SITARAM YECHURY, CPI-M General Secretary since 2015, has a daunting task before him in the current Assembly elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam. Kerala has for many years a tradition of not returning to power the incumbent government.

The CPM has been in power in the state and Yechury has his task cut out to oversee his party’s bid to retain the mandate there. In West Bengal, where Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee ended the CPM-led Left Front’s 34-year-old rule 10 years ago, the BJP has entered the fray and is aggressively trying to seize power.

Forced to fight the BJP and the Trinamul together, the CPM has worked out an alliance with long-time rival Congress and the Indian Secular Front (ISF). How will the CPM do in the polls? What dreams does the party have to offer to the electorate?

In the course of an interview with DEEPAK RAZDAN, Yechury says, “We don’t sell dreams, we sell visions. A vision of better life, a vision where our children will be educated and employed, where people have better health facilities so that they don’t suffer, particularly in this Covid period. It is a better human life, better human values. That is the vision we give them.”

Excerpts:

Q. The CPI-M and Left parties have the biggest stakes in the current elections in West Bengal and Kerala.In Kerala,you have anti-incumbency,and in West Bengal you have both the ruling Trinamul and the mighty BJP against you?

A. As far as Kerala is concerned, one of the surprising things in this election is there is no anti-incumbency against the LDF government. This has been shown in the latest local body elections which the LDF swept. That would not have been the case if there was anti-incumbency.

The work done by the LDF government and the lack of any alternative vision or programme in the Opposition, particularly the UDF and the Congress, give us an edge in Kerala. We are poised at the moment to actually defeat the trend, which has been going on for four decades now. In Bengal, it is now clearly a three-cornered contest.

The antiincumbency which is very deep against the ruling Trinamul Congress, was reflected in the entire anti-incumbency vote moving towards the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections because there was no alternative. It was a bipolar election between the BJP and the Trinamul, as the Left and the Congress contested separately.

Now the Left and the Congress, and many other forces including the Indian Secular Front have come together. This is a substantial challenge being given to both. The entire approach and target of the Left and the Samyukta Morcha, and priority, is to defeat the BJP and not allow it to form a government.

In order to do that, it is also necessary to defeat the Trinamul because it is the anti-Trinamul vote that goes to the BJP. We will be drawing out a large section of that anti-incumbency towards this alternative. That will achieve the purpose of defeating the BJP and marginalising the Trinamul and ensuring that Trinamul is not gaining.

Q. Why are the BJP big guns targeting only the Trinamul in their campaigns?

A. They want only polarisation. BJP and Trinamul, both want a bipolar election. Both are afraid of a triangular fight. That is being defeated by the emergence of this alternative.

Q. In today’s politics around personalities like Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi,will not an abstract Left, democratic and secular dream proposed by you be difficult to sell?

A. This question of personalities dominating elections is only a mediacreated perception. Modi is not winning elections because of Modi. Modi is winning elections because of communal polarisation deepened by the BJP and the RSS.

People are moved on the basis of actual issues. Mamata has been winning the elections because of popular disaffection earlier with the long Left rule. Mobilising the minorities by Trinamul now in the name of the communal BJP shows it is not the personalities, it is the issues that matter. Our issues are people’s livelihood issues.

The issues of unemployment, growing hunger, job-loss, price-rise, these are the things that are really ruining the people’s livelihood and these are our main issues. That is what will move the people. What moves people are issues. Some personalities may be associated with the issues, basically it is the issues which move the people.

Q. Modi has promised “Sonar Bangla”, “real poriborton”, giving corruptionfree development to common people?

A. Do Modi’s promises have any meaning? He promised “achche din”, what happened? He promised Make in India — industrial growth is plummeting. He promised corruption-free India — everybody can see how their cronies are growing and today the news has come that one of Modi’s favourite cronies has amassed the largest amount of wealth during the year of Corona in the world.

And what are these electoral bonds, except legalising political corruption? What is the PM CARES Fund, with thousands of crores which are collected which are unaccountable, unauditable and non-transparent? What is his promise of corruption-free and achche din, what happened to it?

Sonar Bangla is a slogan of Bangladesh. Bangladesh calls itself Sonar Bangla. “Sabka vikas, sabka vishwas” — what was achieved? Modi’s slogans are hollow slogans which people have already understood.

Q. The Lok Sabha elections showed that the BJP’s tactics worked in West Bengal?

A. It is not BJP’s tactics, they got the benefit of Trinamul’s anti-incumbency in the absence of any alternative, with the Left and the Congress fighting separately. It was seen as a bipolar election and they got the benefit of the people’s anger against the Trinamul government. This was the ground reality. There were no BJP tactics.

Q. The BJP has been accused of electoral autocracy, but such charges have been made against many people when they got power?

A. It is not the question of political beings in power becoming powerful. But what do they use that power for. What is Modi, BJP doing? Using that power of being in government, they are undermining the entire Constitution and the independent Constitutional authorities.

What is he doing today with Parliament itself, with the Supreme Court, the Election Commission, the CBI, the ED. What are these regulations they are bringing for the social media and the OTT platforms. The number of UAPA cases registered last year has gone up by more than 76 per cent.

Every dissent against the government is treated as anti-national. The sedition law is being used indiscriminately. It is this misuse of that power that they have. That is why they are qualified to be called autocratic, and all elections are being reduced to an abuse of money power.

The general saying nowadays in the country is that in any election anybody can win, but it is the BJP that will form the government. Goa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Northeast, Arunachal — everywhere they buy up, and yesterday the report has come that bulk of the MLAs that have switched sides have gone to the BJP for becoming ministers or getting some gains.

That is the electoral autocracy.

Q. How far are controversial farm laws and lockdown after-effects issues in these Assembly elections?

A. They are issues. What is being demanded is that the parties that form the government must reject these farm laws that the Centre has passed, and enact laws for the states, like we have done in Kerala. We have rejected the central farm laws and have enacted laws at the state level, which are pro-farmers.

In these elections, these are big issues. Everybody is being asked that question, will you do this. The suffering of people during the lockdown, growing unemployment, overall inflation — they will be issues.

Q. States complain of attacks on the country’s federal structure,but can this become a poll issue?

A. In Kerala, it is a big poll issue. Even the legitimate dues of GST that were to be paid to the states, these have been denied, like in Kerala. The rights of the states are being encroached upon. Even the farm laws are a State subject. The Centre is usurping these rights. Education is in the Concurrent List.

The New Education Policy is adopted unilaterally. Tamil Nadu has rejected it. All southern states have rejected it because of the imposition of Hindi formula. These are poll issues.

Q. You have aligned with the Congress in West Bengal and are fighting it in Kerala. The Congress’s national credibility has been damaged by P C Chacko.

A. The Congress has its own problems. Going with the Congress in Bengal and fighting it in Kerala, that is India’s reality. We must all understand. In the 2004 polls, 61 members of the Left parties were elected to the Lok Sabha. Out of these, 57 were elected defeating Congress candidates but after that we supported the Manmohan Singh government.

The immediate objective is to defeat the BJP. Whoever is willing to come with us to defeat the BJP, we will go with them. Why Congress is not doing that in Kerala, they have to answer, and not us.

Q. In Kerala you have dropped five ministers, including some popular ones, from your list of election candidates?

A. We are reflecting India’s demographic reality. Seventy per cent of India’s population is below the age of 40. Among the list of the candidates in Kerala, the average age of the CPI-M candidates is the lowest.