News18 Exclusive| There won't be anything at national level under one opposition leader, says Sitaram Yechury
The CPI(M) general secretary also pointed out the 'inconsistencies' in the Congress's ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra and criticised the ruling Trinamool Congress's 'corruption' in West Bengal
As the 2024 parliamentary elections inch closer, political parties are picking up the pace of their strategisation and mobilisation. The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left bloc that has seen its influence diminish in many parts of the country since being a “kingmaker” at the Centre in the UPA government days is making efforts along with other opposition leaders to put up a credible counter to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance at the national level. In an exclusive interview with CNN-News18, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury expressed his views on the opposition’s strategy, the many probable PM candidates, the Congress’s ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra, and the TMC-BJP tussle in West Bengal.
Well, as far as the role of the Left is concerned, as far as the CPI(M) is concerned, we had our party congress in April where we decided that we will work for the broadest mobilisation of secular forces to take on this Hindutva communalism. And the main issue today is to safeguard the character of the Indian republic as defined as a secular democratic republic by the Indian Constitution. All this is under assault. To safeguard that, it is essential to keep the BJP away from controlling the reins of the government and state power. So, for that, we will work for the largest mobilisation of the secular forces. That is our stated objective.
So who are the secular forces on your radar? Who are you going to talk to?
Those who profess their commitment and adherence to the values of the Indian Constitution to its tenets and the basic fundamental pillars of our Constitution, which is essentially our secular democracy, economic sovereignty, social justice, and federalism. These are the four main pillars of our Constitution. All those who agree that they should be safeguarded and strengthened, we will go with them.
We had the opposition come together during the presidential polls, but opposition parties could not put up a fight. So, do you think that you can convince the people of the country of being serious about providing an alternative to the BJP?
It is not the people of India who elect the President and the Vice President; there is an electoral college. So that cannot be equated…cannot say that you didn’t win the election. When the electoral college is loaded in favour of the BJP, naturally they will win because it is only the MPs and MLAs who vote for the President and only the MPs who vote for the Vice President. So that cannot be equated with support among the people. So, among the people, all the parties are taking their own initiatives to reach out to the sections in whom they have their influence. They are all doing their independent activities. All that will be coalesced together by the time of another two years.
Nitish Kumar, Bihar CM, was here recently. He met every political leader while in Delhi. So, there is speculation that he is projecting himself as a possible PM candidate. What are your views on that? Does he have the ability? Can he bring parties together on the same page?
You see, there is not going to be anything at the national level under one single leader. That has never happened in India, it will never happen. If you look at the earlier experiences…no need to go back to the Janata Party or post-Emergency…but go from 1996. You have Deve Gowda as the PM, the United Front made him the Prime Minister after the elections. In 1998, Vajpayee became the Prime Minister. The NDA that made him the Prime Minister was formed after the elections. In 2004, Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister, and the UPA that made Dr Manmohan Singh Prime Minister was formed after the elections. So, look at our own political history. Don’t convert our parliamentary democracy into a presidential form.
Are you saying then that only a post-poll alliance is possible and not a pre-poll alliance?
There will be pre-poll alliances at the state level, like you have one example of Tamil Nadu where you had all the secular forces coming together and becoming the major political force in that state. So, state-wise, which are the major forces? They will be the ones that decide and unite all secular forces and understandings and alliances will happen at the state level. And then subsequently, it will coalesce into a national formation.
You are talking about an alliance of secular parties. What do you have to say about the CPI(M) and the Congress in the backdrop of the recent controversy sparked by Congress MP Rahul Gandhi’s 12-day tour of Kerala but just two in Uttar Pradesh?
Well, it is up to them, the Congress. What they decide and how they want to do their yatra is their decision. There is nothing that we can say. We only point out the inconsistencies there. But whatever is their campaign in Kerala, in Kerala, the political polarisation is between the CPI(M)-led LDF and the Congress-led UDF. The BJP is nowhere in the picture, they don’t have a single MLA. So, naturally, they will raise…our Kerala unit, our Kerala party is perfectly capable of answering. We have been answering and the people of Kerala have been supporting us. It is unprecedented for any government or any party or any formation to win a consecutive election in Kerala, for the last 50 years. But, it has happened now, people repose their faith in us. That they will.
So why do you think the Congress party is spending so much time in Kerala but not going to election-bound states like Gujarat, and Himachal…just two days in UP? And what do you think of Jairam Ramesh’s comment that the Left is the A-team of the BJP in the land of ‘mundu Modi’?
These are questions you should ask Mr Jairam Ramesh, not me. Why they are doing what they are doing is their business to answer. So please ask them.
How do you see the comments of the Congress leaders? Does this help in uniting secular parties?
These comments, they are all being answered in Kerala and they will be answered by the people of Kerala. So, that’s it. The people of Kerala have already answered and they will answer.
You did not say whether Nitish Kumar deserves or has the ability to be the Prime Minister. Would you like to comment on that?
Everybody has qualities and can be a good Prime Minister. India has also seen that. We had Deve Gowdas, we had Inder Gujrals, we had Mr Chandra Shekhar, earlier you had Mr Charan Singh, you had Manmohan Singh who served for ten years, the longest (for two consecutive terms) after Jawaharlal Nehru. So, there is no question. Everybody has qualities, and can be the Prime Minister. What will be the formation that will come up after the elections, after the state-level alliances and unity of secular forces, that will decide.
What do you have to say about what is happening in West Bengal? Even as we speak, there is a clash between the leader of the opposition’s march, which is the BJP’s march to the secretariat, and the TMC.
We understand the compulsions of your channel and the other media, but for more than a month, there have been major mega-protest actions being conducted by the Left. That does not come to your notice but that comes to the people’s notice. That is where you all will be missing out. But these actions are going on in Bengal against the misuse and misdeeds of the TMC government and the large-scale corruption that is being unearthed.
Which action are you referring to? Your protest or the BJP’s protest?
Our protest. BJP started today. We have been going on for the last two months. And these protests have happened in a very very big way. For the BJP, it is more of a political point. It is not that they are concerned about corruption or misrule. Their misrule in the country is there for everybody to see.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has also made her intentions clear to occupy a leadership space when it comes to opposition parties. What do you have to say about that?
Again, I will repeat, all this will be discussed and decided after the election. As I told you, with regard to Mr Nitish Kumar when you asked me, the same thing applies everywhere. So, first consolidate and strengthen in the states to defeat the BJP there.
Do you have the same thing to say to everyone? Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, K Chandrashekar Rao…everyone pitching themselves as a probable PM face?
I don’t know. It is you who are saying that they are pitching themselves. They are not. Mr Nitish Kumar, here, in this office, said that ‘I am not a candidate for the PM’, but for you and the media, you want some sort of a thing like this in order to project it as a polarised thing between the BJP and the opposition. No, the opposition stands for India, the Indian Constitution. It is not a ‘tu tu, mai mai’. It is a very serious existential battle for the secular democratic republic of India.
What space, in your opinion, will the Congress party occupy in this alliance? A leadership position, or will the Congress party have to take a step back?
As I said, it will happen at the state level first. That is wherever the Congress is the dominant party, they will be in the leadership to mobilise the secular forces. Wherever they are not, the regional parties will do it and that is how it will have to work out. So, everybody has their role. What will be their role finally after the elections will depend on what happens in the elections.
Are you then saying that it will depend on the numbers that a party gets in the Lok Sabha elections? It will be driven by the numbers?
What is democracy about? Why is Mr Modi the Prime Minister? Is it not because of the numbers? The point is of course in a democracy numbers are the ones that determine.
Opposition parties have always alleged that the BJP is misusing the ED and the CBI to topple elected governments and target opposition leaders. But do you think that the claim of the opposition is diluted because of what has been unearthed in West Bengal especially? You have seen mounds of cash being unearthed for days in a row.
The question we want to ask the Modi government is why did it take you seven years to do this when all these charges were there before you…Saradha scam and Narada scam and all that? And that was the deal that was being made between the BJP and the TMC. Why did they wait for seven years? Why was this not proceeded upon when all the evidences were available? That the BJP must answer.
But otherwise, they are misusing and misutilising the central agencies, targeting opposition parties and leaders all over the country.
What has happened in Bengal is actually a very very late action against the known corruption scams that were there, that everybody in Bengal knows, except the CBI and the ED, and of course the Modi government.
How will this impact the next assembly elections in West Bengal?
Well, let us see. That is still some time away.
Many political parties are claiming that the Congress party is finished. Even AAP has claimed that the Congress party is finished. And AAP claims that it is the principal opposition party…
Anybody can claim anything. Finally, it will be the people who decide. Wait for that.
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