February 22, 2020
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Selling This Idea Will Take Time

At 86, Jyoti Basu still spearheads the political battle against the ruling NDA. After he relinquished chief ministership, he has emerged as the undisputed leader of the still nascent Third Front. Basu spoke to Outlook. Excerpts:

Selling This Idea Will Take Time
What are the Third Front's prospects?

Setting up the Third Front will be difficult, very difficult. There's a lot of work to be done. There are state parties, for instance, which have their own interests to protect. I really cannot say at present what ultimate shape it will take.

Do you think disappointment with the Vajpayee government is reaching a peak?

The people's anger is definitely mounting. After all, what are the economic policies of the NDA? They are just selling the country, its industries, abandoning the people. Everyone can see how major factories are closing down, new ones are not starting, people are losing jobs all over the place, farmers are committing suicide even in affluent states and prices are rising. In Bengal, they will close down six public sector units. Just what do they want and where will the people go?

Are all potential constituents of the Third Front united on opposing these economic policies? At the political level, Mulayam Singh Yadav seems to be keeping away.

He's afraid of the Congress—he's scared that the Congress will eat into his votebank in UP. As I told you, state parties have their own compulsions. Mulayam wants nothing to do with the Congress. We don't either. No one says the Congress will join the Third Front. There will surely be much discussion and it'll be a very long process.

There's also the impression that the cPI(M) is soft on the Congress.

It is not a question of being soft. What is our position? We in the cPI(M) are confident of winning in three states when the next elections are held. But in areas where we are not strong, we tell the people to vote for the Congress against the bjP Because of the growing threat of religious fundamentalism and now, against the disastrous economic policies of the bjp-ruled Centre as well.

What are the other problems in forming the Third Front?

For one thing, everybody can see for themselves how our economy has been ruined. Politically and economically, the country is being slowly destroyed. Everything that has been built in all these years is being ruined. But in many areas, I think people still cannot correlate what is happening on the ground as the direct outcome of policies initiated from the top. To enable them to see this link takes time. So I see the jelling of the Third Front idea too as taking time.

On the question of economy, the other day they have allowed 800 more items to be imported into the country. Most will be sold at prices our local industries cannot match. So what can possibly happen, apart from our industries closing down?

You were supposed to be attending a crucial meeting of the Opposition later this month...

That has just been cancelled. So I really don't know when that will be held, perhaps later. My comrades in Delhi will be better informed. Maybe other parties too are busy with the preliminary exercises related to the coming round of elections in several states, as we are.
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