'It will be a hung Parliament'

The man is 90, appears frail and sleeps fitfully because of his advanced age. Undeterred by his age or physical condition, Jyoti Basu, who was Chief Minister of Bengal for a record 26 years, is once again playing the warrior, all primed to lead the Left's charge from the front. In an interview with Malabika Bhattacharya, Mr. Basu analyses the electoral equations and explains the basis on which he makes his calculations. Excerpts:

Another summer, another election, another challenge. Are you going to be in the battle or will you stay away?
I am 90 and my health has begun to let me down as a result of which I am unable to whip myself [into shape] like before to do election work. But I cannot dream of staying away from the heat and dust of the election, because like all other true communists it is also my duty to come forward and help defeat the BJP and all its allies in Bengal. Till my last breath I will be in the arena, along with other comrades.

Many in your party foresee the CPI (M) playing a role in determining who becomes the Prime Minister after the election.
I do not know what situation might emerge after the election, but if you are referring to the offer of prime ministership that had come to my party, and for which I had been briefly considered, this will not happen again. It is not possible anymore.

Do you think that a coalition government is the order of the day? The Congress has also come round to accepting this idea.
Yes, nothing other than [a] coalition is a reality nowadays. The Congress made a mistake by not accepting this earlier.

Your party has been interacting with the Congress. What is its view on coalition politics now?
They (the Congress) sought our opinion and some of us (the Left parties) told them that they should form a government with their allies. They may be small groups, regional parties and the like. If they need our support, we will certainly vote in their favour.

Who will be Prime Minister?
That, of course, the people will decide. Some people object to Sonia Gandhi as Prime Minister because of her foreign origin. Anyhow, we will discuss this issue later. What is more important is to see what kind of programmes the Congress offers. The Congress had made certain wrong decisions in the economic field for which they got isolated from the people. True, it's the largest non-communal party in the country today but it should also own its past mistakes. Manmohan Singh (former Union Finance Minister) told me that the Congress was preparing its programme.
Your party has finally accepted the idea of collaborating with the Congress, which you have been advocating in the face of resistance to the idea for quite sometime. Your comment.
Our party thinks that we cannot equate the Congress with the BJP, even though both the parties represent the bourgeoisie. But after the rise of the BJP, the Congress has assumed great importance. It's a non-communal party although it has made certain compromises with communalism. We told them that its policy of soft communalism will not work.

What is the agreement between the Left parties and the Congress?
Our position is very clear. We will put up candidates in some constituencies, but in 90 per cent of them where we are not a force, we shall tell our supporters to vote for the Congress. Our main objective is to resist [the] BJP.

You are one politician who gets election results right. Do you think the Congress may come to power?
I am getting a feeling that it will be a hung Parliament. Our people tell me that [the] BJP will get less votes this time.

But do you think the Congress stands a chance?
Mulayam Singh Yadav is playing a very bad role. I hear that he is being contacted by the BJP. If he refuses to collaborate with the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, it would be bad news. Mulayam should acknowledge the fact that the Congress is the largest secular party in the country. But he does not. He says he will have no truck with the Congress. This is terrible. If he sticks to this stand, it will be a major problem. But Laloo Prasad Yadav has no problem with the Congress.

Are you not disappointed with Laloo Prasad Yadav whom the Left parties upheld as the champion of secular forces?
Absolutely disappointed. Very dissatisfied about the way he is going.

Why don't you try to change his attitude?
My people are talking to him. Let's see what happens.

Will your party join a coalition government led by the Congress?
At the moment, our view is that we will not be in the Government but will support a secular Government. Whatever its class character, ours will be issue-based support. We will first see what programmes the Congress offers.

The Congress' failure to project a Prime Minister will have an adverse impact on the voter. Your comment.
I don't think it will matter much. The general idea in a parliamentary democracy is that a party must project a Prime Minister. But we have previous instances when that did not happen. I think Sonia has rightly said that the people will decide on the Prime Minister after the poll. I know there are many who oppose the BJP and favour the Congress but cannot accept Sonia as Prime Minister for her foreign origin.

What about you?
If the Congress emerges as a majority party and it decides to have Sonia as Prime Minister, we have no problem. After all, the Constitution does not prevent her from occupying the office.

Do you think that the entry of the young Gandhis, Rahul and Priyanka, into the Congress will help the party to collect more ballots?
You see, there are backward masses who are politically conscious but attach a great deal of importance to individuals. I find from newspapers that they (Rahul and Priyanka) are creating some enthusiasm among the youth.

Many charge the CPI (M) with doublespeak. On one hand, it is depending on the Congress to resist the BJP. On the other it is opposing the party in Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. How do you explain this dichotomy?
There is no contradiction. We are telling the people that the situation is different in different parts of the country. Take Bengal. We are in office here for the sixth time in a row. We will have to contest the Congress. We cannot accommodate the Congress here.

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