D RAJA, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), has injected intensity and substance into the Opposition’s voice on multiple issues. Reacting strongly to what he believed is the RSS-BJP’s agenda to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra, he has given a call to his party cadres to go all out to celebrate the coming birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi in a big way while highlighting secularism and plural democracy of the country.

On the economic policy, Raja has asked his party to mobilise people on unemployment, poverty and loss of livelihood resulting from various government policies. A twoterm Rajya Sabha member during 2007-2019, Raja, 71, took over as his party’s supreme leader on 21 July 2019.The first graduate from his village, Chithathoor of Vellore district in Tamil Nadu, Raja has been a member of his party’s national executive since 1992.

In an interview with DEEPAK RAZDAN, Raja explains his party’s stand on a range of burning issues.

Excerpts:

Q. How is democracy in peril — the government is holding a Parliament session despite the Covid pandemic?

A. We are a Parliamentary democracy. Ambedkar was clear that India should remain a Parliamentary democracy. He was clear the Executive should be held accountable to Parliament. Parliament is the supreme institution in our democratic polity. It represents the sovereign will of the people. In a country like India, Parliament should be vibrant.

If Parliament is made redundant and bypassed, and the government wants to implement its agenda at the back of Parliament, it is a threat to the institution and democracy.The BJP came to power in 2014. They have majority in Lok Sabha even today. But the majority should not be used to push policies. There should be debate on every issue. We have seen that the BJP tried to pass certain Bills as Money Bills.

It became an issue in the Rajya Sabha. There was a discussion in the Rajya Sabha how Bills could be brought as Money Bills making the House redundant, useless. The Government is taking the Ordinance route on major policies. Article 370 was abrogated. This is one aspect of how the Government has functioned.

Even in the opening of the economy, and private participation in strategic sectors like space, atomic power, there was no discussion in Parliament. Both strategic and nonstrategic sectors are being opened for private participation, including foreign investment, without proper discussion in Parliament. Ambedkar said Parliament belongs to the Opposition because it should be given an opportunity to question the government, to criticise its policies.

Parliament is meant for debate, discussion, expressing dissent and differences, which is being undermined now. This poses a threat to democracy. Even outside Parliament, if anybody questions the government, criticises its policies, they are dubbed as anti-national, their patriotism is questioned. This also puts democracy in peril. Then, they target intellectuals, activists and students.

This is not democracy. Differences are part of democracy. The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) is being used, even sedition charges are being slapped. The Sedition Act is a draconian law, it is being used now along with UAPA. As an MP, I brought a private member’s Resolution against it. My party opposed the UAPA when it was brought. The current government is crushing dissent. That is why we say democracy is in peril.

Q. Economic slowdown has worsened due to Covid, which is a global crisis?

A. Covid-19 hit India towards the end of January 2020. Even before that, the economy was sick and was sinking. In his first tenure, Prime Minister Modi promised his government would generate two crore jobs per year. Why did he make the promise?

Because there was a massive unemployment. Covid-19 added to the crisis to an extent, but the crisis was there. The economy was sinking, in fact the economy was going through recession. Covid-19 affected several countries; it is not the sole reason for the crisis. The economy was in a shambles even before Covid came.

Q. The Opposition is still not united… you wanted Opposition vs. BJP battle in Bihar?

A. The Opposition is not a homogenous body. Opposition is Opposition. It consists of several independent political parties, who have commitment to certain common positions including secularism, democracy, social justice and such things. At the national level, to fight the RSS-BJP combine, the Hindu Rashtra agenda of the RSS, the privatisation of the Indian economy, parties come together on a common platform.

We have seen (this) in the past and even now. But the situation varies from state to state. Tamil Nadu situation is not the same as Kerala, or Andhra Pradesh is not like West Bengal. We have to take into consideration the situation in different states. Opposition parties are also showing maturity in coming together.

In Bihar last time, the unity of secular democratic parties, including the Left, was not possible at the time of the Lok Sabha elections, and we saw the disastrous results. The BJP combine captured power. This time in the Assembly elections, we see the failure of the present government, the law and order situation, and the economic backwardness which continues in Bihar.

How to defeat the BJP-JD(U) is the issue, because Bihar needs an alternative polity. We have said all secular democratic parties must come together. At the political level, there is understanding, there is almost an agreement that RJD, Congress, Left, all would have to fight the election together.

On seat sharing, we have said, all parties in the Grand Alliance and the Left would have to be mature and reasonable enough to accommodate each other. The primary objective is to defeat the BJP alliance. This understanding should be followed at the time of seat-sharing.

Q. Left failed to make government give economic relief to people outside the income tax net, or free foodgrains for poor?

A. We have been raising issues of migrant labour, the affected poor people, unemployment and devastation of livelihood due to Covid. The worst affected by the epidemic were Dalits and adivasis. The Left raised the issue of financial support and supply of foodgrains to the poor families free of cost. We will continue to raise these issues.

If the government does not yield to the Left, government will pay the price for it. They cannot take the people for granted, who will teach a fitting lesson to the BJP and its supporters.

Q. You want to highlight Gandhi’s secularism and plural democracy, but the government says it is following Gandhi in every policy?

A. This government is marked with hypocrisy and duplicity. They tried to appropriate not only Gandhi, but Ambedkar and Patel also. Whom have they left? It tries to show it works for the legacy of Ambedkar but in practice, it works against his legacy.

Q. The government has formulated a new National Education Policy, which it said was based on widest national consultation?

A. Education is on the Concurrent list, it means the states have equal rights in deciding the policy. Did they consult all state governments? Can they say all state governments have given concurrence? That itself undermines the states’ rights. It is an assault on federalism.

What is the content of the New Education Policy — privatisation, commercialisation, centralisation and communalisation. Language is a critical issue. Their intent is to impose Hindi and Sanskrit. It is obvious. That is why there is uproar in the country. Another thing is the way education is going to be imparted at the primary level.

It will be a subtle way of implementing the Gurukul system. It means a barber’s son goes to school, he should be trained as a barber, a carpenter’s son should be trained as a carpenter. This policy is against social justice too.

Q. Kesavananda Bharati’s death has reminded people that the Basic Structure of the Constitution cannot be changed?

A. The case is the reference point for the Basic Structure of the Constitution. What is the Basic Structure — India is a sovereign, secular, socialist, democratic Republic. The BJP-RSS combine wants to subvert the Constitution.

They want to create conditions for Hindu Rashtra. Already they are doing that. Hindu Rashtra means Manusmriti, not the Constitution given to us by Dr Ambedkar and other leaders. That is why there is a strong resistance.

Q. In his last speech as President, late Pranab Mukherjee too said public discourse must be free from all forms of violence?

A. This was a clear message to the RSS and Hindutva forces. They use violence against people. Mob-lynching, who has been doing it? They only resort to violence and don’t allow any free discourse, any public debate. They spread hate and intolerance.