Prakash Karat was the youngest-ever secretary-general of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) when he was elected to the post in 2005. Karat, now 61, is generally regarded as a classical Marxist, rooted in ideology, at a time when some of his colleagues are slowly veering toward a diluted version of market capitalism. As one of the prime movers of the Third Front of political parties in the fray in the 15th Indian general elections, he is expected to play a crucial role in marshalling the constituents of this front of left and regional parties, and bringing in, if necessary and possible, more parties into its fold post-elections. The CPI(M), he says, may have to take a historical decision in the government formation.
Excerpts from an interview:
Both the left parties and the Congress say they are committed to fighting communalism. But the Congress is saying that you, as one of the prime movers of the Third Front, are only splitting the secular votes and that would indirectly benefit only the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).That is absurd. If anything, we have now successfully marginalized the BJP in several states. Take, for instance, the states in which elections have been held in the first phase. In Kerala, BJP has hardly any presence. In Orissa, with the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) joining the Third Front, the BJP, which was till now an ally of BJD, is isolated.
In Andhra Pradesh, it is the same story, as Telugu Desam Party is with us, and the BJP, which had managed to get a toehold in 1999, is nowhere. The same applies to Tamil Nadu, which goes for elections in the last phase. By aligning with the Left, the main opposition party there, AIADMK, has effectively shut the door on BJP. On the other hand, it is the Congress, because of its attitude and policies, that has split secular votes in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where its allies in the United Progressive Alliance — Rashtriya Janata Dal, Lok Janshakti Party and Samajwadi Party — have been forced out of the alliance. Now you tell me, who is splitting the secular votes.
While the BJP has dismissed you as an illusion, the Congress has been attacking the Third Front, particularly targeting the regional parties. Both Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have described the growth of regional parties as not so good for democracy and also that these parties have no national vision. How valid is this criticism?
The very fact that both Congress and BJP have been attacking us is proof enough that they are jittery. If the Third Front is really only an illusion or merely a motley bunch of parties, why are they worried?
The answer is simple. Even in the 2004 elections, the Congress and BJP put together secured a lot less than 50 percent of the votes. The other 50-plus went to other parties, many of which are now part of the Third Front. And even this vote base would definitely have eroded for the Congress because of its anti-people policies and for the BJP because Hindutva is no longer a vote-catcher. The only ones who have gained are the parties in the Third Front, and believe me, the total is going to be bigger than the sum of the individual parties.
What about the prime minister’s criticism of regional parties?
What was the reason for growth of regional parties? It was because the Congress, which in the decade after Independence was in power, did not respect regional aspirations — be it political, social or economic. Whether it is the growth of Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu in the 1960s or others like the Telugu Desam Party, Biju Janata Dal or Asom Gana Parishad in the later years, it was the insensitivity of the Congress to regional aspirations that is the root cause. Having created the atmosphere, and in fact having forced people to look for regional alternatives, the Congress cannot now cry foul. The other criticism about regional parties is also hollow. All the parties in the front have experience of running governments in the state. They also have the experience of ruling the country in their earlier incarnation as the United Front (UF).
In 1996, the CPI(M) took the decision of not being a part of the UF government even though at that time the prime ministership was the party’s for the taking. Will you do the same if the Third Front now has the opportunity to form the government?
Our party’s policy is to take these decisions based on the circumstances at that time I cannot now say anything about it. If the situation arises, we will take a considered decision. And possibly it could be a historic decision.