National Exclusive: The CPI(M) was damaged by minority vote swing: P Rajeev
The former MP was defeated in the Lok Sabha rout faced by the CPI (M)
Kochi: By noon, the party office of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) at Lenin Center in Eranakulum, already had a deserted look. The party, which is in power in the state and had won 8 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 elections, faced a clean sweep loss on 23rd May, save for a win of single seat in Alappuzha. The dejected comrades sat before a television set showing their debacle with crowded graphics and numbers, none ready to open up to us. After waiting for hours, in a casual interaction, the district secretary of the party, CN Mohanan, spoke to Indie Journal in a resolute voice, “We know the conditions are not really great for us, but we will bounce back. It was almost expected.”
We asked him if we could meet the Ernakulum CPI (M) candidate, P. Rajeev, for a formal interaction with Indie Journal, a call and a cab ride later, we were facing the former Member of Parliament, who had just faced a defeat at the hands of the Congress candidate, Hibi Eden, a popular face in the Congress bastion. Rajeev, like many who have faced routs today, could have chosen to take time to lick his wounds, faced our questions readily.
Indie Journal (IJ) What went wrong? Why did the left perform so bad?
P. Rajeev (PR): The Bhartiya Janata Party had pushed the minorities in a corner. The Congress was able to successfully consolidate these minority votes towards them. Kerala usually votes over national issues more than local ones. The fear created by the RSS and the BJP, had emphasised the importance of ousting the Modi government out of power and for that they needed to vote for the party which had chances of forming the government at the center as the single largest party would be offered that chance. The people of Kerala chose the Congress as that alternative. We suffered at the hands of minority vote consolidation.
IJ: Do you suspect the EVM?
PR: There is a possibility, but no one can say anything for sure. Only the VVPAT verification might tell us the reality. EVM manipulation is too smart a way of voter fraud for the BJP. They would rather indulge in booth capturing.
IJ: But do you think that the CPI(M) has historically fallen short of understanding the mood of the public?
PR: The last elections were polarised. We raised many struggles all over the country. Here in Kerala too, we continued our struggle for secularism and other issues. We took a strong stand on Sabarimala. But these stands were projected as anti-Hindu by the RSS-BJP. So one one hand we had the majority Hindu voter being misled and on the other we had the minorities cornered. In such a polarised election, it was difficult for the CPI(M) to change the mood. We fought for our principles and we failed while doing that.
IJ: Do you think the Congress has been serious about secularism and fighting fascism?
PR: It does not matter what I think, but if we look beyond the hype of the media, we can see that after Kamal Nath took to power in Madhya Pradesh, his government was the one to arrest few muslim boys in the name of Cow smuggling. The Congress was the one to ban cow slaughter in many states across the country in 1992. There was a strong feeling of fear in the minds of the minorities about Modi’s re-election and because of the media propagation, the Congress was the alternative in their minds.
IJ: Identity politics has always been a weakness of the Indian Left, then why has it failed to adapt?
PR: The Left can address the issues of the identity but it cannot indulge in identity politics because it simply does not allow for an ideological struggle. Identity politics says that if you are not a Dalit, you cannot understand the issues of Dalits, if you are not from the LGBTQ community, you cannot understand their issues. Though Left must address the issues of identity and we have. We have made provisions for cheap housing for people from LGBTQ community, employment opportunities for them in our Metro projects and several other accomodations for representation. In our renaissance movement after the Sabrimala issue, we strengthened our ties with Dalit organisations.
IJ: But how much do you accept the criticism of not having Dalit leadership in you ranks?
PR: We must and we are striving to purposefully create that representation in the party but that cannot be the only basis of someone’s politics. Mayawati has been in power in Uttar Pradesh but that has done little to fundamentally eradicate the issues of the Dalits. Identity will not be the answer to all the issues of the oppressed, but now we are trying to improve on that front too. Now we have three members from the Dalit community in our state committee, we have increased women representation too.
IJ: While other parties project themselves on national scales, why is the Kerala left so self-engrossed? Why has it failed to sell the Kerala model on a national scale?
PR: We have tried doing that. We have kept the Kerala model of development in contrast of the BJP’s model of development in Gujarat. We have defined development through the availability of Human rights like access to water, health, education etc. Our Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, recently presented the Kerala human rights based model at a conference in Geneva. But again, the corporate-conglomerate owned media fails to project these achievements. The media has its interests in that kind of development.
IJ: The Kerala left has so many young leaders, why could there be no one like Kanhaiyya from Kerala?
PR: Kanhaiyya is the product of a certain situation. One cannot cause changes only on personality. Kanhaiyya lost the election. On the other hand, me and my colleague MB Rajesh, both raised so many issues in the parliament and yet we lost too. Yes we have many young leaders, but Kanhaiyya could garner that kind of attention because of the conditions that created him. In addition, our leaders have the barrier of the Hindi language. To project themselves on the national level, it is not easy to overcome that barrier so easily. Leadership cannot be in the end, projected. It must come from the struggles at the ground level.
IJ: So what next? How will the Left recover this debacle?
PR: We faced a similar debacle in Kerala in 1977. The whole country was voting against the Congress after the emergency, but Kerala had something else in its mind. But soon after, the Left recovered in the local body election. Now we go to vote for the local body elections next year and we are sure that we will make a great comeback. We need to work with the people and build larger struggles based on issues and on secular principles.
IJ: You think secularism still has an appeal in the voters?
PR: I rather think it has become much more important in these times. The voters in Kerala are very aware and principled. They have voted for the Congress for the secular line. The next five years will be a challenge for the declining fabric of democracy. The institutions have already been destroyed and the attack on the institutions will be much more aggressive and in these times, there need to be unified people movements to defend these attacks.
With inputs from Viplov Wingkar