April 20, 2014

Our Alternative Is Based On Alternative Policies

Below are the excerpts from an interview with Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, taken by Atanu Saha. THERE are just two days left in the first phase of elections in the state. The whole state is geared up for the current elections. What, according to you, are the most important issues for the election campaign? The most important issue in the election campaign is who should form the government in Delhi. We need to struggle to convince the people that there is an option beyond the Congress or the BJP. This is the crux of the election campaign. Here there are many important questions. The majority of the electorate in the country (more than 50 per cent), have cast their votes against the Congress and the BJP in past elections. It is not impossible to bring all these votes together again. Above all, our manifesto is based on alternative policies. It is a set of programmes for the ordinary people - land distribution, universal public distribution system, minimum wages for workers at Rs. 10,000 per month, pension of Rs. 4,000 per month for the elderly, subsidies for essential commodities, opposition to privatisation and liberalisation, improvement in education and health care systems, development for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities, etc. If we can take this agenda for change to the people, we will be able to attract the imagination of the people and this will bring us closer to our goals. That's why the Left needs support. And here lies the importance of this year's election. The Left is emphasising on “Change in policy, not change in leadership” as the most important slogan. Why? Congress and BJP have showcased their leaders, in that sense we have not showcased any particular leader in our campaign. People have seen many political leaders. But what is more important than individuals who come to office are policies that could change people's lives. That is the main issue of the election. After the election, some leader or the other will come to power. But will there be change in people's lives? This is what we are saying. To bring about any change in the lives of people, we need the elections to be based on issues and policies. People should vote for policies, not for leaders. The results of West Bengal elections are very crucial for the Left for gaining influence and power in the parliament. In this context, what would be the issues that should get priority according to you? We are trying to convince the people of the state that if the Left Front has considerable number of seats in the Lok Sabha, then any anti-people policy can be stalled. In the same way, some pro-people policies can also be adopted. We are trying to make people understand the significance of Left Front’s victory in West Bengal in national politics. In 2004 elections, the Left Front got the maximum seats in Lok Sabha since independence. Do you think that had a positive impact? It is true that the Left Front had gained seats in 2004 elections. As a result we could do some work. We could make policies like NREGA, we could ensure the interests of the tribal population through Forest Rights Protection Act and grant them the right for homestead land in forest areas. We could stop privatisation to some extent. Later, such interventions were not possible. You are putting more emphasis on policies. And since this is the Lok Sabha election, the national policies should be discussed. But the situation in the state is also becoming very relevant in the election campaign. Could you say something on this? Of course. Even though this is Lok Sabha election, issues pertinent to the state are also relevant; such as inflation; such as the issue of price rise. The centre is primarily responsible for inflation, but the states are also responsible. The issue of deteriorating law and order in the state will definitely influence the elections. As a result, the state-specific issues are also being discussed in the campaign, people will take these issues under consideration and will vote based on these experiences. The Trinamool Congress leader in this state has claimed that she has completed 90 per cent of the work she had promised. She claims people will vote them for development. What is your opinion on the matter? If we hear that 90 per cent of the work is completed, we feel that she does not know what the actual responsibilities of the government are. Agriculture, industry, education, health, employment, in which sphere is she claiming success? There is a decline in every sphere. The state is increasingly falling behind. People are watching everything. They will vote on the basis of this experience. There is an attempt to discredit all achievements of the Left Front in the Trinamool campaign... No one can discredit the achievements of the Left Front government in 34 years. We achieved huge success in agriculture. We could create the conditions for such success. Panchayati Raj was the foundation of this success. The other main achievement of the Left was in education. Universalisation of primary education was also our achievement. We were also successful in the sphere of higher education. Who can deny the fact that we were able to resolve the power crisis in the state and prepare the conditions for industrialisation? What is your view on the situation of industries in the state? As I told you, the state is regressing. The Economic Survey of the government reveals that in 2010 (the last year of Left Front rule) Rs. 15,052 crores of investment was done in the state and 322 projects were realised. In 2011, the first year of Trinamool government only 28 projects were set up in which Rs 2,465 crores were invested. It is worth mentioning that, most of these investment initiatives were taken during the Left Front government. In 2012, investment was only Rs. 312 crores and only 12 new industrial units were set up. The situation is no better in 2013. Investment in the state in 2012 is the lowest in ten years. But the issue of the law and order situation in the state has received more attention than the issue of industrial investment. Yes. The law and order situation has reached a terrible stage. Everyone is concerned. Cases of violence against women in particular, have reached very alarming proportions. Only the government is not bothered. They are busy trivialising these incidents. You have repeatedly said that "the criminals in this state are thinking their government has come to power." Why? Yes, look at the facts. That is why I am saying that the criminals think that they have come to power in the government. Even if I ignore the smaller cases, even in the big cases of crimes, the government is trying to protect the criminals. When a district-level leader could say that bomb the police and then he roams around freely, doesn’t it leave the state administration in helpless uncertainty? This is not an isolated event. Such incidents are on the rise in every district. The other issue that I must mention is the security of women. Even in this case we do not see the state government taking appropriate measures. Forget about taking action against the offenders, the court is stating the families of victims are also not getting any security. The offenders are being seen going to government departments with the police. This is the situation. A state of terror is prevailing in the state. The Left has to continue its campaign while facing this terror. Is it being possible to campaign everywhere in the situation? We are trying . We are trying to stand up against terror in every part of the state. But in some cases it is not proving possible. We have to overcome this obstacle. The Election Commission is being attacked. The courts are also being disregarded. Do you think free and fair elections can be conducted in this situation? Yes, we will have to see how it goes. We have informed the Election Commission. They are taking some actions. But whether it will be a free and fair election, will depend on the mass support we receive. We will have to achieve free and fair election through the strength of our mass support. What is needed is mass support and the power to resist. We must earn this. Terror is there, the issue of corruption is also pertinent when we speak about this government. People are being cheated. How do you see this situation? Yes, corruption has become a major issue. Much news on corruption has come out publicly. Some of the big cases of corruption are, squandering of funds of Siliguri-Jalpaiguri Development Authority, ‘triphala’ light corruption, and above all, Sharadha. In all cases, the government is trying to conceal the truth. Of course, this is increasing the suspicion of the people. But the truth will be revealed. There were frauds in job recruitments as well... Yes. There was corruption in the test for recruitment of school teachers - TET. As a result, lakhs of students were deprived, humiliated, and are being assaulted. Since the last Lok Sabha elections, the Left have fared poorly in assembly and panchayat elections as well. Many reasons were identified for this, including organisational weakness of the Left. How much of this weakness has the Left been able to overcome? We are trying to overcome the weaknesses in all districts. Moreover, we want to give this message to the people, put your trust in us. We have understood why people reacted against us and we have overcome the issues. This year's election in West Bengal is four cornered. The political parties are wooing voters knowing that the votes will be split. What is your view on this? We want to depend on our own strength. It may be a four-cornered fight, but our strength should not depend on the division of votes. We should not become dependent on such strategies. You cannot win unless you have mass support. Increasing your mass base is most important. We must be able to attract more people. That is our aim. Recently the Trinamool leadership is opposing the BJP in few rallies. Are they sincere in their opposition to BJP? Or is it a farce? Yes, I have noticed it. At the beginning of the election campaign, Mamata would not say anything about the BJP. After coming to know about some of the reactions of the minorities, she started criticising the BJP. But she has never said she committed a mistake by allying with the BJP in the past, nor is she saying that she will not enter into an alliance with a BJP government in future. But the BJP is also trying to increase its strength in the state. How is the Left addressing the issue in their election campaign? In our campaign, we have talked about the danger of having a BJP government. We have tried to make people understand the real face of the present BJP. The BJP has the support of the fascist-communal RSS on one hand and the big corporate houses on the other. Their call for development is a call for strengthening the rule of capital and profits, and to destroy all oppositions. This is why all Left Democratic forces are absolutely opposed to the BJP. After the decline of the Left in the Lok Sabha, there is a campaign that the Left has lost its relevance in national politics. What is your comment on this? In this election, what is the course that Left wants national politics to take? In national politics, when liberalisation policies passed down from the Manmohan Singh government have taken an even more aggressive form in the hands of Narendra Modi, then the position of the Left becomes most relevant and important in the national context. We want to take the country against the tide of liberalisation. Who else but the Left can do this job? That is why, I must reiterate, increasing the strength of the Left is most important. How optimistic are you about the performance of the Left in this election? We are optimistic. Following the events in every state we can understand that the strength of the Left will increase in comparison to the previous elections.