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Congress has not yet understood its diminished relevance: Dipankar Bhattacharya

Poornima Joshi | Updated on December 03, 2020 Published on December 03, 2020

Ballots speak: Bhattacharya claims that his party’s performance in the Bihar state elections was a defeat for the tukde-tukde gang and virulent anti-Left propaganda of the recent years   -  PTI

The CPI (ML) (Liberation) general secretary on the lessons learnt from the Bihar Assembly polls, and the need for the Left to reassess political strategies in West Bengal

* The Left parties in Bengal not only have to hold on to their own, but they have to also wrest the 8 per cent that went to the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls and Mamata has to keep her flock together

* In 15 years of crime and corruption during the RJD rule, we were the worst sufferers but we haven’t lost sight of the fact that Hindutva and majoritarian politics are a bigger danger

* How does any civilised country tolerate this violation of the fundamental right of a woman to choose her partner and her religion?

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One of the surprises of the Bihar election results was the performance of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (Liberation), which won 12 of the 19 seats it contested for the Assembly in alliance with the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). With a committed cadre on the ground in Bihar, the Left party has slowly emerged as a political phenomenon in the state. It is now focusing on West Bengal, where it believes that the Congress and the Left cannot counter the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) if they do not reassess their electoral strategy. In an interview with BLink, party general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya (60)talks about the need for strategies to battle identity politics and for “progressive” parties to reinvent themselves. Excerpts from the interview:

Battleground Bengal: Party general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya says that CPI (M-L) (Liberation) is now focusing on West Bengal, where it believes that the Congress and the Left cannot counter the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)   -  THE HINDU/ RANJEET KUMAR

 

You’ve been touring West Bengal, where elections are to be held next year; what is your forecast?

The BJP is on the rise in West Bengal. The Congress and the Left have to understand that the enemy there is not Mamata Banerjee and make an expeditious effort to tactically create an alternative discourse to the Modi-versus-Mamata binary and the need to eject the Trinamool Congress. In Bihar, Lalu colluded with the Ranvir Sena to annihilate us — for instance, in Laxmanpur Bathe, Bathni Tola [villages where upper caste militias massacred Dalit inhabitants aligned with the CPI (ML) (Liberation) in the 1990s]. Comrade Chandrashekhar was murdered [the former JNU Students’ Union president was allegedly killed at the behest of don-turned-RJD leader Mohammad Shahabuddin, who was named in the FIR but did not figured in the chargesheet]. In 15 years of crime and corruption during the RJD rule, we were the worst sufferers but we haven’t lost sight of the fact that Hindutva and majoritarian politics are a bigger danger.

Immediately after Bihar, we have been trying to infuse energy into the Bengal campaign but the Congress-Communist Party of India (Marxist) combine is yet to comprehend the extent of the communal thrust in Bengal. The BJP has created a buzz that the very purpose of the election is to get rid of Mamata. The need is to shift the focus to a positive agenda against the real issues of unemployment, lack of education, social security et al. West Bengal is not just another province — it is a state that has paid a huge price like Punjab for communal polarisation, the Partition. The conservative Hindu revivalist current has been in Bengal since the 19th century and the BJP is laying claim to its legacy with the appropriation of [icons] Bankim Chandra, Vivekananda et al. But the communist assertion, the Tebhaga [peasant] movement and the assimilation of a lot of identities into the bhadralok culture were a countervailing force.

But that era is now gone and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is showing signs of disintegration with weathercocks quitting the party. There is no support structure once the TMC disintegrates and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act/ National Register of Citizens discourse is poised to create a dangerous situation in Bengal.

You mean the Congress will help the BJP in Bengal like they did in Bihar?

They (the Congress) insisted on fighting 70 seats and they won 19. In Bengal, I’m told they are demanding 100 seats. I don’t think they have even an outside chance of government formation and if the idea is to keep the BJP out, this would be a suicidal step. The Left parties in Bengal not only have to hold on to their own, but they also have to wrest the 8 per cent that went to the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls and Mamata has to keep her flock together. At least in popular discourse, the target has to shift towards the BJP. Nothing is to be gained by trivialising the threat of the BJP. There are a lot of fault lines in Bengal and the BJP is working on all of them. They create an overarching Hindutva umbrella and create their own brand of social engineering within that. The Congress neither has the strategy nor the social support base to counter this. Think about it — we were allotted eight seats in the first phase and we won seven. In Arrah, we lost by just about 3,000 votes. If we had been given 15-20 seats in the first phase, the outcome of this election would have been very different. For the first time, we led in the postal ballots because young people, teachers voted for us.

Can you elaborate on your experience in Bihar given that the Left has traditionally been blindsided by caste politics?

For us, there was never a Chinese wall between caste and class. All along, our movement has been about dignity, equality and justice. And when you talk of injustice, there is automatically an element of caste, gender, land rights. When you talk about land rights, equipartition of wealth and resources in Bihar, there is naturally the Dalit-Backward question because of the nature of land distribution patterns [the system of Permanent Settlement sustained patterns of upper-caste ownership of vast tracts of land in Bihar]. Lalu’s magnetism drew away our support base among Dalit, Backwards and Muslims. But even though they voted for the RJD, people have appreciated the consistency of our stand on socio-economic equality and equal distribution of resources. So what happened with the RJD’s alignment with us is not that they transferred their vote but a lot of our support base among Yadavs, other OBCs and Muslims returned to our fold. It was a pleasant surprise that a whole lot of our people who had gone away to the RJD or the JD(U) came back to us and our cadre got galvanised. Among the young in Bhumihar/Rajput communities, too, our political demands for employment, healthcare, development for all resonated, and it was very heartening to find Rajput youth campaigning for Sandeep Saurav [a young student-activist from JNU who won the seat by 31,000 votes in the Paliganj Assembly constituency]. After the voting in Paliganj was over, these young people wanted to come to Balrampur to campaign. In Balrampur, our candidate Mehboob Alam defeated his rival — Barun Kumar Jha — by the highest margin in Bihar of over 50,000 votes. This challenged Islamophobia and the old caste order when the upper caste did not vote for us. This was a defeat for the whole tukde-tukde gang and virulent anti-Left propaganda that the big media and the BJP had created.

How long do you think the BJP will let Nitish Kumar continue as chief minister?

Nitish Kumar’s is a weak government. There is not going to be any honeymoon period for him because he already has a four-term anti-incumbency (factor) chasing him. We are a strong Opposition and his education minister had to resign because he was corrupt. Nitish Kumar is surviving at the mercy of the BJP; it is only a matter of time before they depose him. Meanwhile, the progressive forces should focus on people’s movements around the crisis in the farm sector and the resentment against the way reforms have been pushed during the pandemic. The convergence of the trade union strike with the farmers’ march to Delhi on Constitution Day — November 26 — was perhaps coincidental but it is an interesting coincidence. It can be strengthened especially when all that the BJP is doing at a time when people are struggling is to push legislations on love Jjhad. How does any civilised country tolerate this violation of the fundamental right of a woman to choose her partner and her religion? The Constitution is being rewritten covertly and it is time for modern voices to rise against it.

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Published on December 03, 2020
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