The Left may have won just five seats in the 17th Lok Sabha after its worst-ever performance in a general election, but Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), believes it still has a meaningful role to play. Even with one Member of Parliament, it would continue to raise its voice, he tells BL ink .

Excerpts from an interview:

The Left has had a very eventful five years since 2014. It anchored almost all the major protests against the Narendra Modi government, leading students, farmers, academics and workers. But it failed to translate those protests into votes. What happened? Are electoral decisions not taken based on livelihood issues?

Livelihood issues do matter. Before (the attack on security forces) in Pulwama, the government’s narrative was about livelihood issues. After the Pulwama attack and Indian Air Force’s response to it in Balakot, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) successfully shifted the narrative and that narrative was fitted into the already ongoing campaign against terrorism that they were conducting. The campaign against terrorism did not work before the Pulwama attacks because the ground realities showed that the Modi government had the worst record ever in tackling terrorism.

But the campaign continued. Once Pulwama and Balakot happened, the BJP changed the narrative to say that only they could fight terrorism. That led to the building up of a campaign based on nationalistic jingoism. This was dovetailed into the intense communal polarisation offensive — moral policing, love jihad, ghar wapsi and so on — that they had been carrying out for the last five years. This communal polarisation and the divide between Hindus and Muslims they were seeking were combined with jingoism. All this placed livelihood issues on the backburner.

Did it have anything to do with not being able to present a proper alternative to the BJP?

Before Pulwama, the matters that the Left raised were issues of the people that political parties — including the BJP — could not but refer to. We brought issues of agrarian distress and unemployment to the forefront by making suggestions such as forming cooperatives and all political parties had to refer to these issues. Modi’s Kisan Yojana and the Congress’s NYAY were responses to the issues raised by the Left.

But after Pulwama, they built a larger-than-life image of Modi by a staggering use of money power. Studies say that the BJP spent approximately 50 per cent of the total election expenditure for these polls.

How do you see the growth of BJP compared to the 2014 polls? Did people see the BJP as a solution to their problems?

No. They voted for the BJP knowing fully that it has not been providing solutions to the problems that they have been facing. They knew that the BJP was the cause for such problems. But they momentarily got taken away by the campaign based on communal nationalistic jingoism, which portrayed the fight as between a Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu India. That helped the divide in the country. Every single promise of the BJP has been broken.

How do you perceive the future of parliamentary democracy?

It’s at a very critical juncture now. In the last five years, the BJP used dubious methods to sidestep the Rajya Sabha on most important legislations. They curtailed sessions of Parliament so that the government could escape from accountability. From the beginning, the effort was to undermine every constitutional forum. This is very dangerous. The RSS wants to convert this secular democratic Republic into their version of a Hindu Rashtra.

You have the lowest representation in Parliament now. What will be the role of the Left in the House?

Even if there is one MP, we will raise our voice in Parliament against the four imminent challenges the country is facing. One is directly between the Indian Constitution and Hindutva. We will protest every manifestation of that. Second, we will defend all constitutional mechanisms. Third, there will be more corporate-friendly reforms and onslaughts against the people will increase and we will fight this. And fourth, there will be increasingly an authoritarian onslaught. All dissent will be curtailed mercilessly. Our MPs will not just raise their voice on these four issues, but also mobilise others in this fight.

In Bengal, reports say that even your cadre urged people to vote for the BJP...

That is a campaign which is going on. We expelled an MLA for working against our candidate. That was the only tangible complaint. In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) was suffering from a high degree of anti-incumbency. In 2016, the BJP’s vote share fell because of the understanding between the Left and the Congress. This time, the Congress did not accept that offer for reasons known only to them. In a four-cornered fight, people thought the BJP could be the party to defeat the TMC. Also, people suffering from the TMC’s terror tactics wanted to go back home (and not vote). This was also a major reason.

Many have written obituaries of the Left. What is the future of the Left?

The Left is used to periodic obituaries. But the fact of the matter is that we are alive and kicking. This election is the consolidation of a political rightward offensive in India. The natural opposition to this is the political Left. The Left alone is consistent in ideologically, politically and organisationally opposing the Right. The Left has to play this role.

We will put our house in order. By the end of August, all our state committees will review the implementation of organisational changes suggested by the organisational plenum held in Kolkata in 2015. Based on this, we will review our style of functioning, organisation, propaganda, the use of modern technological tools in messaging and so on. Then, based on this, we will come back. We will go to people and learn from them. We will meet other parties so that there’s greater coordination among the Left parties.