK are talking to them behind closed doors. Are you confident that your allies will stick with you?
Prakash Karat: I think that is not the issue. The issue is that as far as we are concerned, we will forge alliances with many of the regional parties and other secular parties and recent experience shows that after 1998 elections, the NDA was formed and 1996 after the elections the United Front was formed, and 2004 after the elections, the UPA was formed. So by the time, the 2009 elections are over, I am sure that an alliance will develop where a third force or a Third Alternative will emerge.
Karan Thapar: But you deftly sidestepped the issue I raised. Are you confident that the TDP and AIADMK will stay with you or are they talking to the BJP behind you back?
Prakash Karat: In fact, what we have discussed and assessed is that after the elections, not only will they stay with us, others will join also us into the third front.
Karan Thapar: You had Mayawati almost in your grasp but the July bonhomie that you established - when you were breakfasting together - didn't last for weeks or even days.
Prakash Karat: No, I am constantly in touch with her. What we have decided is that if all of us will put our best foot forward and win a sufficient number of seats, and other secular parties will come along with us. This is what the Left parties and the BSP think.
Karan Thapar: So you still believe that you have some understanding with Mayawati even though the rest of us can't see it?
Prakash Karat: No, we don't have an electoral understanding but they have promised us, they have assured us that they will be part of the non-Congress, non-BJP combination. And that will appear after the election.
Karan Thapar: Suppose after the elections, its more tempting for AIADMK and the TDP to go with the BJP. After all they have been allies of the BJP for six years.
Prakash Karat: Our relationship with the TDP has developed over the last two years and we have cooperated not just for the elections but for number of other issues too. And we are confident of that.
Karan Thapar: Let me put is like this, if the next elections throws up a hung Parliament - as many people believe will be the outcome - and the only way of preventing the BJP of forming a government is for you to support a Congress-led coalition, then would the CPM be prepared to do that?
Prakash Karat: I firmly believe that 2004 results will not be repeated in 2009where a situation developed where we were compelled or had no other choice but to support a Congress-led Government.
Karan Thapar: But if you have a hung Parliament?
Prakash Karat: Then we will sit in the opposition or we may support any other government but a Congress-led government.
Karan Thapar: So in other words you are saying that your refusal to support, under any circumstances, the Congress-led government could actually permit a BJP-led government to take office.
Prakash Karat: I don't think that is the way it will happen.
Karan Thapar: But you are prepared to let it happen?
Prakash Karat: No, we will sit in the opposition. Why do you think 2004 will be repeated? We will support a government but it cannot be a Congress-led government. It can still be a secular government, a non-BJP government.
Karan Thapar: But not a Congress-led government in any circumstances?
Prakash Karat: I am saying that it can be a secular government which may get the support of the Left but we cannot support a Congress-led government.
Karan Thapar: Would it be easier for you to support a Congress-led government if the prime minister were not to be Dr Manmohan Singh?
Prakash Karat: I said Congress-led, it's not based on any individual leading the government.
Karan Thapar: So no government that has been led by any Congressmen or woman can be supported by the Left.
Prakash Karat: Congress-led, yes.
Karan Thapar: Regardless of who the Congress person is, you will not support it.
Prakash Karat: But we may support a secular government to keep the BJP out.
Karan Thapar: Could it be a secular government where Congress is a part even if Congress doesn't lead it?
Prakash Karat: I can't say that now. It depends on the situation.
Karan Thapar: But you are not ruling it out.
Prakash Karat: I cannot say that now what's going to happen. We are looking for a non-Congress, non-BJP government. That's our first priority and we are working for that.
Karan Thapar: But you are also indicating to me that the government - where Congress is a part but not leading it - could be a government you would support?
Prakash Karat: No, I didn't say that. I said we are at no cost going to support a Congress-led government. However, we will try to work a secular government. What shape that will take is something I cannot say till after the elections.
Karan Thapar: But you are not excluding the possibility that that secular government could have Congress party in a participatory role.
Prakash Karat: I cannot rule it out, but it seems unlikely.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. As you look back on your four-and-a-half-year experience of supporting the UPA Government, how do you recall working with Dr Manmohan Singh?
Prakash Karat: We never had problems working as any individual, leader or prime minister. We had problems with the policies pursued by the government.
Karan Thapar: Is it the policies pursued by the Congress Government that have put you off Congress or is it that you feel emotionally and politically let down or even betrayed. Is it emotional or political?
Prakash Karat: Dr Manmohan Singh was always clear on what he wanted to do, there is no question of betrayal. Our problem was that we had got into a situation where we could not accept the Congress-led government going ahead with the strategic alliance with the US.
Karan Thapar: Is that the only reason why you did it this time and will do it now in future to keep the BJP out. You aren't ready to support the Congress?
Prakash Karat: We don't agree with the whole gamut of Congress policies, the economic policies, it's foreign policies. The old differences between us remain.
Karan Thapar: I suppose what I am asking, and I will ask it quickly and bluntly, is it politics that separate you or is it an emotional experience of what you consider betrayal?
Prakash Karat: No my party doesn't work on emotions. Our Central Committee has decided that we have to work for the defeat of the Congress and the BJP. And when we go to the people with that mandate, we will have to work with that mandate.
Karan Thapar: Prakash Karat, a pleasure talking to you.