"It is time to rebuild the third force"

[Interview by Ramji Rai, Editor of Lokyuddh. From Liberation, June 1996.]

How do you assess the present political situation?

The present political situation has demolished many myths. In the scramble for power, the BJP in an effort to manipulate a majority, sidelined all the issues that go to make up its specific identity. On the other hand, many would not have expected the pace and the ease with which the JD and the Left have established coexistence with Narasimha Rao’s Congress(I) and its direction of economic reform.

The emergence of BJP as the largest political party and the emergence of a common understanding among centrists, leftists, regional parties and Congress(I) for ‘secularism and economic reforms’, is a new juncture in Indian politics. At this juncture, the agenda of social justice has to be redefined and we have to rebuild the third force anew.

No political party could get a clear mandate in the parliamentary elections to form a government. Does this indicates some crisis of the ruling classes or its democratic vitality?

We communists have always been pointing to India’s multinational, multilingual and hence multidimensional cultural diversity as against the BJP’s Indian nationalism with Hindutva as its essential thread. National unity should be built on the progressive ideology of anti-imperialism, democracy and a modern state and not on archaic Brahminical values. The failure of BJP to gather majority in spite of presenting a moderate face and also the composition of the present Indian parliament confirms our understanding of Indian society.

Of course, there is a crisis. After the decline of Congress(I), we have witnessed the limits of the other centralised all-India political formations. Indian society may be a ‘great coalition’ but to translate it into a stable political coalition is a tough job, especially when there is no strong nucleus at its centre.

To get out of this dual problem, the process of experimentation shall continue and it is to be seen how long and how far can the institutions of parliamentary democracy bear it.

Political analysts and most of the bourgeois political parties are looking at this situation as the beginning of a new era of coalition governments and are modifying their tactics to suit these conditions. Does it not appear to you that Indian politics is going to pass through a phase of coalition governments for a long time to come?

There were talks of the phases of coalition governments in 1977 and ’89 too but those proved to be shortlived. This time the number of parties in the coalition governments is quite high but its largest constituent has only 42 seats. The BJP and Congress(I) are still the first and second largest parties and ironically both of them are outside the government, the former as an opposition, and the latter as a supporter of the government from outside. Both are pursuing the tactics of utilising the contradictions and splits in the United Front government to their benefit. That is why, to say that this experiment of coalition government will decide the general direction for the future, would be too premature a conclusion.

The CPI(ML) has commended the CPI(M) for not participating in the coalition government. But they have just followed their old policy, there is nothing new in it. So, why did tou congratulate them?

The pressure on CPI(M) to participate in the government was much more this time, and, as is known, one section of the leadership had already made up its mind to participate in the government. In such a situation, CPI(M)’s Central Committee’s decision to firmly stand by the party programme is indeed important. At the political level, the logical culmination of the straight line of ‘secular alternative’ can only be joining the government. On similar pretexts, CPI had in the past joined even the Congress(I) governments. The decision of the CPI(M) central committee acted as a brake against floating with the current. You might have seen that while CPI called this decision unfortunate, we welcomed it.

But many questions emerge after this decision, on which the CPI(M) has to clarify its position. For example, last time while getting into an understanding with the NF, LF had maintained its separate independent identity, but this time CPI(M) and other left parties have become constituents of the United Front. And since the government is of the UF, even without participation in it you will be equally responsible for the omissions and commissions of the government. The decision of the CPI to participate in the government has threatened the very existence of LF as a united bloc. Even more, Deve Gowda has been an ardent admirer of Narasimha Rao’s economic policies. From the very beginning the Congress(I) has been making the question of continuation of the economic policies the main condition for its support. Deve Gowda becoming the prime minister and Chidambaram the finance minister amounts to capitulating before this conditionality. The irony is that the Congress(I), though remaining outside, is pulling the strings of the government but the CPI(M), in spite of being a UF constituent, is unable to determine the direction of the government.

This very contradiction of the CPI(M)’s position is increasing the outside pressure on it to reconsider its decision on joining the government and, on the other hand, the internal demand to give critical support to the government by staying out of it is also gaining ground. We will welcome any such decision of the CPI(M) that maintains a distance with the Congress(I) along with the BJP.

Even this time the CPI(ML) failed to join any united front. Is this an indication of the failure of the Party’s united front policies or one of its drawbacks, or the inadequate development of a situation conducive to its policies? Do you feel the need for a rethinking on your united front policies?

Even now, considering the level at which we are working the main thrust is on building our strength. At the social level, our effort to build a united front with various classes and sections of the masses is continuing. This is a long drawn process and has no alternatives.

At the national level we have always identified ourselves with the camp of anti-Congress and anti-BJP third force and have always participated in joint actions. But at the organisational level, tying ourselves with any front will blunt our initiatives in various states and may prove suicidal for the Party. Even then we are continuously trying to develop tactics to properly utilise every division among and within our opponents to our favour, and in this respect, a scope for serious discussion is definitely there.

A front with any of the left or centrist forces could not be made. Even where the social bases are concerned, no success has been attained at forging a front with any section of the middle castes or middle class. How do you see this? What is your future strategy regarding this?

We did get support from some sections of the middle castes and middle classes, or else our progress in the three seats in Bihar, where we have polled more than one lakh votes each, would not have been possible. In these elections we laid emphasis on strengthening our class base. This was necessary due to the inroads being made by Janata Dal into our support base.

In the light of the jolt received by JD, certainly a conducive condition has been created to expand our influence among the middle castes and we have taken the decision to take up this task in a planned manner.

What kind of role does the current situation demand from the Left Front today? Will left forces be able to advance unitedly in this direction?

Left leaders must do away with their role of brokers between the centrist forces and the Congress(I) and raise their voice against communalism and the foreign-capital-based economic development. In Parliament, they should adopt the role of left opposition, demarcating themselves from the United Front. This is the feeling of the left cadres too. Whether the leadership of the left forces will unitedly proceed in this direction, only time can tell.