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`We are unhappy with the direction of economic policy’

Wednesday 8 June 2005, by RAMAKRISHNAN*Venkitesh

Interview with Prakash Karat, CPI(M) general secretary.

Do not take our support for granted. That is the message emanating from the Left parties, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government completed one year in office. The Left parties have made it clear that they are not satisfied with the performance of the UPA government, particularly on the economic policy front, and want the UPA to show greater commitment to the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) for governance.

The significance of this message is accentuated by the fact that the government is dependent on Left support for survival. In an interview to Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat shared his perceptions about the UPA’s one-year rule and pointed towards the future course of action of the Left parties. Excerpts:

What is your assessment of the performance of the UPA government in its first year?

Our Polit Bureau has made a specific assessment of the one year of the UPA government. We have said that the government should be judged on the basis of how it has implemented the CMP. It is on the basis of the CMP that the Left parties have extended support to the government. So, if we go by the test of implementation of the CMP, the record is a mixed one. Not exactly satisfactory, according to us.

What are the areas you are satisfied with and what are the areas you are not?

Certain steps have been taken, which are in line with the CMP. There have been some measures to undo the damage done by six years of BJP rule in areas like education, particularly in terms of the content of education syllabus, textbooks and so on. Some more funds have been allocated to education. There has been an expansion of the mid-day meal scheme.

On foreign policy too, we welcome some of the steps taken, such as the upgrading of relations with China, the on-going dialogue with Pakistan and the measures taken to promote people-to-people contacts.

Having said that, we have to add that the UPA government shows more eagerness to take up policies and measures which are in the interests of international finance capital and big business, while not showing the same willingness to go ahead with policies which are of direct concern for the vast majority of people despite providing for them in the CMP. If you look at that record, it is tardy.

Could you be more specific on these issues.

The CMP has promised legislation to guarantee employment. The original provisions of the draft Bill which was to be introduced were diluted by the government, but still there are no concerted steps to fulfil this promise. But despite the passage of one year, the government has not taken any concrete steps to fulfil this promise. Employment is vital for large sections of the population, particularly the rural poor. Even if they can be guaranteed 100 days’ work in a year, that would make a big a difference.

You find that the public distribution system across the country at the ground level has not shown any great improvement. The promise to bring comprehensive legislation for agricultural workers has not been kept. So is the case of one-third reservation for women in Parliament and legislatures.

There was an assurance about the right to living of forest dwellers, the tribal people. The introduction of the Bill for this has been postponed. The net result of all this is that at the ground level people do not experience any big change in terms of their livelihood and living standards. This is something the UPA has to address seriously in the coming period. Put simply, much more needs to be done.

At the level of politics, one of the basic factors that motivated the Left to support the UPA was the fight against communal forces and for secularism. How would you assess the UPA’s record on this front?

There are two aspects to it. There is a larger struggle on this in the political field. It is necessary for political forces that are committed to secularism to go to the people and counter the insidious campaign and activities of the communal RSS and its outfits. Even today, you see in States like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh that attacks are taking place against minorities. There is also communalisation of the education system in these States. This is an ongoing thing. And hence, the political mobilisation against this sort of communalisation has to be carried on further.

The second aspect is the commitment of the government, as reflected in the CMP, to restore the secular principles in the state and its institutions. In this context, it is important to assert that the laws and system of justice that prevail in a secular state applies to Gujarat. The Supreme Court has referred a case in the State to the Central Bureau of Investigation [CBI] and transferred another case out to Maharashtra. But there are a number of other serious cases, which are not being properly investigated by the State government. There is a request before the Supreme Court that these cases should be referred to the CBI. We are of the opinion that the UPA government also should go to the court and support this request.

Then there is the fight for secularism in the electoral field. In the Maharashtra Assembly polls, the UPA was able to defeat the communal forces, but in Jharkhand the parties of the UPA were not able to unite and present a common front. That is the main reason why the BJP is back in office in Jharkhand today.

Given all this, our Polit Bureau has made the point in its assessment that the continuance of this government depends on the unity of the UPA.

There is a stream of opinion that the Congress, despite leading the UPA, has not really come to terms with the regimen of coalition politics and that this is preventing it from evolving a clear and concrete political strategy to fight the communal forces.

I think that even if there is clarity, when you translate it into the electoral battle all sorts of other factors come in and you tend to lose sight of the main goal. I shall not say that there is no intention or direction to fight the communal forces but when it comes to elections, the leadership needs to have the will to pursue this and not get sidetracked by factors like narrow State-level, regional interests and pressures of party activists to get the ticket.

Though you credit the Congress with the honest intention to fight communal forces politically, the Left parties have expressed reservations that the UPA’s economic policy is more in the direction of the policies of the BJP-led NDA government.

We have not merely expressed reservations. We are unhappy about the direction of the economic policy. If the UPA believes that fighting the BJP and defeating it is only about communalism, we cannot agree. There has to be different policies also. But the way they [the UPA government] are going about further liberalising the financial sector, bringing in FDI [foreign direct investment] in the banking sector, the disinvestment measures in the public sector units, including the Navratnas, all point towards a continuation of the BJP’s and the NDA’s economic policies. The overall direction seems to be the same, except for some cosmetic measures. I think that this direction is going to lead to difficulties, including political difficulties, for this government.

You talk about political difficulties, but at the same time the CPI(M) Polit Bureau has said that the support to the UPA will continue.

That is, if they implement the pro-people measures in the CMP. As far as we are concerned, measures like disinvestment of shares of the Navratnas amounts to selling off of public assets. Such measures are bad for the country. And on top of it all, the Finance Minister says that the government has consulted the Left parties. They know very well that we are totally against disinvestments in the Navratnas and then if you try to discuss how to go about it, we are not prepared to accept that. There has been no consultation on this matter. The government has taken a decision and as far as we are concerned we are free to do what we want.

What concretely does the Left propose to do?

It is the UPA that has the responsibility of running the government. We are supporting the UPA for certain political reasons. So, let them run the government, but we cannot be party to these policies. We will go to the people and mobilise them against such policies. Wherever necessary we shall launch strong movements.

There are also suggestions from observers that the UPA might take the support of the BJP and the NDA to push through some of these economic policy measures. The earlier NDA regime had got Congress support for many such initiatives...

That is a political decision for the UPA to take. But we have made it clear that we will oppose the privatisation of pension funds and the deletion of voting cap right in the banking regulation Act in Parliament. We will vote against it. It is for the government to decide its course of action.

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