“Democracy is nothing but a political reflection of the ‘free’ market”

- Dipankar Bhattacharya
(Civil Society Magazine interviewed CPI(ML) General Secretary Comrade Dipankar for their December 2009 Issue, ‘Beyond Maoism.’ The transcript of the interview is reproduced below. – Ed/-)  

1. Your party was underground for a long time. But you came over ground. Why?
The CPI(ML) was not formed as an underground organization. With the state coming down heavily on the fledgling organization and waging a veritable war of extermination against all leaders and activists of the party, there was little choice but to move underground. When the party was reorganized in July 1974, dark clouds had begun to envelope the entire framework of parliamentary democracy. Indeed, within a year Emergency became the official order. It was therefore only natural that the reorganized CPI(ML) would also have to work underground. Also, mass struggles were not central to the party’s scheme of things in those days.
Following the rout of the Congress in 1977, the country witnessed a democratic resurgence and the party began to look for open avenues of work. In 1979, the party rectified its line, assigning top priority to the task of unleashing mass struggles and intervening in the political process primarily on the basis of mass assertion of the rural poor. Accordingly, large sections of CPI(ML) members and cadres began to participate in open activities even though the core of the party remained underground.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the party was faced with a new situation which prompted the party to come overground. The collapse of the Soviet Union had triggered a wave of capitalist triumphalism and bourgeois ideologues and publicists once again began writing obituaries of Marxism and declaring communist parties irrelevant and obsolete. To make matters worse, communist parties in the former Soviet Bloc and in many other parts of the world went on a suicidal spree, liquidating themselves, shedding communist tags and rewriting their programmes to surrender before capitalism. It therefore became imperative for the party to openly counter this ideological-political offensive of imperialism and demonstrate the role and relevance of communist parties.
In the domestic context, the early 1990s saw the convergence of three major trends – (i) the adoption of free market policies by the state, (ii) the rise of the BJP riding on an aggressive communal mobilization, (iii) major shifts in the socio-political landscape in North India in the wake of the Mandal wave. The response of the CPI and CPI(M) to these developments was highly defensive – nationally, the two parties began a new phase of collaboration with the Congress and in crucial Hindi-belt states like Bihar and UP they virtually reduced themselves to appendages of the likes of Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh. The CPI(ML) epitomized a bold radical alternative to this capitulationist approach and the party came overground with the banner of independent assertion of the revolutionary Left.
2. What has the experience been like? Has it been worth it?
The experience certainly has not been very smooth. The attitude of the state remains as repressive as ever, and on an everyday basis our comrades have to face, by and large, a hostile administration while leading the masses in exercising and claiming their basic democratic rights and seeking minimum improvement in their real-life conditions. Apart from state repression, there is also the question of feudal and mafia violence on the movement and the masses, often perpetrated with the active complicity and patronage of the state. The masses turn to the judiciary for relief and justice, but more often than not, what they get is injustice or denial of justice. Operating overground does in no way lessen or smoothen this rough environment, but then the very challenge of radical politics is to face and transform this reality in favour of the people and people’s democracy. We have taken up this challenge and we will persist with this course to the best of our ability.
3. Is it difficult trying to find your space in mainstream democracy?
As long as ‘mainstream democracy’ will remain subordinated to corporate domination, it will remain difficult for the working people to find adequate political space. Mainstream democracy is nothing but a political reflection of the ‘free’ market we see in the economic domain. Both are about power, profit and privilege. For any real notion of justice, freedom and equality to take shape, it is necessary to redefine and reconstruct the mainstream, both in economy and politics.
4. How are you faring in elections?
For the last two decades we have maintained a vote share of 2 to 3% in Bihar with five to seven seats in the State Assembly. In Jharkhand too our vote share is approaching the 3% mark. In the Lok Sabha we had representation till 2004, but it has not been possible to win any seat in the last two general elections.
5. Is there ground you are gaining irrespective of elections? In which states would you say your party is forging ahead?
Elections are an unequal battle and, more often than not, election results do not reflect our actual influence. Votes are only one among several parameters to measure our strength. In terms of our organized work among the masses and actual mobilization and participation of the people in struggles, our influence is increasing in several states and on different fronts. To give a few examples beyond our well-known strongholds in Bihar and Jharkhand, we are advancing in Orissa in the field of land struggle, in Punjab among agricultural labourers and in Tamil Nadu on the trade union front.
6. There is a lot of common ground between issues which you take up and those taken up by peoples' movements. What is the relationship you share?
I find it quite intriguing and misleading that the term ‘people’s movements’ is often used almost exclusively to describe single-issue campaigns undertaken by various NGOs leaving out radical political parties with a comprehensive programme and a holistic view of social transformation. The CPI(ML) too is very much rooted in and propelled by people’s movements. As far as specific issues and struggles are concerned we do share common ground with a range of forces and we do value any solidarity that develops through shared struggles and mutual respect.
7. What do you think tribal alienation from the mainstream is due to?
Tribal alienation from the so-called mainstream is due to utter failure and refusal on the part of the state to treat tribal communities with due human dignity and rights and address their basic needs and aspirations. The tribal question in India remains essentially sandwiched between the Forest Act and Wildlife Protection Act. Evicted from their land and traditional way of living, and denied rights to modern means of livelihood, tribals are virtually treated as a stateless people marooned in some no-man’s land. When they question this insensitivity and injustice, they are branded as extremists and sought to be suppressed at gunpoint. The state policy towards various tribal communities is often also influenced by the RSS-BJP school of cultural homogenization. All these strands of accumulated injustice can only deepen tribal alienation and fuel tribal anger.
8. How best can the state deal with it?

An honest confession of the state’s abject failure can only be a first step and this can yield result only if it is backed up by some real corrective measures. Due recognition of tribal autonomy, restoration of their rights to land and forest produce, an embargo on any further displacement of tribal people in the name of mineral exploration and industrialization, and deterrent measures to stop various exploitative practices like usury, bondage and physical/sexual oppression can lay the basis for a new deal for the tribal population. Most crucially, the state must shed its colonial and paternalistic attitude to the tribal people and start treating them as equal citizens of modern India.