Interview with Surjya Kanta Mishra.
By SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY
FRONTLINE, Print edition : August 23, 2013
“ULTIMATELY, we could participate only in 70 per cent of the seats properly,” said Surjya Kanta Mishra, Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly and Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in an exclusive interview with Frontline soon after the results of the panchayat elections were out.
Mishra talked about the unfair tactics used by the ruling Trinamool Congress, areas where the Left floundered, and the task that lay ahead in politically reviving the Left after yet another electoral setback. “We have to consolidate the Left and democratic forces and that is our immediate task,” he said. Excerpts:
FRONTLINE: The Left Front’s performance in the panchayat elections has been poor. How do you see it?
Surjya Kanta Mishra: We had said before the elections that our target was to improve our performance in the 2011 Assembly elections, taking into consideration the votes obtained at the zilla parishad level in the panchayat elections. We are yet to receive the full results, and we will be making our analysis on the basis of the data we receive from the district level, as is our usual system.
Everyone knows how the State government was trying to defer the elections or have the elections without adequate security. Though the elections were finally held following the Supreme Court order, the directions of the Supreme Court, the High Court and the State Election Commission were not observed and no security was provided during the filing of nominations.
As a result, we were prevented by force from filing our nominations—not just us, but the entire opposition. Many were forced to withdraw their nominations even after filing. Their houses and families were attacked.
Finally, we were contesting in 86 per cent of the zilla parishad seats, 88 per cent of the panchayat samiti seats and 98 per cent of the gram panchayat seats. On the day of polling over 5,000 booths were captured and the elections were rigged. Ultimately, we could participate properly only in 70 per cent of the seats.
Again, on the day of the counting of votes, the counting agents in places like Bardhaman and Howrah were driven out and all sorts of illegal things took place. It is unprecedented that the Election Commission had to give orders for repolling after counting.
In certain places where we had been declared the winner, recounting was done repeatedly, and ultimately the ballot papers were seized and we were forced to go in for repolling.
Having said all this, I must add that that does not explain all the results. In some areas, peaceful elections were held and we did well, but in some we did not. We did not do well in the Jangalmahal area as we expected. Whether our performance was better than in the 2011 Assembly elections remains to be seen.
FRONTLINE: In the traditional Left bastions, such as Bardhaman, Hooghly and Pashchim Medinipur, where you were expected to stage a turnaround, you failed. But you did relatively well in unlikely pockets such as the Congress strongholds and in parts of Trinamool areas. How do you explain it?
Surjya Kanta Mishra: The ruling party targeted these areas because they knew we were strong there. It was done in a very planned manner. They saw no need to attack places where we were not so strong. As a result, even in places where we did well in the Assembly elections, we did badly this time.
But it is correct that we fared better in areas where we did not expect much. These were the areas where the attacks on us were not so concentrated.
FRONTLINE: Why is it that issues like the Saradha scam and the ruling party’s perceived intolerance and high-handedness, which were expected to work against it, did not matter much?
Surjya Kanta Mishra: It is not that we did not raise these issues; we carried out movements against all these issues. But it takes time for such things to take proper shape and alienate the government from the people. Two years and two months is not enough.
When there is a change of government, the people have certain expectations and they like to give it time. They learn from their experience, and this is very important. We want this government to stay for five years so that people can understand wholly the nature of the government, and more people learn more about them.
FRONTLINE: Do you think any organisational weakness that has crept into the CPI(M) is slowing down the turnaround process?
Surjya Kanta Mishra: Ours is a continuous battle against weaknesses and lapses. Rectification for us is a continuous process. We have admitted that we had weaknesses in three spheres—political, administrative and organisational—when we were analysing the results of the elections of 2009 [Lok Sabha] and 2011 [Assembly]. We will continue our rectification process.
FRONTLINE: With the Lok Sabha elections coming, what do you think is immediately required to revive the Left politically?
Surjya Kanta Mishra: We have always maintained that it is not simply for the sake of power that we wish to get elected to office. Power is very important in parliamentary democracy, no doubt, but our main objective is to see that we mobilise more and more people to change the correlation of the class forces in favour of the working class people.
What is most important for us to do now is to mobilise the working classes in the urban and rural areas, on the basis of their demands, and put our alternative—the Left alternative, the 10 points that the Left parties have declared in the Delhi convention—in place of the neoliberal policies of the Centre. We have to consolidate the Left and democratic forces, and that is our immediate task.
FRONTLINE: How relevant is the panchayat election results in foreseeing the Lok Sabha elections?
Surjya Kanta Mishra: I do not think the panchayat results will in that way influence the Lok Sabha elections, or can be used to forecast the Lok Sabha election results. For one thing, when the election is conducted by the Central Election Commission, it is an entirely different matter.
The Central Election Commission is much more powerful than the State Election Commission, and we can expect that the polls will be much fairer than what has taken place this time. At least we will be able to file our nomination and no one will be forcing us to withdraw them. And finally, we will not have the kind of counting we had this time. However, this election was important in that it helped us understand where we stand today.