February 21, 2021

Reality of an Alternative Exists in Bengal: Interview with Surjya Kanta Mishra

THERE is a palpable change in the present situation in West Bengal. There will be a triangular fight in the forthcoming assembly elections as there is a corporeal chance of defeating both the central and state ruling dispensations. We will have to implement alternative policies. And this alternative can only be provided by Left, democratic, secular forces. In an interview to Ganashakti, CPI(M) state secretary Surjya Mishra said this to Prasun Bhattacharya.

Q: Soon elections will be held in our state. Left Front and Congress has decided to jointly take on the might of TMC and BJP. But media is playing a dubious role in making the fight as only between TMC and BJP. Do you think that in case of a triangular fight these two parties can be defeated? Is the political situation conducive?
Surjya Mishra: Of course the situation is conducive. Situation is never stagnant. It is ever changing. Political polarisation between the TMC and BJP was at its highest during the 2019 parliamentary elections which resulted in the contraction of popular support for Left Front and Congress to around 13 per cent. But there is a perceivable change in the political situation of the state. The fight is bound to be triangular. The country has been swept by anti-incumbency immediately after the 2019 elections. Post parliamentary elections BJP has either lost assembly elections in most states or managed to wrest power by taking recourse to unfair means. BJP has failed to win the elections in Rajasthan, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. By overturning the peoples’ mandate they snatched power in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. In spite of spending an obscene amount of money and using the lapdog media to the hilt they could form the government, in Bihar, by a narrow margin of 0.3 per cent. The economic recession prevalent in the country was given a leg up by the pandemic resulting in an acute economic crisis. Accumulation of wealth has been centralised leading to a widespread and abysmal economic disparity. Opposition and protest movements have also gained momentum due to this. The government has in a very typical fascist style tried to quash these protest movements. But strikes, hartals and the sit-in demonstrations by the farmers, at the outskirts of Delhi, and nation-wide farmers’ movement have created a situation which is unprecedented in independent India.

Secondly, in our state, the TMC is increasingly getting isolated from the people and popular dissatisfaction with the government is on the rise. Even after spending huge amounts of money they are unable to cover up people’s discontent. After the BJP it is the TMC which has got maximum money from electoral bonds. After helping the BJP win 18 seats in the 2019 parliamentary elections, a plethora of schemes were launched, which have not benefitted TMC much. The very existence of the party seems to be jeopardised. Every day the party is disintegrating. On the other hand, during the pandemic induced lockdown, the Left comrades have, in various ways, been by the side of the ordinary people. Helping migrant labourers trapped in other states to return to their home state, creating awareness about Covid-19 amongst ordinary citizens, distributing soap, hand sanitizers, and food amongst the poor and the needy, creating a helpline, blood donation – myriad such activities were undertaken by the Left activists. We were twice arrested by the TMC government’s police for protesting against the policies of the central government. People through their experiences have realised that those who are in power are unable to fulfil people’s needs and those who are making every effort to fulfil common people’s requirements are not in power. So, it is our responsibility to provide people with an alternative. That is why Left, democratic, secular forces are getting together to provide a stiff opposition to both the TMC and the BJP. We are discussing distribution of seats with both the Congress and the Indian Secular Front. Our associate parties are also with us. Hence, the fight is bound to be triangular.

Q: You are talking about alternative policies. If you form the government what changes are you going to bring about? What will be your priorities?
The thrust of our alternative policies is going to be to provide employment to the youth. That is our primary challenge. All vacant positions in government and semi-government educational institutions shall have to be fulfilled within one year. Employment opportunities will have to be created in agriculture, industry and service sector, the three main pillars of employment. The cost involved in agriculture will be reduced, crop prices will be increased, man-days will be augmented in rural employment scheme and efforts will be made to aggrandise the scheme to the cities to increase employment opportunities. Co-operatives, self-help groups, and community kitchens and vegetable markets that were set up during the lockdown, will have to be expanded. West Bengal headed the list of employment in the country in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). These enterprises will have to be rejuvenated and conducive atmosphere will have to be created for investment in large-scale industries. Our government shall work to fulfil the legitimate demands and protect the rights of farmers and workers. Democratisation of education, transparency in admission and in publication of results shall be implemented. Free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 15 years of age will have to be ensured. Number of educational institutions, at all levels, will have to be increased. Public health, prophylactic treatment, free treatment, increase in the number of beds in the hospitals, and overall improvement of this sector will be one of our priorities.

Seventh Left Front government had, without the help of any central scheme, provided rice at rupees two a kilo to almost 40 per cent families. This scheme will have to be gradually augmented to benefit those who do not have permanent jobs or belong to a certain income bracket. The public distribution system will have to be refurbished. In one word, food security for all will have to be ensured. The government shall act as an enabler in all forms of movements against social inequalities. The myriad ventures under taken by the Left Front government for development and empowerment of women and children, adivasis, scheduled castes and tribes and minorities and other under-developed classes were not enough. The economically backward areas of the state, especially in North Bengal, Jangal Mahal, and the Sundarbans will have to be identified and developmental programmes will have to be taken up afresh.

The alternative that we are talking about is actually a counter narrative of the present realities. This narrative is in stark contrast to the indecent politics practised by the TMC and the BJP. We shall enlighten common people about the ruination brought about by the TMC and the BJP. But our thrust will be on reminding people about the good work done by the seven Left Front governments, what is happening in Kerala, and what we are going to do as an alternative. We shall harp on these positive aspects. Our main objective is to fight for an alternative – whether we are in the government or outside. To achieve this we must keep our doors open for dialogue and through dialogue we wish to reach consensus.

Q: In the last decade the loan accrued by the state government has increased manifold while because of lack of industrialisation, revenue collection has hit rock bottom prompting many to be worried about the financial health of the state. How do you plan to handle this crisis?
It is a matter of scouting resources to implement our alternative programmes. It is possible to do it even though the GST is a big hindrance. To pull the state out of the current economic slush, all unnecessary expenditure will have to be stopped. Money spent on needless advertisement campaign will have to be done away with. Corruption will have to be eradicated. Moreover, local investments will have to be encouraged. State government shall form a corporation and gather loan from ordinary people and invest the same in co-operatives and small enterprises at the panchayat level which will also help create jobs at the local level. In the past West Bengal was the leader in small savings in the country, and that was calculated as loan to the state.  We had connected the self-help groups with the co-operative banks which had helped in establishing many micro enterprises. Now self-help groups have lost their self-sufficiency. If we can establish a bank for our state then we can surmount the problem of reluctance shown by banks in giving loan to the state government for developmental works, as well as the deprivation faced by the state government in credit deposit ratio. Other than these some innovative ideas will have to be applied to garner resources from the wealthy class.

Q: Not only is the state facing an economic crisis, the social fabric of the state has also taken a beating according to the Left. There are serious law and order issues with the rise in criminalisation and lack of women’s security. Added to these is the issue of dividing people according to one’s religion, caste and language identity which has greatly damaged harmony and unity. Will it be possible to tackle all these issues and bring Bengal back to its glory?
I am reminded time again what Comrade Jyoti Basu had said. He had said, “If the government did not want, riots can never take place”. Which means everything depends on the positive outlook of the government. In fact the good intentions of the government can overcome many obstacles without having to resort to law. The last ten years have proved that the state government lacked good intent. The ruling party is responsible for handholding a fascist party in the state, and for creating manifold fissures in society based on religion, caste and language. And this has caused humungous damage to the democratic and secular fabric of the state. We shall have to continue with our people’s struggle against communalism. The intelligentsia and people belonging to the world of culture have definitely a role to play in this. The present government has tried to usurp the independent identity of these people by trying to buy their allegiance. We shall ensure that folk artists, too, can retain their independent identity and promote their culture and lead their own life. They shall not be used as a tool to promote and campaign for the government neither will their livelihood be dependent on that. The reason that law and order has reached an all-time nadir is because of the close nexus between criminals and the ruling party and the latter’s dependence on the former. That is the reason miscreants get away with crimes against women. To bring about a comprehensive change to this situation we shall make sure that police can perform their duties, according to law, unfettered and independently. Those officers who cannot perform their duties independently now were allowed to do so during the tenure of the erstwhile Left Front regime. Even those close to the ruling dispensation were not spared if they were caught on the wrong side of the law during those days. We shall provide an administration that is independent of the ruling party. That is another alternative.

Q: It is with the intension of retribution that the present government had formed countless commissions against the ministers and leaders of the previous government. We all know that those commissions could prove nothing. On the contrary, the corruption of the present dispensation is as clear as daylight. If you are able to form the government what kind of steps would you take to prevent corruption?
The Trinamool government, in their effort to gag the voices of dissent, has appropriated the rights of the opposition, protestors have been slapped with false cases and incarcerated, and freedom of expression has been smothered. The BJP government has, using government machinery, stifled the voices of opposition in every corner of the country in a typical fascist manner. The TMC government has walked down this path much earlier. Our first duty shall be, on forming the government, to reinstate democracy in the state. The democratic rights of the people shall be restored, as it was in 1977, after the first Left Front government was formed. We shall revoke all false cases, and release all political prisoners who have been languishing in jail. The rights of the opposition shall have to be safeguarded down to the municipality and panchayat level. In order to curb corruption, and to bring back integrity, probity and fairness stress will have to be laid on transparency and the administration will have to be made more responsive and competent. The Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Women, the Minorities Commission, the state Election Commission and all other commissions will have to be brought back to their lost glory and made functional again. To ensure corruption free governance at the top-most level, Left Front government had formed the Lokayukt, which has subsequently been made defunct by the TMC government. But to stop corruption what is obligatory is the surveillance of the common people and to make that happen decentralisation of power and empowerment of the ordinary citizens are required. People are the best surveillance.

Q: What happens if the Left, democratic and secular forces, that are coming together, fails to master the numbers in the elections? What happens if in this triangular fight there is a hung assembly?
We fear that in such a scenario, Trinamool will align with the BJP in order to retain power. Though they are involved in a well-crafted public mock-fight they have always maintained a good understanding between themselves. Prime Minister has expressed his desire to have a BJP government both at the centre and in the state. He talked about a double engine. That double engine already exists. But after the elections, in case of a hung assembly, if both these parties decide to come together then that would be disastrous for the people of the state. Therefore every effort will have to be made so that they can never form the government, not under any circumstances. This is a possibility and we shall have to endeavour to win people’s support in favour of Left-democratic-secular forces.