sickle_s.gif (30476 bytes) People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 26

July 07,2002

Dr. (Capt.) Lakshmi Sahgal's Presidential Candidature : Issues and Facts

Sitaram Yechury

THE decision of the Left parties and their allies to field Dr. (Capt.) Lakshmi Sahgal as a candidate in the presidential contest has predictably evoked vituperative and, at times, absurd reactions from the saffron brigade. The litany of abusive charges against the Left has, at best, received the ridicule that it deserves. A number of other political commentators have also raised certain issues in relation to Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal's candidature. The record, therefore, needs to be put straight.

Let us examine the issues and facts.

1. By fielding a candidate, the Left has isolated itself from the national mainstream?

The Left has consistently opposed all the policies of this BJP-led NDA government which spell disaster for the country and the people. The relentless pursuit of its fascistic communal agenda is destroying the very foundations of secular democracy in India. In every other sector -- economy, foreign policy, internal security etc -- this Vajpayee government is pushing our country towards ruination.

It would be both untenable and politically immoral for the Left to oppose the BJP-led NDA's policies and at the same time support their candidate for the presidentship. Hence, the decision of the Left parties to contest these elections.

2. Why has the Left put up a candidate when it knows that it is a loosing battle?

The elections to the office of the President of India is a political contest. The Left wishes to bring on to the agenda the main issues affecting the country and its people during the course of this campaign. These elections are being held under the shadow of the state-sponsored communal genocide in Gujarat. This contest, so far, has already brought this issue to the fore.

Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal, herself, answered this question appropriately. In every battle, she said, some people desert, but the battle continues. Even the INA fought a loosing battle knowing fully well the outcome. Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal and the INA may have lost the battle but they eventually won the war of India's freedom. The INA, for the first time, threatened the British colonialists that they could no longer depend on the loyalty of the Indian army.

A battle may be lost but the war will continue to be waged until it is won.

3. Why did the Left choose an old veteran of the freedom movement as its candidate?

Precisely because Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal symbolises the united struggle of the Indian people for freedom. And, precisely because even after independence she continued this struggle for the real economic emancipation of the vast majority of the Indian people. Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal's legacy is the true Indian nationalism which united people of all religious affiliations -- speaking different languages, following different traditions, belonging to different castes -- into the mighty struggle. It is this unity that will ensure the unity of our country.

It is this very unity that the saffron brigade today is relentlessly disrupting through its fascistic communal agenda. The militant nationalism of the RSS variety is nothing but fascistic jingoism. Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal's candidature has brought on to the agenda the struggle between true Indian nationalism and pseudo-nationalism of the RSS.

4. By fielding a candidate, the Left has broken a consensus?

At the outset, it must be noted that it is BJP that has broken a consensus often in the past. Recollect that on many occasions, the BJP and various saffron outfits, contested the presidential elections in the past. The BJP supported G G Swell against the consensual candidate, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma in 1992. The Shiv Sena, the closest ally of the BJP, fielded T N Seshan against K R Narayanan in 1997.

As far as consensus on this occasion is concerned, it was the BJP-led NDA that disrupted it. The prime minister initially consulted some opposition parties and, both the Left and the Congress, suggested that Narayanan should be requested to continue as the president for a second term. Given the situation in India, this would have been the best course to reflect the united will of the people. After promising to get back to the opposition parties, the prime minister, instead, went directly to Narayanan and told him that he and the NDA were not in favour of his continuation for a second term. This was both unprecedented and indecent. A possible consensus on Mr. Narayanan was, thus, broken by the BJP/NDA.

Subsequently, a consensus was evolving on elevating the vice president Krishna Kant as the president. Even though the Left parties were not too happy with the prospect, they agreed for the sake of having a consensual candidate. Even this was aborted by the BJP/NDA when they unilaterally announced the name of P C Alexander. It is only when the entire opposition, under these circumstances, went to president Narayanan, requesting him to enter the contest that the BJP/NDA panicked and proposed Abdul Kalam. The choice of Kalam, therefore, is not on the basis of his merits or achievements. The choice was dictated purely with the objective of disrupting the opposition unity. It is tragic that on these considerations the BJP/NDA have chosen a candidate for the highest office of the country.

5. By fielding a candidate, the Left has broken opposition unity and disrupted the People's Front?

On the contrary, the Left today, on this issue, is the only opposition alongwith its allies. The Congress is in a peculiar situation where it is neither with the ruling party nor with the opposition.

As far as the People's Front is concerned, it was formed with the express purpose of providing a non-Congress alternative to the communal forces. If any constituent like the Samajwadi Party chooses to support a BJP/NDA candidate, then it is negating the very rationale for the formation of the People's Front. The Samajwadi Party today, finds itself in the company of the BJP, the BSP and the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. This can be no political alternative that the People's Front set out to develop.

The People's Front, however, will now be reorganised, uniting all non-Congress political forces that are willing to consistently and sincerely oppose the communal forces.

6. But, why did the Left delay in announcing the candidature of Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal?

As stated earlier, the Left parties were consistently trying first for a consensus and when that was broken by the BJP/NDA, the effort was to put up a joint opposition candidate. On the evening of the 9th of June, all the opposition parties, including the Congress, Samajwadi Party, the Left, Janata Dal (Secular) and others, had jointly met President K R Narayanan (requesting him to consider contesting) and publicly declared their intention to contest the BJP/NDA candidate P C Alexander. On June 10, the NDA backtracks on its candidate and instead announced the name of Abdul Kalam. The Samajwadi Party announced its support to the BJP/NDA candidate leading to the division in the People's Front. On June 11, the Congress party announced its support to Kalam.

Immediately, on the next day, the Left parties announced their decision to contest the presidential poll. Subsequently, in consultation with allies like Janata Dal (Secular) and V P Singh, candidature of Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal is announced on June 14. Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal meets the press three days later on June 17 as the presidential candidate of the Left parties and its allies.

Given the sequence of events, any one can see that the candidature of Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal was announced at the earliest opportunity.

7. Why is the Left adopint double standards? In the election to the office of the Speaker of the Lok Sabham the Left did not oppose the BJP/NDA nominee, then why is it doing so for the post of President?

The Left parties had openly opposed the candidature of Shiv Sena supported by the BJP/NDA for the post of Speaker of   the Lok Sabha. The CPI(M) Polit Bureau issued on May 9, 2002 a press statement registering the Party's strong opposition. The CPI(M) leader in the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, had in his speech in the House hoped that the speaker would not function under any "remote control" (referring to his stint as chief minister, Maharashtra, during which Bal Thackeray had publicly stated that he had the "remote control").

However much the Left had wished to contest this post, the traditional convention of the speaker belonging to the ruling alliance while the deputy speaker belongs to the opposition came in the way. With the deputy speaker being with the Congress party, the Congress adhered to this convention and refused to join a contest. Under these circumstances, it was not possible to put up a candidate with other opposition parties also falling in line with the convention. It is not correct to say that the Left supported the BJP/NDA candidate. However, circumstances ensured that the speaker was not elected unanimously but was elected uncontested.

8. Is the Left isolating itself from the national mainstream like it did during the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962?

In 1962, the Left which was later to become the CPI(M), had taken a simple position that the dispute with China cannot be resolved through an armed conflict and must be resolved through negotiations. A full 40 years later, what is even this Vajpayee-led government doing? Without having the honesty to admit, they are precisely following the course that the CPI(M) advocated at that time. Are they adopting the course suggested by the CPI(M) to isolate themselves from the national mainstream!

Today's RSS/BJP is the latest avtar of political dishonesty.

9. Is the Left isolating itself again like when it opposed the struggle for India's freedom like in 1942.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. One need not go into the details of the already richly documented history of the role of the Left in India's struggle for freedom. It would suffice to note that when the country was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Quit India Movement, the then President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, addressing the midnight session of the parliament said: "After large scale strikes in mills in Kanpur, Jamshedpur and Ahmedabad, a despatch from Delhi dated 5 September, 1942, to the Secretary of State, in London, reported about the Communist Party of India: "the behaviour of many of its members proves what has always been clear, namely, that it is composed of anti-British revolutionaries."

On the contrary, the role of the RSS during India's freedom struggle is an open secret. The Bombay Home Department, during the 1942 Quit India Movement, observed, "The Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law and in particular has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942." Even its leading light, Nanaji Deshmukh once raised the question, "Why did the RSS not take part in the liberation struggle as an organisation?" Further, throughout the national movement the RSS always collaborated with the princely states who stood in firm opposition to the freedom struggle. One of their closest allies was Raja Hari Singh of Kashmir who was reluctant to join India.

It is both an irony and tragedy for India that the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi are today casting such wicked aspersions against the Left and heroines like Capt. Lakshmi Sahgal.

It needs to be recalled that whether it is the heroes or heroines of the INA, or, associates of Bhagat Singh like Shiv Varma and Kishori Lal, all of them had spent the rest of their lives in independent India, as leaders of the CPI(M), carrying forward the struggle for the emancipation of the people.

In this context also, look at the track record of the self-appropriated heroes of the saffron brigade like Savarkar. He had in a letter dated November 14, 1913 from the Andaman cellular jail openly begged the British to set him free. It has recently been shown on many occasions that in this letter, which is today a public document, Savarkar had with servility said: "I am ready to serve the government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would."

In complete contradistinction is the record of the scores of revolutionaries who served their full term in the inhuman cellular jail and subsequently became respected leaders of the Communist movement such as Harekrishna Konar who became one of the topmost leaders of the CPI(M), Satish Pakrashi, Ganesh Ghosh, Subodh Roy, Loknath Bali, Ananta Singh, Subodh Chowdhury, Phani Nandi, Haripada Bhattacharya, Ranadhir Das Gupta, Ananda Gupta and many others.

It is there for all to see as to who are the betrayers of the freedom struggle and collaborators of the British!

10. Is the Left behaving in the same manner as it did by supporting the two-nation theory that led to India's partition?

The Left had always maintained that the partition of India on communal lines was a disastrous event. Its consequences continue to be felt even today. This partition was the consequence of policies pursued by British imperialism and the actual circumstances in which power was transferred to the Indian people.

Who were the ones that comprehensively aided the British in such efforts? The first person to have articulated the two-nation theory was none other than the saffron brigade's appropriated hero, or, "veer" V D Savarkar. A full three years before the Muslim League and Jinnah raised this demand, Savarkar in his presidential address to the Hindu Mahasabha said: "We Hindus are a nation by ourselves ... we Hindus are marked out as an abiding Nation by ourselves'' (see Indian Annual Register, 1939, Vol II). Again later he reiterated, "I have no quarrel with Mr Jinnah's two-nation theory. We, Hindus, are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations'' (Indian Annual Register, 1943, Vol II).

Those who have consistently been against the interests of the Indian people have the temerity today to cast aspersions on the patriotic zeal and innumerable sacrifices of Indian patriots who were leading lights of the Left movement in the country.

11. Is the CPI(M), once again, isolating itself as it did by supporting internal emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975?

Only the politically na´ve or illiterate would cast such an aspersion against the CPI(M). Thousands of its workers all over the country were arrested, many of them spending the full period of emergency under the draconian Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). The underground resistance organised by the CPI(M) and mass organisations played a major role in building the people's movement for the restoration of democracy. Even the most prejudiced and politically motivated adversary of the CPI(M) cannot deny this.

On the contrary, what has been the role of the RSS and the saffron brigade during the emergency?

They spared no efforts to arrive at a reconciliation with Mrs. Gandhi. The RSS chief, Deoras, had written to Mrs. Gandhi twice from jail requesting that the ban on the RSS be lifted. At a time when the entire country was up against Mrs. Gandhi for imposing the Emergency because of the Allahabad High Court setting aside her election, Balasaheb Deoras in a letter from the Yerwada central jail dated 10.11.1975 said, "Let me congratulate you as five judges of the Supreme Court have declared the validity of your election". This was at a time when the entire country was protesting against the manner in which Indira Gandhi manipulated the law and amended the constitution to legitimise her election. In another letter from jail to Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Balasaheb Deoras writes, "...this is my prayer to you that you kindly try to remove the wrong notion of the Prime Minister about the Sangh, and as a result of which the RSS volunteers will be set free, the ban on the Sangh will be lifted and such condition will prevail as to enable the volunteers of the Sangh to participate in the planned programme of action relating to country's progress and prosperity under the leadership of the Prime Minister." This was an obvious reference to the notorious 20-point programme of Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. While the democratic masses of India were decrying this, the RSS was willing to accept Indira Gandhi's leadership!

The late Madhu Limaye wrote in Secular Democracy, "The RSS people claimed that they spearheaded the anti-emergency struggle. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The ban on the RSS frightened them. The morale of their detenues collapsed within a few days after the declaration of emergency. A vast majority of these detenues abjectly apologised to the authorities. Many deserted the RSS and Jan Sangh in order to escape arrest."

Such is the record of the RSS's genuflection towards authoritarianism and Indira Gandhi's emergency.

12. Why is the Left opposing a renowned scientist? India has had instances of persons like Dr. Radhakrishnan, far removed from active politics, become Presidents?

It must be repeated that the Left is opposing Abdul Kalam because he is a candidate fielded by the BJP/NDA. As a missile technocrat, Kalam has been honoured by the country as a whole which awarded him the `Bharat Ratna'. This was awarded to him during the time of the United Front government in 1997.

The post of the president is not a reward for achievements. The president has to discharge many important responsibilities. Like former president Venkataraman has said, the role of the president is like an emergency lamp that comes on automatically when there is a power failure. When the power is restored, the emergency lamp shuts down. It will be a great disaster for India that when power fails, the emergency lamp does not switch on.

It is not necessary that only a politician should be made a president. But it is necessary that the President of India is well versed with the political intricacies, particularly at a time when fractured verdicts have become the order of the day. Also at a time when state patronage is extended to those willfully violating the Indian constitution and trampling upon the rights of the state governments.

The example of Dr. Radhakrishnan is completely erroneous. Dr. Radhakrishnan was part of the freedom struggle, served as the vice chancellor of the Benaras Hindu University; served as India's Ambassador to Stalin's Soviet Union just after the second world war; and served as the vice president of India for two full terms before he became the president. It is this vast experience that was behind Dr. Radhakrishnan's candidature.

13. But, Mr. Kalam is not a BJP person. So why is the Left insisting on contesting?

Abdul Kalam may not be a member of the RSS or the BJP. But the RSS has left no stone unturned to appropriate Kalam. The editor of the RSS mouthpiece, Panchajanya wrote in the The Pioneer way back on March 12, 2000: "The photographs of Abdul Kalam and Haniffuddin can be seen along with those of Guru Gobind Singh, Shivaji, Lachhit Borfukan, Bursa and Gandhi at any RSS office these days."

Further, he goes on: "The issue is the country's culture, conduct and perspective. In other words, Indianism, which is what Hindutva is. This does not mean that Muslims should convert to Hinduism or Christians should go to temples. What it does mean is that you can be what you like but share the same vision of Dr. Abdul Kalam and the martyr Haniffuddin. This vision is the driving force behind the RSS."

In other words, the RSS today claims that Abdul Kalam's vision is, in fact, its own vision. And, the RSS vision is repeatedly unfolding before all of us -- the replacement of the secular democratic republic of India by a fascistic "Hindu Rashtra", through bloody pogroms and unprecedented barbarity as seen in Gujarat.

In his first press conference after being declared a candidate, Kalam was flanked only by Pramod Mahajan of the BJP. Neither the likes of Mulayam Singh who are claiming that Kalam is their original candidate, nor the Congress which has meekly announced its support for him were allowed anywhere near Kalam. Nor has Kalam so far announced that he is a joint candidate of the NDA, Samajwadi Party and the Congress. On the contrary, he in several of his interviews thanked the NDA for nominating him as its candidate.

Hence, both the BJP/NDA and Kalam have confirmed the political nature and content of the candidature.

gohome.gif (364 bytes)