D Raja, two-term Rajya Sabha member and National Secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI) from 1994, took over as General Secretary of the CPI on 21 July 2019. Born of landless agricultural worker-parents, Raja was the first graduate from his village in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore district.

He began his political career by joining the CPI’s All India Students Federation (AISF) in 1968. In 1992, the party congress at Hyderabad elected him to the party National Executive and asked him to come to Delhi. Since then he has been in the Capital, and now a well-known spokesperson of his party.

He worked with party stalwarts and late general secretaries C Rajeswara Rao, Indrajit Gupta and A B Bardhan. Just two days before his second Rajya Sabha term was to end, he took over the reins of the CPI, which in 1952 was the principal Opposition party in Parliament, and later broke the one-party rule of the Congress in the country in 1957, by forming a Government in Kerala.

In this interview to DEEPAK RAZDAN, Raja, 70, answers questions on political and organisational challenges before his party.

Excerpts:

Q: How do you sum up the current political situation in the country?

A: The current political situation is very disturbing. The country is passing through a very, very critical period. There is a grave threat to the very Constitution of the country, democracy of our country. There is attack on the multi-culture and pluralist democracy of our nation. One can see there is increasing attacks on the Constitutional rights, democratic rights of our citizens. The situation is very scary and there is mob lynching going on unabated. It is taken as the new normal. Dalits, tribals, minorities, they are being lynched when they assert their rights, when they demand justice. We also witness increasing crime against our women, our children. So the situation is very scary. If anybody questions the Government, its policies, they are all being dubbed as antinationals or as urban Maoists. It is an attack on citizens.

Q. Do you think the Opposition is united enough to question the Government?

There is concern in the Opposition parties, there is an understanding about the need to question the Government, but the Opposition coming together has its own problems. There are regional parties, parties working across the country. The Congress Party is a pan-Indian party, but it is in a kind of disarray. In the same way, other regional parties are under pressure. The BJP is trying to exert pressure on regional parties. In the last session of Parliament we saw how BJP could exert pressure on certain parties and get their support to pass some Bills. The Left parties have been saying that in order to fight the BJP-RSS combine, all secular-democratic parties must come together, mobilise people and launch agitations across the country.

Q: What sort of unity are you suggesting for the CPI and CPI (M)?

A: The CPI and CPI (M) are working together. There are several class and mass organisations in which CPI comrades are in leading positions, while CPI (M) comrades are in leading positions in others. At the trade union level, we need to build more unity. It has become a must now because this Government in the name of labour reforms is taking antilabour steps.

Q: You said the Communist movement should rework its strategy. What does it imply?

A: We are fighting against a rightwing political party BJP, against RSS, which is a non-electoral force acting as an extra-constitutional force influencing the decisions of the Government and the RSS is militarising its own cadres. In such a situation, how can the Left fight these reactionary forces? The unity of the CPI and the CPI (M) becomes crucial. Because these parties have a glorious history, legacy and only they can fight the reactionary forces without any compromise. We are the hope for the people and the country. That is why both parties must come closer. Mass organisations, trade unions, kisan sabhas must come closer.

Q: What response have you received from the CPI (M)?

A: I keep saying this at several places. When Indrajit Gupta was General Secretary of the CPI, and Harkishan Singh Surjeet was the General Secretary of the CPI (M), there was an attempt to establish state-level coordination committees of the two parties. But this initiative could not be taken forward for various reasons. Now the situation demands extraordinary measures to bring all Communist forces together, particularly the CPI and CPI (M), so that we can instill some confidence and hope in the minds of the people.

Q: How do you compare governance during Manmohan Singh’s rule and the Modi Government?

A: The UPA-I headed by Dr Manmohan Singh was a government supported by the Left from outside. In UPA-I, pro-people legislation could be passed, e.g, MGNREGA, Right to Information (RTI) and the Right to Food. There was a coordination committee between the UPA-I and the Left. The UPA-II, as a follow-up of the earlier policies, went ahead. At least during those days there were consultations. During Modi Government, he declared in his first term he was not Pradhan Mantri but a Pradhan Sevak, but in reality he has turned out to be a Pradhan Pracharak of RSS. One should take note. When Modi entered Parliament for his first term, he bent down and touched the footsteps of the main gate. Starting his second tenure, he bowed to the Constitution, but in reality there is undermining of the Constitution. Having captured power, there is an attempt to subvert the Constitution, not openly because outwardly they show they respect the Constitution. In reality there are efforts to subvert the Constitution, Constitutional values and Constitutional morality.

Q: The Government claims it has given a big jolt to corruption.

A: This is misleading. There are actions against corruption. One should take note what happened in the Vyapam case in Madhya Pradesh. It happened during BJP rule. What happened in the Chhattisgarh public distribution scam, again during BJP rule. Demonetisation not only brought disaster to economy, it led to corruption; after BJP came to power, corporate funding has been legitimised. Electoral bonds have been introduced. Who benefits, is it not corruption?

Q: Your national executive concluded that Parliament was rendered redundant, but the Government claimed the last session was the most productive ever.

A: Most productive, in the sense they could get several Bills passed without referring them to department- related Standing Committees which are considered to be mini-Parliament. Because they have the numbers in the Lok Sabha, the government is using the tyranny of numbers to get Bills passed without proper scrutiny. Mr Modi talked about maximum governance, minimum Government. But in practice what we witness is minimum Parliament. Parliament will remain a namesake. If Parliament becomes redundant, democracy will die. That is not good for the country.

Q: You have had a long association with the party, and now you head it, how do you see your challenges?

A: The situation is very challenging. History has forced certain responsibility on me. My party colleagues have huge expectations from me. Building a party is a collective effort and collectively we will see how to reactivate, revamp and regenerate it. These are the tasks before me. Equally important will be how to take up the political challenges, mobilise the masses against the present government, which thinks it has freedom to do anything.