Does the Left trust Congress policies?
What is the reason for not trusting them? We know fully well what Congress is. We are well aware of its
ideological position. The areas where the Left and Congress have differences are also clearly demarcated, but
in today's situation, there are immediate issues, economic and others, where we feel that both the Left and
Congress can work together. We have come together for a cause, and let's bear in mind that no political party
sits idle for five years. We are supporting the government, yes, therefore we would continue to do that, while
on the other hand, we would continue our activities creatively.
BBC listener from Pune:
The prices of petrol have been been increasing steadily, would your party the CPI,
and other Left parties do something to bring relief to the common man?
A.B. Bardhan: We have suggested some alternative measures to the government, if they follow them by a slight
reduction in the excise and customs for imports, then India should be able to deal with the price rise in the
international market, and there should not be any increase in the price of petroleum products in the country.
Nagendar Sharma: But Comrade Bardhan, there appear to be serious differences between the Left and the government on
economic policies, especially on the issue of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which is clear from the first
budget presented by the UPA government. How would your alliance move forward ?
A.B. Bardhan: We are trying to build pressure on them. Let's be clear, we do not oppose Foreign Direct
Investment (FDI) as such, there is no problem with FDI, but there are certain sectors, for example –
Insurance and Telecom, where we feel that it is dangerous for the country to have Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
They can come in other sectors, what is the problem? And where they come, that has to be for strengthening
those sectors and not to bring them under control. What is the problem with having FDI in the green field, in
newer sectors where employment generation increases?
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Bardhan, till what extent would your pressure be? If it accepts your demand on the FDI
limit, the government would be rolling back, in fact, just like the previous NDA government. Till where would
you go if it does not listen to you?
A.B. Bardhan: We are not exerting pressure just like that. We represent the working people of the country.
Now a coordination committee has been formed between the Congress and the Left parties, and both of us would
be regularly meeting. So maybe they are able to convince us on the issues raised by us, or, perhaps, the other way round, maybe
we are able to explain to them about the interests of the people of the country. So our suggestion may have
some influence, and maybe the government revises some of its decisions and, maybe, both of us may agree to
differ and decide that we both are entitled to our respective opinions.
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Bardhan, it has been a month since the general budget was presented in Parliament, and
both the government and the Left parties are sticking to their respective positions and there seems to be no
compromise or meeting point.
A.B. Bardhan: Well it is just the beginning…. the relationship has just started (laughs). Even the
parliamentary committees have not met so far, the budgetary consultation has not even started, so why should
we hurry? The coordination committee is to meet later this month, where both of us would exchange notes, so
let us see what happens.
BBC listener from Florida :
Sir, I have lived in West Bengal for a long period. It is a state which has
political stability, better law and order situation, and common man feels safe, but the state lacks on the
development front. Why is Left perceived as anti-development ?
A.B. Bardhan: There is a Left Front government in that state for 26 years, and this is possible only
when you have the support of the people of the state. Look at the progress of West Bengal in the field of
agriculture - it is unmatched. Sd far as development in other sectors is concerned, I am confident that the state government would leave
no stone unturned, also do not forget that Bengal has been a victim of step-motherly treatment from successive
Central governments because of political differences. Let's remember that the biggest thing working class ever wants is development, as employment is directly linked
to development. Yes we would not allow the exploitation of working class, but development is the most crucial
thing for the working class.
BBC listener from Gujarat:
The basis of Communist ideology is economy, but today in India the economic
policies of Manmohan-Chidambram team are directly opposite to that of your ideology. Why are you being fooled
by the Common Minimum Programme?
A.B. Bardhan: The basic ideologies of Communists and Congress are widely different, there is no doubt about
that, but at the moment the country is faced with a situation where we are not talking about basic ideologies.
All of us have agreed to include only those issues in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) which need to be
solved at the moment. For example, if providing drinking water is included in any programme, what problem
should the Communist or capitalist have with it? This is just for example what I am telling you. Similar are the other things in the
CMP. Please remember that the CMP is not a Left programme, and it is nowhere near a socialist or a communist programme. It
is a programme which has issues of the people's interest, which were complicated by the previous government
and all of us in the UPA feel that such issues need to be addressed. That is all.
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Bardan, you are saying the CMP is not a Left programme, and if all the constituents had agreed,
then why in a mere two and a half months old government, disputes are coming out openly?
A.B. Bardhan: When any new law is made in India or for that matter in any other country also, the lawyers
try to interpret it in many ways as it suits them. The CMP is just a programme, and the dispute you are
talking about is regarding a line which says in the CMP that FDI should be increased. Now, using this line to his advantage, our Finance Minister is saying that he is precisely doing that only.
What we are telling him is that increasing this limit in the strategic sectors is not a good proposal, it is
dangerous. So it is a matter of interpretation, let us see finally which way the wind blows.
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Bardhan, the Left constituents are also confused. Your party, the CPI, wanted to join the
government, but when the big brother CPI(M) decided to stay out of government, so did your party. Is there any
scope of review of this decision in the coming days?
A.B. Bardhan: Let me put the record straight first. The CPI was not in favour of joining the government on its
own, our stand was that if the government is to be joined then let it be a combined decision of the entire
Left Front, if not then let all the 61 support it from outside. Now after two and a half months, our understanding is that by staying out of the government, the Left is
able to keep an effective watch on the government functioning. Had we decided to participate in the
government, then 14-16 howsoever number of Left Ministers would have been there, we would have been restricted
to those ministries functioning only. We feel that the decision to stay out is good and effective and there is no scope of any review of this
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Bardhan, why are Left parties seen as difficult allies? You have supported two governments
at the Centre in the past -- in 1989 and 1996. Both were short-lived. Why is the Left difficult to deal with ?
A.B. Bardhan: Let me put the record straight, it is a historical fact that the Left Front has never withdrawn
support from any government that it has supported. Both the governments you are talking about fell on
political issues, and not because of economic policies differences and Left parties were with both those
governments till the very last. Look at the United Front government, it fell in 1997 because Congress withdrew support, as it was said
somewhere that DMK had some connections with the LTTE, but all that is history now, I do not want to be drawn
into that. Now, even a BJP commentator has had to admit recently that when Left once supports a government, it does
not withdraw support.
BBC listener from Kanpur:
Why is the Left confused? One day you say the Disinvestment ministry should be
scrapped, later it is merged into Finance ministry, then you are quiet. You do not join the government, but
have your speaker. Why are you playing this cat and mouse game? Either support the government fully or
withdraw support from it, instead of being confused and confusing the people of the country as well.
A.B. Bardhan: I am sorry but you appear to be a bit confused. You are referring to my statement on the
Disinvestment Ministry. Let me make my statement clear. I had said that having a separate Disinvestment
Ministry sends a wrong message to the world that the Indian government wants a sellout of public enterprises
at a cheap price. I had made it clear that this department can work in the Finance Ministry and this is what
happened. If this led to the SENSEX tumble, then let us be clear that the SENSEX indicator going up or down
would not determine the government policies.
Could you please tell me, when and where have the Left parties ever said that we would withdraw support
from the government? What we are saying is that we want the present UPA government to work well. We have assured the government
that the Left parties would not bring down the government. It is precisely for this matter that we took the
initiative of forming the coordination committee to have a better understanding. Does this anywhere give the
impression that we want to bring down the government? We would not allow the government to fall, but this does not mean we would accept
everything. We have our
own position, but there is no danger to the government.
There would be a positive impact of the protests and demonstrations of the Left parties that take
place from time to time, which would help the government to be always alert. On the other hand, if our
protests seem a bit too much, they can make us understand. So be assured that the government would complete its tenure, no problem. Yes, there would be differences,
disputes, but the Left support to the government would continue. There are differences in daily lives of
spouses also, is divorce the only solution? I say no, it is consultation and discussion that leads to a solution.
Nagendar Sharma: But it looks as if the government is not ready to listen to your concerns, especially on the
A.B. Bardhan: Well let us all wait and see. As I have told you, it is just the beginning of the relationship.
There would be more meetings and pressures and counter pressures in the coming days. If the FDI limit is to be raised in the Insurance sector, that would require the government to bring a
bill in the parliament. It is absolutely clear before the world that this bill cannot be passed without our
support, because the BJP has not assured the government that it would support the bill, even if the Left does
not. In case the BJP assures them, and if the government does take the BJP support for passing this bill, it
would not send a right message for the government. So I think, it is very much possible that the government
would not bring about any such bill, and let us see what happens elsewhere also.
BBC listener from Indore:
Sir you are assuring that the Left would not allow the government to fall, but
the issue of FDI looks unlikely to be resolved. There is no way to break the deadlock, so is India in for a
midterm general election?
A.B. Bardhan: Do not worry, this government would not fall. I would like to tell all those who are waiting for
this government to fall, that their wait is in vain and it would prove to be their delusion. I suggest to them to
wait patiently for at least five years and learn the opposition ways properly, as maybe even after this term of
five years also you see the present UPA dispensation in office again. Therefore do not worry on this count,
such worries are baseless.
Now your point of FDI, it is a matter of interpretation. Please show me in the CMP where is it written that
the FDI limit in Telecom can be raised to 74 percent. The CMP says general FDI limit can be raised, we have no objection to that. Telecom is a very sensitive sector, it is linked to country's internal and external security, and the
country should have total control over its means of communications. Tell me where in the world -- whether it be
Japan, China, America or England -- is the Telecom sector in the control of foreigners? Please give me even a
single example of this.
And also bear in mind if the limit were to be raised to 74 percent of FDI, then it would not be simple
shareholders with small amounts of shares who would come, it would be a single giant like the American
Worldcom, who would seize control of the Indian telecom sector. Why would we give it to them?
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Bardhan you are hinting that those waiting for the government to fall should wait for five
years, but the BJP is saying this Manmohan Singh government is a puppet government, and the real super Prime
Minister is Sonia Gandhi. What is your reaction?
A.B. Bardhan: BJP has nothing else left to say now, that is why it is being forced to say such things, as it
wants to say one thing or the other, no matter how irresponsible it maybe. I do not want to use this
opportunity to lambast BJP now. The fact of the matter is Mrs Sonia Gandhi is not interfering at all in the
functioning of the government, at the same time please bear in mind she is the leader of the largest party in
When we have to discuss some matter related with the government we meet the Prime Minister. But yes, if we
are to discuss the upcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra, then we talk to Sonia Gandhi, as it is then a
matter concerning the Congress party. We know, when to meet whom. Such statements are merely aimed at belittling the character of a person like Dr Manmohan Singh. What were
they doing a few months back themselves? They were trying to create a larger than life image of somebody. What
happened? Now they are trying to tarnish the image of somebody, they should give all this up, it is my sincere advice.
BBC listener from Pakistan:
Sir, Left parties have a record presence of 61 MPs in the Lok Sabha. What are
you doing to remove the pro-America and pro-Israel bias of Indian establishment, which was started by the BJP-led
A.B. Bardhan: You are right. The beginning has been made already by incorporating precisely this thing in
the CMP. We have made it clear that India wants to be friends with all the countries, whether it be America,
Israel or any other developed or developing countries. But it is clear that India should not be sitting in the
lap of any one country. The CMP is very clear on Iraq. BJP was trying to cosy up to Israel, now you see we are
talking about the Palestinian state. The CMP is therefore clear, and the two and a half months of this
government do not give us any cause of worry on the Foreign affairs front. We want India to go back to its
independent foreign policy. I assure you the Left would not allow the government to be a puppet of America or
any other country.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Bardhan, in the end, tell us, are you satisfied the way UPA government has been functioning in
its first two-and-a half months so far?
A.B. Bardhan: I would not be satisfied even after five years, as once if you are satisfied all kind of progress
comes to a halt. Therefore my dissatisfaction, my struggle would continue along with the Left Front support to
this government for the next five years. The guarantee of stability of this government is the adherence to the CMP. Anyone dreaming of any
alternative to this government, is living in a wishful world.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
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