Sitaram Yechury, 64, who took charge as General Secretary of the CPI-M on 19 April last year, has been in politics since his student days in Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1974. He gave up his pursuit of a doctorate at the university when he was arrested during the Emergency in 1975. Yechury, who was born in a Telugu-speaking Brahmin family in Chennai, grew up in Hyderabad.
The Telangana agitation of 1969 brought him to Delhi where he achieved the All-India first rank in the CBSE examination. Subsequently, he studied BA (Hons) in Economics at St Stephen’s College and got a Masters degree from JNU.
Yechury joined the Students Federation of India (SFI) in 1974. A year later, he joined the CPI-M. After the Emergency, he was elected president of the JNU Students’ Union thrice. Yechury succeeded Karat as CPI-M General Secretary. He is billed as the true heir to the coalition-building legacy of former General Secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha from West Bengal in July 2005 and has become one of the most prominent voices of the Opposition.
In this interview, he spoke on a wide range of issues. Excerpts:
Q: What is the status of the Left movement in India after the recent Assembly elections?
A: The Left movement in India is today united in its struggles against the anti-people policies that are being pursued very vigorously by the Modi government. We say they are anti-people because most of the policies they have pursued in the last two years are a more intense follow-up of what was being pursued in terms of opening up the country to penetration of foreign capital and allowing our resources, our raw materials and labour expertise to be put at the disposal of foreign capital for its profit maximisation. The net result has been widening of the economic inequalities between the two Indias and this has resulted in a very drastic reduction in domestic demand of Indian economy. This has led to a fall in industrial production as well as negative manufacturing or lower employment. With price rise and higher unemployment, the people’s discontent is the main force that is rallying the Left. In that sense the Left is today actually rallying to create a better India for the bulk of our people and not just a miniscule section.
The second area where the Left is important is in combating the very rabid communal elements we are seeing in the country. The Left’s secular credentials are there for everybody to see. Whether in the name of pseudo-nationalism that they are generating or trying to masquerade communalism as nationalism and the attacks on universities, you see the Left in the forefront. When there are attacks on Dalits in the name of cow protection, you see the Left. Also in the attacks on minorities again in the name of cow protection, love jihad or ghar wapasi, you see the Left.
Yes, we have to admit that the Left is electorally much weaker than it used to be. That needs to be overcome and we are currently engaged in that exercise. The unity with the CPI and other Left forces is growing stronger at the ground level. We think the Left as a political force will play a vital role in shaping the future of our country.
Q: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought Balochistan and Gilgit in the forefront of Indo-Pak relations while the Kashmir Valley continues to simmer.
A: We are very critical of the manner in which this government is handling Kashmir. I have said in Parliament and our party continues to say all along is why are the people of Kashmir feeling alienated from the rest of the country and the political leadership in Delhi. Unless that issue is addressed, blaming others is not going to solve the problem.
In order to restore confidence of the people, we have told the government that they should immediately stop the use of pellet guns which is absolutely inhuman and also withdraw AFSPA from civilian areas, retaining it only in border areas to check cross-border terrorism. Take some measures like this. At the all-party meeting, I told the Prime Minister that he should use the famed hotline connection with his Pakistani counterpart and tell them to stop meddling in our affairs.
Over the years, various groups have given reports on all issues pertaining to Kashmir, ranging from Article 370 to autonomy and development and all are in cold storage. You had a group of interlocutors who gave a very detailed report after the 2010 disturbances. That has not even been considered. We are telling the government to bring all that on the table if you want a discussion with all political parties. We will cooperate.
Otherwise decide on some measures to build the confidence of the people and for that it would be necessary to take the entire Indian political spectrum into confidence. It was done in the past. Government can lead a political delegation of MPs to Kashmir. But the government has just not heard a single one of these suggestions nor does it appear to be considering them.
I gave the example of a vulture that swoops down to feed on a dead carcass because it can smell blood at the height it flies. Blood is being spilt here so cross-border vultures will come. First, address why it is being spilt. Blaming Pakistan alone is not the answer to our problems. We will have to address domestic issues. As far as PoK is concerned, Parliament has by a resolution unanimously said the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir at the time of independence was part of India and that includes PoK. What is the new thing that is being raised? If PoK has to rejoin India, than talks and discussions with Pakistan have to be there. But this government has a blow-hot, blow-cold policy. The Prime Minister suddenly lands up to have lunch with the Pakistan PM on his birthday and then again suddenly Indo-Pakistan talks at the level of officers and foreign ministers are withdrawn. So, what is its policy? It is a knee jerk policy and it is very bad for our country.
Talking about Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK is not the answer. We are talking about our part of Kashmir and their part of Kashmir. What does it solve? Open the political process and dialogue inside India first and then start the dialogue with Pakistan, for that is the only way to move forward. That unfortunately is not what the government is doing.
Q: How do you view the handling of the foreign policy by this government since there has been severe criticism of it?
A: The foreign policy handling is a complete mess. The Prime Minister somehow seems to be under an illusion that his frenzied globetrotting is foreign policy. His going and meeting Heads of States of other countries for half a day or a day is not foreign policy. It has got a lot to do with diplomacy, finesse of diplomacy and national interest. After all foreign policy is only an extension of your domestic policy. That, we don’t think, is being done in a proper manner at all.
On the contrary, a very dangerous trend is developing in the last two years. India&’s foreign policy is getting increasingly tied to the apron strings of US global and strategic interests. The latest round of Indo-US agreements that the Prime Minister has signed has virtually made India a strategic defence partner of America. Any country becomes a strategic partner of any other country if both have a common enemy. Now who is that common enemy? If there is no common enemy than what are you signalling to other countries?
What is the point of naval exercises with the US and Japan in the South China Sea and this exercise is ridiculously called Malabar Exercise. All of us know where Malabar is. What is the message you are giving to China? Is it that I am with US and Japan while they are targeting China?
Q: Your party has been apprehending that the government will try to bring the GST as a money Bill to circumvent the Rajya Sabha. What is your stand on it?
A: The CPI-M will oppose all efforts of the BJP government to manipulate and bypass the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP does not have the majority, by having the GST Bill declared as a “money bill” by the Lok Sabha Speaker. The CPI-M has consistently opposed the subterfuge being undertaken by this government to bypass the Rajya Sabha in order to impose further neo-liberal reforms on the strength of its majority in the Lok Sabha.