People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXI

No. 25

June 24, 2007

INTERVIEW WITH JYOTI BASU

 

ďOther States Couldnít Do What We Could

Within Constitutional LimitationsĒ

 

 

A NEW era started in Indian politics and in the life of Indian people with the installation of the Left Front government in West Bengal on June 21, 1977. We knew that we couldnít change everything under the existing social structure and the present constitutional limitations; thatís why we only promised to secure some relief for the common man. But now, 30 years later, I think what we have been able to do for the people is more than just relief. In defence of the interest of the common people, we have implemented an alternative approach of development that is now bearing some fruit.Ē So said veteran communist leader and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, Jyoti Basu, in an interview.

 

On the eve of completion of 30 years of the Left Front government in West Bengal, veteran communist leader Jyoti Basu talked to correspondents of the Party dailies, expressing his views and experiences of these three decades. In his talks, he threw light on the spate of struggles that culminated in the installation of the Left Front government and the latterís tremendous achievements during the last three decades. At the same time, Basu also wondered why other states couldnít implement pro-people policies as the Left led governments of West Bengal, Tripura and Kerela were able to do within the existing, stringent constitutional limitations.

 

Recorded by history as the longest serving chief minister in the country so far, Basu will be 94 on July 8 coming.

 

The veteran communist leader also stated: ďI am extremely happy that the Left Front has completed 30 years in office, as the people of the state gave a massive mandate in favour of a coalition led by the Marxists to run a government. The mandate was renewed again and again, six times.Ē

 

Excerpts from the interview follow.

 

Q. The West Bengal Left Front government, led by the CPI(M), has completed 30 years of its life. In a democratic structure, it is unparalleled and historic. How could you achieve this?

 

BASU: Let me tell you that there was a time when we thought no Left government would be allowed to continue for any long time, what to say of 30 years, as the real powers in our kind of parliamentary democracy rest with the centre where the bourgeois-landlord parties have been in command. In 1957, the first communist government was formed in Kerela and late Comrade E M S Namboodiripad was its chief minister. But it was dismissed within two years and a half.

 

We also had a similar experience in our state. In the late sixties and early seventies, a storm of struggles raged across West Bengal under the leadership of the CPI(M). The movement for food, studentsí movement, refugeesí movement, workersí movement, teachersí movement --- such struggles one after another created a new scenario in West Bengal. It was thus that the first United Front government was installed in the state in the year 1967. But it was allowed to continue only for nine months. Later, the second United Front government came into power in 1969 and was allowed to continue for 13 months only. On both occasions, the people of West Bengal saw the role of our Party when, for the sake of breaking the Congress monopoly of power in the interest of a democratic advance, we left the chief ministerís post for the Bangla Congress even though we were the largest Party in the assembly. We emerged still stronger in 1971 but were not allowed to form a government.

 

And then, in the name of an election, a mockery was staged in 1972 when the elections were blatantly rigged. It was a black period for parliamentary democracy in the country. The Congress formed a government through this rigging, while on our part we decided to boycott the assembly and did so for full five years as a mark of our protest. From 1972 onwards, the struggle for democratic rights and freedoms of the people had to be continued in a difficult situation --- when the Congress government instituted a semi-fascist terror regime in the state. More than 1,100 of our cadres were killed by the police-goonda nexus, hundreds of our offices were forcibly occupied and the families of more than 20,000 of our supporters had to leave their houses and live elsewhere, mostly outside the state. Our struggle for democratic rights in such a situation will remain unforgettable in the annals of West Bengal history.

 

However, what we were facing since March 1972, the people of the whole country had to face three years later. Freedoms and rights granted to the common citizens were snatched under the Emergency imposed on June 26, 1975.

 

Yet this was nothing new for us of the older generations that had to suffer a lot of repression in the past. Our Party was declared illegal during the British period, till mid-1942, and again after independence, in 1948. Most of our leaders were put behind bars in 1948, and we regained the legal status only before the first general elections in 1952. But the people had seen that we never surrendered to the class enemy even in face of such repression. We faced torture in jail but never comprised with the ruling classes. This is our legacy. Thatís why the people of West Bengal respected us and had had confidence in us. Thatís why, 29 years after the first Left Front government was formed, it got a three-fourth majority in the last election. There were, on occasions, all kinds of rumours and slanderous allegations against us. Even the Election Commission was carried away by the slander campaign that we had rigged the preceding five assembly elections. But the people of West Bengal took it as an insult to their judgement and gave the slanderers a fitting reply.

 

Q. So many pro-people programmes have been implemented in the period since the installation of the first Left Front government in 1977. What were the main priority sectors and major achievements?

 

BASU: After we came into office, we gave serious thought to the implementation of our commitments made in the 36-point programme in 1977. When we won the election in 1977, a huge crowd gathered to greet us in front of the Writers Building. I told them that we would not remain confined to the Writers Building; rather we would stand by the workers, employees and peasants, with all sections of the common people. We laid emphasis over a radical land reforms programme, and more than 13 lakh acres of land have been distributed among the poor and landless people. In our state, about 83 percent of agricultural land is in the possession of the poor and marginalised peasants. This programme is still continuing and the present, seventh Left Front government has also distributed land among the poor people even though some problems because of court cases remain. We also laid emphasis on agricultural development, on decentralisation of power through the three-tier panchayat system and municipalities, on ensuring one-third reservations for women in the panchayati raj system, and on grant of voting right on the age of 18 years in municipal and panchayat bodies. Agricultural production has increased. We have also prioritised the micro and small-scale industries. Interests of the poor people, agricultural labourers and sharecroppers are very much protected here.

 

What is the reason? It is because the Left Front came to office through a series of mass struggles. The Left Front is not an electoral front alone; people have seen our role in defence of their interests. In a parliamentary democracy, we have created history. I believe by heart that we have by and large fulfilled what had we committed at the time of installation of the first Left Front government in 1977. We have fulfilled about 90 percent of our programme, though there is no denying that some drawbacks still remain. We had a commitment of providing electricity to every village but it is not yet complete though I have been informed that it will be done by 2012; the seventh Left Front government is determined about it.

 

This is our distinguishing feature --- that from the people we never hide anything, even our negative points. We ask our Party comrades to listen to the criticism made against us. If there is anything positive that can be done, then it has to be done; if not, then the people should be told so directly. This is our way of functioning. This is so despite the fact that in many cases the central government is responsible for the lapses; it is they who often created barriers in the way of our developmental programmes in order to tarnish our image.

 

Q. It is said that West Bengal has been facing discriminations. Please elaborate this point.

 

BASU: You see, from quite early on, we have been facing various conspiracies, so many discriminations. We have a lot of experience about it. Of them, two or three incidents I remember very well. Once there was an electronics project for the Salt Lake area and late Mrs Indira Gandhi promised us help in it. However, after keeping me waiting for one year, she said that her officers, who had been in the committee constituted to look into this matter, had unanimously suggested to her not to go ahead with that project. Their idea was that no investment should be made in West Bengal because it was a border state. Ridiculous! I asked them what the problem was. If it was a security related problem, then it would be more serious in the northeast, but she told me she couldnít do anything, as her officials were not ready to give me permission. Later, without any help from the central government, we built up this electronics complex on 300 acres of land; now about 25,000 to 30,000 of youth are working there. Or take the case of Haldia petrochemicals complex, a project worth over Rs 5,000 crore, but I had to wait for 11 long years to get permission from the central government. Right now, more than 70,000 people are employed in the downstream industries.

 

Q. How do you see the oppositionís role vis-ŗ-vis the developmental programmes in West Bengal?

 

BASU: Several times I have said that the role of opposition, whether big or small, is very important in a parliamentary democracy, but it must be a responsible opposition. Opposition parties have a right to criticise the government programmes if they think them wrong, but in a responsible manner. But when we implement a programme for the people, why canít they extend us their cooperation?

 

West Bengal is now the largest producer of rice and the second largest producer of potatoes in the country. Through our land reforms programme, we distributed land among the poor people. That programme is still continuing.

 

Now in the interest of the unemployed youth our government is emphasising the industrialisation measures. This is the need of our state. There was a time when West Bengal held a prestigious position in respect of industries in the country. But due to a politically motivated licensing system and the policy of freight equalisation pursued by the successive Congress governments at the centre, the state had to suffer a lot and acute industrial stagnation set in. Now after the removal of these regulations and end of the discrimination, I say we also needed foreign investment for industrial growth. But I also say that it should be based on mutual interest while protecting the legitimate interests of our working people.

 

However, the opposition in our state is out to create chaos over the Left Front governmentís developmental programmes. Even when I was the chief minister, we had been appealing to the opposition for cooperation regarding the developmental programmes in our state. I also met the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, with an all-party delegation, though Ms Mamata Banerjee and Ajit Panja at that time declined to go along with us. Mamata said: we canít go with you to Rajiv Gandhi.

 

Whenever our government started a developmental programme for the state, they created problems. A few months ago, Trinamool legislators ransacked the assembly house, destroyed the costly furniture items and government assets. What is this? Is this any responsible attitude? What I am trying to say is that earlier we too were in the opposition but we always played a responsible, constructive role whenever a developmental issue was at the centre of concern. The people of Bengal have seen us as a responsible opposition; we never created a problem over the developmental programmes for our state or whenever the interest of our people was at stake. When the Congress chief minister Bidhan Chandra Roy took initiative for the Durgapur steel plant or Kalyani township, we supported that.

 

Q. So, on the coming June 21, the Left Front government would complete 30 years of its life. As a veteran leader of our countryís communist movement, what would be your message?

 

BASU: I am extremely happy that our government is now to enter its 31st year. It is historic in a parliamentary democracy. Now we need to run a campaign countrywide to popularise what we have done in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerela in this long period. People across the country have to know what type of alternative programmes we have implemented in these states. We have also to raise the question: Why couldnít other states do what we have done within such severe constitutional limitations and the unfavourable socio-political structure?

 

Though we are very strong in the three said states and have some influence in some other states also, our Party is not strong in the country as a whole. Thatís why not only the Party organisation, we have to strengthen our mass organisations too. Without strengthening our mass organisations, we canít build up a strong Party all over the country.

 

I believe that within the present bourgeois-landlord structure, we have to take whatever little opportunity is available in this system. Our aim is to build up a classless, non-exploitative society, and we have to continue our fight for achieving this goal, though I donít know how long it will take.