Opening up on a whole host of issues currently hogging the national political space, the veteran Left leader, in an exclusive interview, explains why the Congress’ direct income scheme, ‘Nyay’, is not feasible, while insisting that he is not a reluctant campaigner against Rahul Gandhi in the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency. He asserts that the Sabarimala row won’t have a telling impact on which way the polls go in Kerala.
How do you assess the current political scenario after the second phase of the general elections?
After having travelled to eight states and counting, I can say the overwhelming reason that is motivating people to vote this time is their living conditions over the past five years. The effect of emotional appeals by the BJP-RSS — if at all they are working — is marginal. They don’t seem to be getting the response they were hoping for.
What is your party’s opinion on the ‘Nyay’ scheme that the Congress has come up with?
There are a number of questions that come to mind. First, how is the money for the Nyay scheme to be raised? If the plan is to siphon off the money from existing social welfare schemes to implement the scheme, we’ll surely oppose it. In our manifesto, we said the guaranteed minimum wage for an unskilled worker should be Rs 18,000 per month, which is much higher than the Rs 6,000 assured by Nyay.
For senior citizens, we have promised a monthly allowance of Rs 6,000, in addition to an unemployment allowance for jobless youths. The funds allocated under all these heads would be a lot more than Rs 72,000 proposed annually under ‘Nyay’.
As to how we propose to raise the money, some taxes like wealth tax, inherent tax or capital gains tax, which have been abolished by the Modi government, could be reimposed. We have been arguing all along about what we call a super profit tax — tax on profits that accrue from other sources of revenue and lead to gross inequality. So, if we tax the super-rich by even 2% or 1% surcharge, it will be more than sufficient to meet what we propose. A situation where one billionaire’s assets are equal to that of 50% of your country’s population is just not acceptable. Modi has alleged that we would tax the middle class. However, it is by taxing the super rich that we’ll provide relief to the middle class.
In your campaign speeches, you relentlessly attack Modi and BJP, but seem to spare the Congress.
I keep stressing that the country requires the strength of the Left in order to influence the policy direction of an alternative secular government. Take for example 2004. RTI and Rural Employment Guarantee are results of the pressure exerted by the Left. Compare this with 2009 when Left wasn’t part of the Union government. What did Congress do?
They paved the way for Narendra Modi to come to power. I do refer to all these in my speeches. A stronger Left is necessary to shift the policies in people’s favour.
The Left was not very keen on a pre-poll alliance. What about the post-poll scenario? After the elections, if the Left gets enough seats to play kingmaker, do you think there will be a government led by the Congress?
The Left is always for pre-poll adjustment among secular democratic forces at the state level. India’s complexity and diversity is such that no national-level formation can happen before elections. Consider our own electoral history. In 1997, Indira Gandhi was defeated and the Janata Party-led government came to power. But it was formed after the election, not before. In 1989, when VP Singh became the Prime Minister, the National Front-Left Front arrangement was put together after the elections.
But none of these coalitions could complete their term.
The UPA gave us a Prime Minister for 10 years. The point is, the formation, whatever it may be, will come into existence only after the elections. It will all depend on the actual results.
Talking about results, do you predict a simple majority for any party, or will regional parties call the shots?
I don’t venture into predictions. Predicting Indian elections is a disastrous exercise. Not one opinion poll or exit poll has ever come true. Back when we still had ballot papers and the science of psephology had just made its entrance, an exit poll was conducted. I think it was RK Laxman’s cartoon — not sure for which publication — that said about this husband, who came home and told his wife: “I made a mistake and stamped the wrong box.” The wife began scolding him. That’s when he said, “Don’t worry. I corrected myself in the exit poll.” So, that’s India. But I’m sure of one thing… that the Modi government is on its way out. That’s definite.
Coming to the CPM, at this juncture, can you tell us what went wrong in West Bengal? Do you think the party will make a comeback to the state?
We had a detailed analysis of what went wrong. We have all those documents. But right now in these elections, we are for maximisation of anti-BJP, anti-Trinamool Congress votes. Defeat BJP to save India. Defeat Trinamool Congress to save West Bengal. And for that, we wanted to seek the support of everybody who’s against Trinamool or BJP.
You are being labelled as a reluctant campaigner in Wayanad.
It is the media that comes up with such speculations, just to sensationalise. I’ve grown up fighting Indira Gandhi…the Congress.
You said Rahul’s candidature from Wayanad is sending out a wrong message. Do you think this could be a hindrance (to a tie-up) post elections?
We are committed to forming a secular alternative government. This is the decision of our party congress and our central committee. Nobody can change this objective. As to what form such a government will take, will be known after the elections. I would like to ask what exactly is the message that the Congress is trying to convey. Let’s wait for their explanation. I would rather not speculate till then.
In Kerala, the Sabarimala issue has been creating a lot of ripples. BJP is very confident of opening its account this time.
The Kerala scenario is very clear. The strength of the Left should be increased to ensure that an alternative secular government is formed at the Centre. Voters in Kerala are very mature and can distinguish between state and central elections.
So, the issues that you speak of may have an impact at the state-level. But at the national level, the issues are entirely different. People are not going to vote on the basis of such issues. They will vote to form the next government at the Centre.
There’s a general feeling among voters that to give an apt reply to the Pinarayi government, you’ll have to vote for a BJP candidate.
These elections are to form the government in Delhi, not to replace the Pinarayi government. Voters in Kerala will vote for the government in Delhi, not to settle scores here.
You mean to say local issues won’t matter and this is not a referendum on the state government?
Local issues don’t matter much when it comes to forming the central government. What matters is the performance of the incumbent government. Even when you are voting for the central government, how the incumbent government fared will be an important factor. to consider And the current Left Democratic Front government holds an extremely positive record.