“Congress is trying to play ‘big brother’ role in State,” he says
Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya speaks on the performance of his party in the Bihar Assembly poll, the underperformance of Congress and the lessons from Bihar for the West Bengal election.
This election saw a resurgence of the Left parties in Bihar, considering they have been practically written off in the rest of the country. What changed for the Left in Bihar?
Writing off the Left because of some electoral weakness and decline is a problem of the mainstream media. As far as the Left is concerned, we have been active in Bihar. These results vindicate two things. One is the continuous work that the Left and our party do on the ground among the rural poor, unorganised workers, farmers, students and so on. There are three Ds on our agenda — Dignity, Development and Democracy. People have developed their own critique of development.
For example, in Bihar, you could see people saying that there can be no jobless development. We have only helped the people in arriving at this realisation and articulating it. We have worked without fear… for example, many parties feel squeamish to talk about the human rights of Muslim youth. The courage to stand for truth and consistent politics is the reason for our electoral victory.
How critical was the alliance for this electoral victory of the CPI(ML)?
The alliance definitely helped us. But our presence has also helped the other allies in Mahagatbandhan. It is not as if the CPI(ML) has been the only beneficiary. This alliance became possible because of the situation, because of the threat that the BJP posed to democracy, Constitution and rule of law. This kind of an alliance was unthinkable 15 years back.
Would you have won the same number of seats had you gone it alone?
May be not. Probably, we would have won eight seats, not 12. But, in that scenario, the votes would have been disintegrated and that would have benefited the BJP. Now we find that the Mahagatbandhan vote share is only marginally below the NDA’s.
Despite your stupendous performance, the Mahagatbandhan fell short. Do you believe the Left should have been given more space in the alliance?
I think what stands out very clearly is that the Congress underperformed. 70 seats was too big a number for the Congress to handle, they were overstretched and had spread too thin. If the Congress had contested 40 seats, like they did in 2015, they would have been able to focus much better. If the RJD had contested 10 seats more, if the CPI(ML) 10 seats more, if between the CPI-CPI (M) they had contested 10 seats more, it would have been better for both the Congress and the alliance. We are only a few seats behind the NDA and those seats could have been won with a more rational seat-sharing formula.
The next challenge for the Left is the West Bengal Assembly poll in April 2021. How will the Bihar results impact the election in West Bengal?
The Left should feel inspired because, in West Bengal, the Left all along has been powerful. People think that Bengal political soil is more hospitable for the Left, while Bihar is a more difficult terrain. If the Left can perform in a difficult State like Bihar and in a difficult situation like the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no reason why the Left in Bengal can’t do better. The key to the success of the Left in Bihar is the work done on the ground. It is not someone’s charisma, it is not that someone gave good speeches. It is basically the silent and protracted work carried out by the Left, which paid off.
Which is the bigger political enemy, the TMC or the BJP, in West Bengal?
Definitely, the BJP is the bigger political enemy. The TMC is the party in power and, of course, the Left will have to oppose the TMC government but there can be no bracketing of the TMC and the BJP together. The Left cannot be indifferent to the idea that tomorrow there can be a BJP government in Bengal. A BJP government in Bengal will be a bigger threat for the Left and the entire democratic set-up.
There have been differences of opinion within the Left on the strategy for the West Bengal poll. Your comments.
Among the Left parties, we will be discussing to sort out whatever differences there are. In Bengal, the CPI (M) and other Left parties have not been sufficiently alert and alive to the threat the BJP poses there. The biggest worry for me is the way Left votes are declining and the BJP’s are growing at the Left’s expense in West Bengal. The Congress is trying to dominate the Left-Congress understanding in Bengal. I don’t know how other Left parties will respond to that. The Left should reassert itself in Bengal, and its resurgence is not possible in collaboration with the Congress.
Are you saying that the Congress should not be part of the alliance in West Bengal?
No, I am not saying that. Increasingly, the Congress is trying to play the ‘big brother’ role in Bengal. It is the same Congress that got 70 seats in Bihar and won only 19. Any subservience to the Congress is going to be suicidal for the Left in Bengal.
Should the Congress draw lessons from Bihar and show more humility?
The Congress has to have its feet and ears to the ground. I find that the Congress in U.P. is trying to play an agitational role. Similar activism by the Congress is missing on the ground in many States. You can have your data analytics, but that alone will not win you the election. Data analytics or social media presence is not a substitute for work on the ground. Certainly, the 30% strike rate of the Congress has hampered the Mahagatbandhan in Bihar.
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