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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

INTERVIEW
'Coalitions Are Best'

Powerbroker Jyoti Basu gives his political vision


AT 82, JYOTI BASU is the grand old man of Indian politics. For nearly two decades he has been chief minister of West Bengal state, where his Communist Party of India (Marxist) leads a coalition government. Over the years, Basu has moderated his once un-compromising attitude toward foreign investment. He has also emerged as a powerbroker at the national level because the CPI (M) is a key component of the National Front-Left Front. Basu talked with Contributor Ruchira Gupta about how the elections have changed India's political landscape. Excerpts:

Are coalition governments at the national level here to stay?

A coalition government best reflects India's federal nature. It will represent the emerging social alliances and will also give greater voice to regional parties. It is a big step toward decentralization and better center-state relations.

But aren't they unstable?

We, as a coalition, have been in power for 19 years in West Bengal. Why cannot regional parties pull together and hold a coalition? It is more representative of a federation, after all. If the leaders can get together and, instead of looking after their own interests, look at the interests of their people and of their country, it can be done. West Bengal proves it. It is difficult but it can be done. In any case, one-party rule will not work in India anymore.

Is there a need for electoral reform -- perhaps representation based on a percentage of total votes rather than on a winner-take-all system?

One has to think about a change in the system. Parliamentary democracy is very weak in India. It is not on a firm foundation. It can be tampered with by extreme rightwing and revivalist forces to represent the opinion of the Hindu upper castes rather than the general will of the people. That is why a Hindu revivalist party is a big fear. That is why we were trying so hard to keep them out of power.

Where does the National Front-Left Front stand on economic reform and foreign investment?

Congress's economic policies are destroying the nation. Our own industries are being closed down and advantages given to foreigners. They are weakening, even writing off the public sector, which was built through hard work and perseverance over years. Now the government wants to dismantle them. We have to give the advantage to our industrialists and to our public sector. It can still work if we bring the workers into our confidence. Productivity will go up. The other priority is land reform. Our alliance is based on the oppressed classes and castes. Issues of social justice bind us.

What about corruption?

The law will take its course on corruption. We will not dodge corruption issues.

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