Transcript CPI-M Polit Bureau Member, Brinda Karat
Published on Monday October 27, 2014
Teesta Setalvad: Welcome to Communalism Combat’s Special Interview with Ms. Brinda Karat, CPIM Politburo Member, and Former General Secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, a Fire Branch Feminist and activist. So Good Morning Brinda, Red Salute to you.
Brinda Karat: Thank you.
Teesta Setalvad: This point we have talking about now August 2014, I just wanted to ask you for the younger people for the whole lot of Indian voters, what according to you is a relevance of the left in India today. Last 14, 10 years if you look it the organised let was above 60 (seats) then under 30 (seats), now we are under 10 (seats) in parliament. So how would you explain the relevance of the left.
Brinda Karat: Well, there are two things, one is why is the left under 10 today, so that’s a separate issue and the relevance of the left and I think if we stick to the question which we have raise about the relevance of the left then I would say just within the last two months of the Modi Sarkar we can understand the relevance of the left.
On three major issues, the first is livelihood issues, the issues of the workers, the issues of the working poor and already --I mean even before they get their breath-- the government has started the attack. The whole issue of revising labour laws which are now going to really open-up the labour market in a way to the extent of exploitation of workers which is going to be now, you know, sanctioned by law. The issue of contract workers, the issue of the de-regularisation of the work force which one any cases of process which is happening so that is one area. The second is if you look at some of the social sector areas, and you look at MGNREGA for example, look at the rule employment guarantee scheme. I am not saying that is the perfect scheme but no all, even in the way to is implemented but any government which comes to office with the promise a bringing something different to favour the poor, the first thing they do is to raise a debate as to whether MGNREGA is relevant or not. And they don’t give the money for it.
And then, thirdly, and I think very, very important thing if you just look at India, and you look at the social composition of India and you have a government with says we learn from the past and this is Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas. And within two months the triumphalism of the RSS and the Hindutva bodies and you see the kind of communal polarisation which is taking place; not spontaneously but because of a Hindutva agenda, planned and being implemented in state after state by the RSS and its organisations, then you understand that where is it and who was it, who fort relentlessly for the defence of the poor, for the defence of the rural poor, for the defence of social sector programmes, and for the defence of secularism in this country. It was a left and therefore the relevance of the left as each month passes, or each day passes, you see more and more the relevance of the left.
Teesta Setalvad: Now, if you could just explain that electorally what are we facing ? With this kind of neo-liberal, the entire shift of Indian politics towards a neoliberal fame work with in happen with the BJP, with happen with the Congress. And then you see an electoral also shrinking or space for the left. How will this fight back happen, when elections today are market driven? You have huge amounts of money being spent in terms of building up images, false or otherwise, in terms of whether it‘s your What’s App messages, or your SMS messages the entire campaign has become so Americanised, and means huge money. So, actually the planners and the movers behind the elections, are now not just the political parties but major corporate players. So in that situation, how will there be a fight back?
Brinda Karat: I mean that, I think is the absolutely most relevant question which you have brought into this discussion, because what we saw in this last elections, I mean it was unprecedented. Of course we’ve have seen the use of money (before) and it has happened, in state after state and even at the centre. So I am not saying Congress dhoodh ka dhula hua hai because they have done it. You know they started it. But the fact to the matter is what we see today is along with the rightward shift in politics, you have a much more direct role of Corporates in the Indian Political scene today in which the Corporates are determining whose is going to be in government. Now, whatever it was in a past we didn’t see this kind of a mobilisation and I think the utter failure of our system to prevent this. I mean the American system is based on it I mean it’s all open. You know the Corporate funding, the money they spending, and the more money you spend you know the better your stature is.
Teesta Setalvad: So what reforms do we need?
Brinda Karat: That is what I am coming to, so what I am saying is the Election Commission, when it looks at the Representation of People’s Act one very critical area here, is expenditures. Now, the kind of money which was spent on the Prime Minister’s, the now Prime Minister, the Prime Ministerial campaign (like the Presidential campaign in the States). And this was something to the tune of something like 5,000 crores rupees which is not shown at all in any of the election expenses.
So one is that…
Teesta Setalvad: And no authority neither Election Commission nor the Courts are going to question this.
Brinda Karat: Well, they don’t question it, a, because it convenient not to question it, because they can say you know the law doesn’t prevent them from spending this kind of money right now. So, that is apart from all the black money which came in. So, that I am not talking about that within the electoral framework today there is a huge bias against those who do not have money, like the Left. And, therefore, that itself its one of the greatest disadvantages. I mean for example, a party like AAP (Aam Admi Party) is now saying that we are not going to fight elections because ‘we don’t have the money’. And, yet, they had raised a substantial amount of money; but even they are saying that even that is not enough. So everybody knows, that look, money talks. So I think that is one electoral reform (that we need). Two also, this first past the post system is also something which does need to be reconsidered. And, we have been of the opinion that we must have a proportional representation system in India where percentage of votes also matters. The BSP in UP gets 20% of the votes and not a single seat; we get 31% votes in West Bengal and just two seats and the BJP at the centre gets 31% votes and 2/3 of the seats (in Parliament) so you know…
Teesta Setalvad: It’s completely illogical.
Brinda Karat: It’s illogical.
Teesta Setalvad: Now when we speak about coming back to Left politics which is a certain we have looking at the economy, looking at the political economy, a certain analysis a political economy and the gender feminist perspective’ I think you embody both in one sense, your work at the grassroots, even the book you had written. Is there a tension? Is there a need to keep making forays within left politics to assert the gender perspective. How difficult it is?
Brinda Karat: There is no doubt, that unless there is constant assertion; you see, what happens. it’s also period of, you know, not just competing perspectives because I think within the Left as far as gender is concerned it’s not so much which is competing perspectives but certainly it is a question of the prioritisation of issues. And what tends to happen or what has happened in the past with many of our programmes and our perspectives in our work is that we have attended to look at the gender aspect from an area where the Party comes out in support of this or that movement. Now that’s fine as far as it goes because we do want to support Women’s Group and Organisations in their efforts. But at the same time the Party itself has a very important role to play. And the Party’s political mobilisation --what we have been arguing is --that the political agenda has to expand, the political agenda has to shift, the political agenda has to change-- to make these priority issues. And I think that is where the assertion has to come.
Teesta Setalvad: And that’s why AIDWA grew from where it was to where it is now and is now, probably one of the largest Women’s Mass Organisations, probably in the world ?
Brinda Karat: Well, I think yes, except in the Socialist countries which had very large Women’s Organisations, perhaps in the rest of the world, yes. It is, as far as membership base is concerned, though I think the South African Women’s Organisation also has a very large membership. The point that I would like to make here is that AIDWA’s work is very independent from the Party’s work so we cannot, at all, say that AIDWA’s membership at all reflects you know the strength of the Left. We can’t say that because AIDWA is working with different sections of women on different issues and we have a much wider reach among women.
Teesta Setalvad: So the women in the Left are more imaginative?
Brinda Karat: Well, I won’t say that because if you look at any of the mass organisations, you will find that their membership was far beyond the Party’s. Because the Party has very strict rules about the engagement.
Teesta Setalvad: Post May 2014, when you now have a complete and clear rightward shift not just in neo-liberal economic term even in social religious political terms….
Brinda Karat: Absolutely.
Teesta Setalvad: Is the position that the Left is taking of being equi-distant from the Congress and the BJP, a wise one? Is it a repetition of a past mistake when it comes to the Bihar election ?
Brinda Karat: Well, I don’t really think so, because if you look at it, what has propelled the BJP into power ? What has propelled the BJP into power is the utter failure of the Congress. And the road of the BJP to power is littered with the failures of the Congress Party. And when I say, failure, I don’t really mean failure in the sense that they set out an aim and did not achieve it. What I mean is that their perspective which in very fundamental ways is the same BJP, Now for example what are you to think our party which has come out openly in support of privatisation of banks ? When a Congress was in government the BJP refused. Now the BJP is in government the Congress is very willing to play ball because the Corporates who’ve shifted to the BJP are telling the Congress, look you know, if you want to get back into play, so that entire …
Teesta Setalvad: am fully with you on the economic agenda. It was started in 1991 by Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh when he was Finance Minister. No, I am still saying there still appears to many of us to be a fundamental difference, when it comes to the social religious political agenda. That’s the communal agenda of the two. And this is not a battle, this is just understanding the issue- that the Centrist space that the Congress once occupied and which has today shrunk so badly….
Brinda Karat: Well, it’s not the job of the left to get the Congress to regain its Centre space….
Teesta Setalvad: No, but with the entire shift to the right…..
Brinda Karat: The job of the left is to shift Indian politics to an alternative path. And if that alternative path means fighting what the Congress did in the name of secularism. I mean the Congress was in front I know, Teesta that on every issue, even from 2004 when we were pushing the Congress to come out with strong legislations we should prevent a Gujarat, when we were pushing the Congress to take strong action which it could within the Constitutional frame work to ensure justice to those victims of Gujarat, the Congress did not move.
Teesta Setalvad: What was the steps on Gujarat that the Congress ought to have taken according to.
Brinda Karat: Well, firstly why should it have left the entire legal battle to brave individuals like yourself ? What was the Congress doing in the Supreme Court ? Why was the Congress not pushing those cases in the Supreme Court ? Why had the Congress just given up that space? The Congress was in government, the Congress had a responsibility, to intervene on that, on each and every case, where the Supreme Court, itself, was saying --that you know –we’re not sure that you are not get justice in Gujarat.
In such a situation, Congress sits back like a benign observer! I mean I won’t say malignant, but certainly a benign observer?! I mean is that secularism ? And is it secularism, for example, not to take into account, very seriously, the recommendations, of the Ranganath Mishra Commission, why? Because they were afraid of what the BJP was going to say? So I am sorry, I mean, the Congress (brand of) secularism is not a secularism which can be relied on. Although, I do see the difference between the an RSS- backed government and a Congress government.
Teesta Setalvad: Obviously.
Brinda Karat: And Congress, I mean I certainly see the difference.
Teesta Setalvad: Coming back to what other sorts of reform we need, you mention electoral reform in terms of proportional representation. Electoral reform in terms of money in politics. What about judiciary and what about gender budgeting, you talked to lot about gender budgeting in terms of finance planning and the political economy. I think AIDWA has about 50,000 justice centres, if I am not mistaken where you take up cases of women whether its domestic violence, khap panchayats, dowry etc.?
We find a huge hindrance in terms of genuine legal aid available for the poor, for women, for any disadvantaged section. And I don’t see the Courts doing enough about generating really good legal aid. What sort of reform to we need in terms of the judicial system and the police system maybe…..
Brinda Karat: I mean quite frankly Teesta, you are a person who has the most experience of the judiciary, since you’ve got so many cases in court, you would know how frustrating the whole judicial system is. And for us, because working with AIDWA, you know, well, since AIDWA was formed and also you know looking at the way that other social movements also have faced such a blockages and barriers.
One thing, see apart from the independence of the judiciary which neither the Collegium nor the Executive-- in fact both have been responsible for the present state of affairs.
Teesta Setalvad: Equally, equally.
Brinda Karat: But I think I sort of tend to agreed that you know giving full part of Executive even in terms of the numbers of the Appointing Committee, you know that’s really problematic. So we do have a situation, where we had suggested, that there should be a balance between the two and there should also be some independent expert voices of people who you know who are reputed to have played a very important role in judicial reform. So that’s the sort of thing we’re looking at.
But the other thing, is the bias. I mean the prejudice and the bias in the judgements against Women, against, in many cases Dalits, and against Muslims, against Minorities.
Teesta Setalvad: How do you address bias in the judiciary?
Brinda Karat: Oh God! I’ll tell you I mean…
Teesta Setalvad: I can’t even speak about it, because, if I do I’ll be hauled up…
Brinda Karat: I mean, some of the things that we’ve had to do, is just demonstrate at the courts, just make a public spectacle of it, just shame judgements.
Teesta Setalvad: The Bhanwari Devi judgement of the Rajasthan High Court…
Brinda Karat: I mean that Bhanwari Devi judgement! That was one. The other, was the most terrible judgement of the Delhi High Court, in which they said the ‘Dowry is an acceptable traditional practice of Hindu Communities’. Then, we had contempt of court case against us at that time and we had to fight the case. There are so many cases like that
Teesta Setalvad: And the whole issue of witnesses turning hostile? This whole issue ?
Brinda Karat: That is really…
Teesta Setalvad: No, I believe it because trials take so long that there is no time bound end to the problem inside...
Brinda Karat: That is absolutely critical is the time bound trial…..
Teesta Setalvad: People need closure and that closure will only with a time bound trial…
Brinda Karat: No, and not only that, because there is no monitoring of that case…
Teesta Setalvad: By the higher judiciary.
Brinda Karat: And therefore what happens is in a case which has very high stakes involved, in a case were powerful people are involved, in a case were politics rests on what happens in a particular case there are going to be instances again and again where witnesses are pressured and also bought out.
Teesta Setalvad: Should we not have a CCTV in the court room ?
Brinda Karat: You should have, yeah, but unfortunately…..
Teesta Setalvad: Not, I don’t mean media cameras. I mean CCTV’s just for the court to record how judicial behaviours happening so in case there is a problem the television….
Brinda Karat: I mean that’s the interesting suggestion, frankly I hadn’t thought of CCTV in the court but certainly I’ll tell you where going to come to a situation in this country is far so many cases are concerned. Where --forget the CCTV in a court, --what is happening and where they (defence, the powerful) are meeting witnesses and how they buying out witnesses and how they pressurising witnesses ? That’s really a very critical issue, One more thing I would just like to mention here is a number of innocent Muslims, who have been thrown into jail in case after case without evidence.
Teesta Setalvad: Who’s failure is it ?
Brinda Karat: Well, one it’s a undoubtedly is the failure of politics
Teesta Setalvad: So everybody’s responsible in that.
Brinda Karat: No, no of the ruling party, why everybody those who are doing it. The first thing, and then you don’t control the police, you don’t control your PRO’s of the police. The first thing they will say, and Ministers, in those governments where this is happening –I’ll include include Maharashtra and include the UPA Central Government, at that time. And BJP to hai hi hain. I mean before they’ve even reached the spot they giving names of all kinds of people (who are ‘responsible’) and all of them have to be in minority community and that’s why the Hindutva terror groups --you know so many cases -- they got away with it. Because you were arresting the wrong people and people were saying, ya, we want an arrest and therefore you give them an arrest. And you also put your communal bias right there
Teesta Setalvad: How many women are there in the Central committee and in the Politburo now?
Brinda Karat: Politburo still only one, and in Central Committee, of course its increased to now to 12.
Teesta Setalvad: So your battle was well fought.
Brinda Karat: I think it’s everybody’s battle….
Teesta Setalvad: Thank you, thank you so much Brinda, Thank you very much.