"Left must come up as an alternative to take Bihar forward"

[Interview by Hindustan Times, Patna edition, with Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary , CPI (ML)]

Bihar assembly election is being labeled as India’s biggest election after 2014 parliamentary polls. Where does ML stand in the poll arena and what will be the main issues of your poll campaign in the coming Bihar assembly polls?

Bihar elections are always big events in Indian politics. Our job in the elections is to stand with the people and make sure they can vote on the basis of their own issues and their own choice. Land, livelihood, shelter, dignified and secure employment, social security, health and education remain the basic concerns for the overwhelming majority of people. New direction and new politics for a better Bihar will be the central theme of our election campaign. The BJP and Janata camps want the elections to be reduced to Modi-centric and Nitish-centric spectacles, our job is to advance the struggle and assertion of the people.

The left has seen a steady erosion in its base as an alternative with only 1 MLA in Bihar legislature from 2010 onwards. What are the reasons for it?

In 2010, we were cornered by the extended social reach of the overarching BJP-JDU alliance. We had campaigned vigorously for the implementation of the report of the Land Reform Commission, but feudal reaction managed to mislead and scare away not only big landowners but also large sections of land-leasing tenants. The rift in the BJP-JDU alliance since then must also be seen in the context of disintegration of this extraordinary unsustainable social alliance.

How do you the see the left unity coming up. Do you see the CPI and CPM resolving their ideological differences to forge unity in the coming polls?

The CPI and CPI(M) have both conveyed to us their readiness to join hands with the CPI(ML) and contest the coming polls as an independent and united Left bloc.

The RJD and JD(U) have buried their rivalry to join hands and experiment with a janata coalition. How do you see this combination and its future ? Will the left join this group in coming days for a larger umbrella of secular forces to fight the BJP?

First we were told the Janata fragments were merging into a single party. Ahead of the election, the proposed merger has already been scaled down to a seat-sharing arrangement. But in real life we continue to see more splits - Jitan Ram Manjhi has moved away from JDU and Pappu Yadav has parted ways with RJD. I would therefore like to see how the realignment actually unfolds during and after the elections.

Nitish Kumar has failed to fulfil his promises and it is the prolonged reign of failure and betrayal on the part of JDU and RJD governments that has strengthened the BJP in Bihar. Likewise, the BJP cannot evade responsibility for the failures of the Nitish government which till the other day was a joint venture of the BJP and JDU. The Left must come up as an alternative to take Bihar forward.

The BJP has emerged as a major alternative and bidding to come to power in November by joining hands with regional parties including dalit base outfits like Jitan Ram Manjhi’s group. Do you see, the BJP being a rightist party encroaching in the space of the left and socialist groups as dalits have now started shifting to the saffron outfit?

Parties with support among dalits cannot shift to the BJP fold on a lasting basis because the BJP continues to be the staunchest defender of social oppression. Some leaders may temporarily tilt to the BJP because of political circumstances and their opportunist calculations and the use-and-throw attitudes of parties in power, but in a state like Bihar with the most shocking record of dalit massacres and oppression the BJP cannot make major inroads among dalits.

Both the BJP led NDA and RJD-JD(U) combine are accusing each other of pursuing caste based politics by harping on development of Bihar? Do you see this as a paradigm shift in political mindset of the major parties.

The rhetoric of development does by no means preclude caste-based politics. Unless the agenda of social transformation and broad-based people-centric development comes to the fore, the political economy of development would only reinforce the existing power structure. And caste arithmetic remains central to the consolidation of class power in Bihar and much of rest of India. The important thing is to redefine development in accordance with the needs and aspirations of the broadest sections of the people.

What do you feel of chief minister Nitish Kumar development works in last eight years on which he is seeking a comeback to power . Has Bihar gained by the “Sushashan” plank?

Someone like Anant Singh would best illustrate the real character and content of Nitish Kumar’s ‘sushashan’. As I have argued from the beginning, while Lalu Prasad presided over criminalisation of politics, Nitish Kumar engineered criminalisation of economics. He rehabilitated the extortionists and kidnappers of the previous era with contracts and various other means of accumulation of wealth and passed it off as ‘sushashan’. The mask has now fallen off. The election-eve arrest of Anant Singh does not change this reality just as Nitish Kumar’s belated rift with the BJP cannot erase the fact that he has been the most effective promoter of the BJP in Bihar.

There is a perception that ML as a group known for mass movements lost steam midway from 1990s by not aggressively pursuing its agrarian issues , land reforms while losing out in strongholds like Siwan after the incarceration of former MP Mohammed Shahabuddin? It is felt, the youth in Bihar are not connecting with the left as the communist movement has lost vision? Comment.

Democratisation of agrarian relations and overcoming of agrarian distress remains our central concern. The government has all but abandoned the agenda of land and agrarian reforms, and the CPI(ML) and the Left alone continue to prioritise it as a key political agenda. What happened in mid 1990s was not ML giving up agrarian struggles but the state colluding with feudal interests to promote the Ranvir Sena and engineer the Bathe-Bathani bloodbath. We have withstood it and are pursuing our agenda with renewed vigour - taking up the issues of both farm labour and non-farm rural workers and small peasants and share-croppers.

The fight of the Bihar youth for dignified employment and decent wages also figures high on the ML agenda. There is, however, indeed a communication deficit and we have got to reach out more among the youth and rural and urban middle classes.

How do you visualise the politics in Bihar five years from now vis a vis the left parties like ML, CPI and CPM. Do you feel, the coalition era of national parties aligning with regional satraps would continue or there would be bipolar politics with Congress and BJP gaining more prominence in eastern India, including Bihar?

There are no real signs of Congress revival in eastern India. The gains made by the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections are also not sustainable as seen subsequently in Jharkhand and in West Bengal municipal elections. The Assembly elections in Bihar will also corroborate it. In the context of the deepening economic and agrarian crisis and corporate-communal offensive, I see the Left bouncing back with renewed vigour as the most trusted force of democracy and social transformation.

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