Exclusive interview of Sitaram Yechury on CNN-News18

Sitaram-Yechury cnn news 18
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CNN News 18:  Politics is hotting up in the country and joining me now is someone who is trying to stitch the opposition parties into an alliance to take on the BJP and defeat the BJP. .. CPI(M)’s General Secretary Sitaram Yechury.

Sir earlier this year you staked your position as general secretary on an understanding with the Congress Party. Why is that understanding with the Congress party so important to you especially when the Congress Party is at an historic low?

Sitaram Yechury:  Well you see the basic point in today’s conditions, the primary issue is to save our country and it’s constitutional republican order which is under a serious assault by the BJP. Now,  this RSS’s vision of converting a secular democratic republic of India into what they call their ‘Hindutva Rashtra’ … that is the process that is on and that will be disastrous for the country and the people. That is our utmost priority. If that is the utmost priority we cannot close our options. So all that I’m saying is keep our options open. We know what the Congress party is, we know what they have done in the past and we have been the worst victims as well as the foremost fighters against the Congress policies. That will continue. That is why what we want is a policy alternative in the country. That’s the larger issue. But even for that battle to continue, to bring in a policy alternative the first priority is to ensure that this government does not remain in office. So with that priority we said don’t close all our options, so keeping the options open to achieve this immediate task while we continue with our our struggles in order to ensure that there’s a change in the ruling classes of India in favor of the people that is based on an alternate direction.

CNN News 18: But like you yourself would realise that Congress party is at an historic low now so why do you feel that it is important, that it can make a difference?  Do you see Congress party occupying a leadership position in an alliance of opposition parties, do you see Rahul Gandhi as a prime ministerial candidate?

Sitaram Yechury: You please understand one thing, at least from my experience of last three to four decades in Indian politics, any alternative government formation that is come on the basis of any front, the front is always formed after the elections, it never emerges before the elections. In VP Singh’s time the arrangement of VP Singh becoming the Prime Minister that emerged post election. In 1996 the United Front was formed post election when Deve Gowda became the Prime MInister. In 2004 the UPA was formed post election…

CNN News 18: Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister…

Sitaram Yechury:  Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister. So what will happen in 2019, what form the front will take, the alternate government which is what we’re working for, that will take shape only post election. So what is at the moment , the basic task, is to ensure that the maximisation of the pooling of anti-BJP votes, that will have to be done by state level arrangements and, in the states the various parties, various groups which command the peoples support, so they will be the main players with whom the others will ally.  For instance in UP,  once the SP and the BSP have come together that will be the core around which the anti-BJP forces will have to rally. Likewise in Bihar…

CNN News 18:  So you’re saying that every state it will be different?

Sitaram Yechury : Yes, it is bound to be different.

CNN News 18:  Do you feel that Congress can occupy the position of leadership in an opposition alliance?

Sitaram Yechury: Again, who will be the leader will be on the basis of numbers post election. Now that is the issue? Right now state wise, concentrate on state wise allainces in order to maximise the pooling of anti-BJP votes.

Rupashree: Do you see Rahul Gandhi as a prime ministerial candidate in case Congress party emerge as a single largest party with whatever numbers it manages?

CNN News 18: You see, again, go by experience.  I didn’t, in spite of entire role that I played in 2004, I didn’t think that Manmohan Singh will be the Prime Minister, did you think, anybody think?

CNN News 18: No

Sitaram Yechury: So post elections things will be different. So let us wait for that, whatever the situation emerges there. Remember Manmohan Singh next to Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister for the longest time period.

CNN News 18: You’re not answering my question sir, if Congress Party emerges as the single largest party…

Sitaram Yechury : I told you, this is the answer.

CNN News 18:  So he may be the Prime Minister also if it emerges as the single largest party?

Sitaram Yechury : It all depends on the post-election situation.

CNN News 18: So it depends on numbers or it also depends on his acceptability to other opposition leaders.

Sitaram Yechury: Both, it will depend on both. And number of course is crucial in a democracy.

CNN News 18: But do you think that any other regional party would get more number of seats than the Congress party because it is a pan India party?

Sitaram Yechury: At the moment it doesn’t appear so, at the moment…I have full faith in Indian people. When everybody thought it is a doomsday they come up with a solution. They did it during emergency, they have done it in 2014, i mean 2004, they did it again…

CNN News 18: 2008

Sitaram Yechury : 1996 and they will do it again in 2019.

CNN NEWS 18: But do you feel that this is an unusual moment in Indian politics, do you feel that considering that all parties now thinking of coming together just to keep the BJP from coming to power?

Sitaram Yechury : No

CNN NEWS 18 : Like you see the SP and BSP coming together in Uttar Pardesh and you also see Pinarayi Vijayan and Mamata Banerjee in Delhi CM’s residence together. So do you feel that it’s an unusual moment and there’s some sort of a breakthrough which is happening?

Sitaram Yechury : You see, SP BSP coming together is an electoral alliance.  Pinarayi Vijayan and Mamata Banerjee coming together is not an electoral alliance, it was on an issue of centre state relations which is very.very dear to us and I think for ( safeguarding) Indian Constitution.

CNN NEWS 18: But for that also they had to overcome the animosity isn’t it, isn’t it or not significant for both of them to come together?

Sitaram Yechury : The significance lies in the issue. Like say, for instance, i mean you may dislike me thoroughly, but if you enter into a train compartment where you have a reservation and I’m already there inside the compartment, will you get down the train and stop your journey? You don’t. So coming together, you please understand in that direction.

But the other question that you posed earlier that is important to us and, why is it that all these parties are together now wanting to  keep the BJP out? Now it is not the parties themselves, I, think basically you must understand that when there’s people’s pressure, people want to get rid of this government. Look at what is happening, in the name of cow protection? Dalits and Muslims are massacred. In the name of moral policing our children our being told what to wear, what to eat,whom to befriend, whom they can speak to etc otherwise they are assaulted. I mean the entire social fabric of our country is being destroyed in front of our eyes and people are responding to it saying that this should stop. Every single institution, Constitutional institution is under attack today.  And this is a sort of a institutionalised emergency – from the Parliament itself to the Judiciary, to the Election Commission, to the universities, research bodies you see i mean.

CNN NEWS 18: That’s what opposition leaders are claiming. But even independently of each other they have not been able to put up a show, not even the left.

Sitaram Yechury : Correct. It’s the pressure from the people coming that we have to come together to get rid of this government first. That is the priority today. And that is a what we’re all responding to. I think the basic issue here is not the political parties as leaders coming together and talking. The popular pressure from below is forcing these leaders to actually bury the hatchets and talk. Otherwise even a year ago, SP- BSP coming together could anybody have imagined? But why is it happening? Because the ground level pressure of people saying that first get rid of this government after that we’ll see.

CNN NEWS 18: NDA is going to have a very strong leader in terms of PM Modi and they’ll have a very strong face but opposition parties, the non Congress, non BJP front or with Congress – they do not have such a face.

Sitaram Yechury :That is why we are a  parliamentary democracy, people are today saying desh ko neta nahi desh ko neeti chahiye. What the country requires is not leaders. What the country requires is alternative policies which are for people.

CNN NEWS 18 : But don’t you think that’s a disadvantage sir, not having a face for that allaince?

Sitaram Yechury : Not at all. I mean Atal Bihari Vajpayee was seen as a colossus in 2004. It was said who can defeat Vajpayee, who can defeat the BJP and its shining India campaign? You saw what happened. So people will respond to what is happening with their daily life. That is completely disrupted in terms of economic burdens, in terms of social harmony in terms of everything – so that is what they’re going to now protect.

CNN NEWS18: Last time when we had spoken you had said that Sonia Gandhi was the glue that binds opposition together and you did not see Rahul Gandhi yet occupying that position but post Gujarat and post Karnataka do you feel he is acquiring those skills? Because clearly if there is an alliance of opposition parties and Congress is a part of it then he would need those people skills very strongly in order to keep leaders together.

Sitaram Yechury: Last when I spoke to you we were talking about Sonia Gandhi being the glue that kept the UPA together. Now its a new situation. That glue will emerge … Rahul Gandhi… it shows, I mean inside I think it is a very big moment for the Congress to accept a junior partner as a Chief Minister in Karnataka. I mean normally, by the rules of democracy its the numbers that matter. But, here in order to achieve that objective keeping the BJP out the Congress went that distance.  That’s a new development. So, that shows some thinking which can lead to a situation. But, as i said now, concentrate on the state level alliance and then we’ll see eventually what happens.

CNN News 18:  NCP leader Sharad Pawar also said and, he’s an important ally of the Congress Party that he does not see a Mahagathbandhan before elections at all, he says it is very impractical and he also says that regional leaders will become more powerful, how would you respond to that?

Sitaram Yechury: Anybody who’s got experience in Indian politics will say that. I’ve been saying this since 1996. When the people said that this is a regression in Indian democracy that you have fragmented verdict, I said no, this is a maturation of Indian democracy. So maturation is that every part of India which has a distinct identity, they will elect their representatives its only natural and, then the combination gels subsequently. That is India, like VP Singh who then conferred with me to say, and he went a step ahead to say India itself is a Grand Coalition. I mean India itself is a grand Coalition and it has to reflect in politics. So this all arrangement will come only post elections. I think Mr Pawar is correct. He’s an experienced politician and, he knows that this sort of a thing will happen only after the elections.

CNN News 18: Would the CPM be ready to work with the TMC because Mamata Banerje is clearly working towards a federal front, possible a non Congress Non BJP one?

Sitaram Yechury: See … TMC, our asessment is very clear. TMC and the BJP play politics in tandem. They are today indulging in competetive communalism. Whoever heard of the celebration of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s birthday by the ruling party in West Bengal? But that is being done… very clear indication they are competing to spread this communal polarization, deepen it in order to gain electoral adavantage which is playing with fire as far as India is concerned. Because people forget, this generation, for instance,  does not remember that Mahatma Gandhi was not at the Red Fort when India was unfurling the tricolor.

CNN News 18: You said this before, he was Noakhali…

Sitaram Yechury : Yeah ..he was there in Calcutta for Noakhali riots. And imagine that things being re- created now. So what we have said in Bengal is, oust Modi government to save India, oust the BJP government to save India. That’s our politics.

CNN News 18 : But nationally … are you willing to work with the TMC?

Sitaram Yechury: No… I mean in this present circumstances that is not feasible.

CNN News 18 : You’re clearly ruling out an alliance where Mamata Banerjee or TMC is the leader?

Sitaram Yechury: No. I am. I mean I won’t be part of such an alliance.

CNN NEWS 18 : When you saw what happened in the Delhi Chief Minister’s residence earlier with 4 chief ministers going there –  Congress very conspicuous by its absence – do you feel the Congress party lost a bit of advantage over there?

Sitaram Yechury : I think the Congress party on this issue should have demarcated. Whatever be our differences also, the AAP and whatever it is, this was an issue of centre state relations and the federal contours (?) of Indian Constitution, which is a fundamental feature. You have seen the gross misuse of the offices of the Governors and Lt Governors. That’s why when I went in support of the elected state government being hampered from discharging its resposnsibilities I’d also said that the same thing is happening to the Pondicherry Congress government by the Lt Governor. So, I did not discriminate between the AAP and the Congress. Our solidarity is both of them as with other states in which Governors have hoisted minority governments at the behest of the BJP from the Centre. So I think on the Centre State relations issue I think the Congress should have demarcated from there.

CNN News 18: So they lost an advantage?

Sitaram Yechury : Yeah. I think on this their coming out in defense of the Constitution would have actually enchanced their political position.

CNN News 18: HD Deve Gowda ha said recently that the process of building a third front should be speeded up because there is an inkling that general elections might be advanced to 2018. How would you respond to that? He goes on and says in the same breath that the six political parties who came together for Kumaraswamy’s swearing in ceremony need not fight elections together. He even is ruling it out as improbable.

Sitaram Yechury :He is again an experienced politician. He knows the reality. On an issue we can all come together but politically there are certain problems.  For instance – in Kerala our main fight will be with the Congress. In Bengal our main fight will be with the TMC and the BJP. So this will remain. The question is that is why I said that state wise arrangements will be made to maximise the numbers and then the arrangement will happen. And as far as the preponing of the election?  That is what the BJP is aiming at. They are suffering from an unprecedented anti- incumbency in Rajhasthan, Madya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh which are due for elections. They think behind the image of Mr Modi this anti incumbency can be overcome. That is their calculation. If that happens then very good. That’s exactly what Mr Vajpayee thought in 2004 he advanced the elections by 6 months and we all saw the result.

CNN News18:  What about speeding up the process for the building of a third front?

Sitaram Yechury: Again the third front is a state wise arrangement, I’m convinced of that, beyond that anything else right now is not practical. And always it happens before the elections. Calls for third front, calls for fourth front, sometimes they call for a federal front. I mean all these things will happen. Bu the reality is what will actually happen is state level arrangement (?). And, finally, after the elections with the numbers the possibility of forming the alternative front.

CNN News 18: My other question is about the position of the CPI(M) . For instance during the 21st congress the party’s resolution was to build the independent strength of the party, not to ally with other political parties and to concentrate on grassroots and strenghthen the political organisation. But 3 years down the line clearly that has not happened. So where have you gone wrong?

Sitaram Yechury : It’s not correct. That is it not what happened. Building up the independent activities of the party and advancing the movements along with the 21st congress we decided. There should be a unification of the struggles against economic exploitation which is our staple struggle with also struggles against social oppression. And in these three years the unity of the Dalit movement protest and the Feft protest have become much much stronger. You see the slogans that have emerged- Lal Neel. You seen the entire popular activity where people are there-  with one hand, red flag and one hand blue flag. I mean these movements are advancing. You see in these three years, three big industrial actions by the working class. You’ve seen the long march of the farmers. So independent presence and movements are going on and that I told you – our fundamental objective is to offer to the Indian people an alternative policy framework. But when election come naturally the priorities will be what is our objective? Our objective is to keep this BJP out of the government.

CNN NEWS 18:  You said that you’ve seen the red flag and the blue flag coming together but you still don’t have a Dalit member in your politburo? The long march happened just after the defeat in Tripura. So why have you not been able to convert that support into votes?

Sitaram Yechury: Two things – one is correct-  the transferring the struggles into voting. There the problem is that we still have to do some work in actually integrating the struggles and economic exploitation and social oppression. Because what happens when you give a call on an economic issue …  bonus… wages … everything…. the same people are wiling to face the police, go to jail, they’ll be beaten up by the lathi, some places by even bullets. But when it comes to elections the same people will go by their social pressures. That has to be broken. We are breaking it but it will take time and that explains the mismatch of growing struggles but not transferring into votes.

CNN News18:  You think that’s going to happen in 2019?

Sitaram Yechury:  Well it will happen much less. It may happen but it will happen much less. But we are trying to overcome this weakness.

CNN NEWS18: Looking ahead at 2019 how do you see your role because you have perceived that somebody who has good relations with people across political spectrum, somebody who can negotiate well, so how do you see your role ahead of 2019 ? Pre elections, post elections?

Sitaram Yechury : My role will be in consonance with my party’s understanding where the priority is to get rid of this government. For that we have decide that we should work for maximising the pooling of anti BJP votes. So these two will define my role.

CNN News18:  So you will be in touch with all political leaders in trying to get them to come together and stitch up alliances?

Sitaram Yechury: Right now I would be trying to pursuade them to not go chasing a chimera of an all India front now. Now maximise the anti-BJP vote at the state level and post elections that will naturally follow.

CNN News18: So you’ve been in touch with political leaders? Who all have you been in touch with regarding this thing that you said that don’t chase a chimera?

Sitaram Yechury:  I have been saying this publicly as well as individually to the leaders. We had a discussion even when we were in Bangalore with a lot of parties with whom otherwise, electorally we may not be going with them.  But I think every single political leader in our country, the mature political leaders, understand this. They are all concentrating on their state level arrangements.

CNN News18: Look at what happened in Bihar, there was a Magathbandhan, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav came together to fight and then Nitish Kumar stepped out of it and went along with the BJP. Don’t you think that’s a deception on the people also ? And whether Nitish Kumar is ever going to inspire that confidence among people?

Sitaram Yechury: No, it is most unfortunate and it is actually a betrayal of the people’s mandate. What happened in Bihar and unfortunately the opposition also lost a face with Nitish Kumar doing what he’s done. So in the ideal circumstances, a government of this nature should not be allowed to continue. That’s why it comes to the question of centre state relations and governor’s rule. The governors have called minority BJP to form government in Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya etc. But when you see the minority status of this government and betraying people’s mandate in this order it happens.

CNN News18: Do you think that Nitish Kumar should go or should have gone?

Sitaram Yechury: Yeah, I mean there should have been a popular government, go back to the people then.

CNN News18: Do you think Nitish Kumar will have that kind of credibility among opposition leaders again?

Sitaram Yechury: Unfortunately, it is not our doing it is his own doing. I was very disappointed, I still am very disappointed that he’s done what he’s done.

CNN News18: : But it seems that he is trying to reach out to Lalu Prasad Yadav again with the phone call, is in two monds, so what will be the situation then ?

Sitaram Yechury: I don’t know whether he’s reaching out or not but the question is it is unfortunate what has happened and it shoudn’t have happened. But I think right now by-elections have shown very clearly in Bihar where the mood of the people is. It is against the BJP and naturally because of Nitish Kumar’s association and it is also against him.

CNN News18: Would he be welcomed back to the Non NDA fold?

Sitaram Yechury: I can’t say but that will depend on his talks with former partners first.

CNN News18: Looking ahead at 2019 – do you feel- honestly speaking what are the chacces of BJP not coming back to power?

Sitaram Yechury: Very bright that BJP is not going to come to power. And nobody believed me when I used to say this in 2004…the run-up to 2004,nobody may believe me now. But, let’s wait for the results and i’m sure that it will be a non BJP government.

CNN News 18 : Thank You very much.​