The full transcript of the BBC Hindi special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with the general secretary of the CPI. The subject of the programme was: How long can the Left and the Congress remain together with so many differences already present.
Nagendar Sharma: Does the Left trust Congress policies?
A.B. Bardhan: 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 decision.
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 economic issues.
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 the coalition.
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 government?
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.
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