Good governance of the last decade will ensure a third term for Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress leader says.
Ahead of West Bengal Assembly elections, Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Derek O’ Brien speaks to The Hindu on a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); the communal charge against the TMC; and the exodus of TMC leaders to the BJP.
Why is the TMC protesting against the eight phases of elections in West Bengal, considering the last time around, too, the polls were held over seven phases?
Since Independence has any State election been held over eight phases? The party with truckloads of money obviously prefers fighting the polls over 33 days. All the institutions are under the BJP’s control. Integrity surrendered, now just supine and grovel to please. These elections are not a fight for Trinamool or Mamata Banerjee alone, this is a fight for the Constitution of India. Those who believe in the Constitution , as it was enshrined, have to stand up now and be counted.
Consider what we are up against. In 33 days, eight phases, the ‘tourist gang’ will bring 24 Union Ministers, six Chief Ministers, their faithful allies the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), the ED (Enforcement Directorate), plus money power, government machinery, and a largely pliant media. On the other hand, what do we have? A woman who has worked hard for the people of Bengal for 10 years, touching lives. For three decades before her stint as CM, she has been committed to people’s issues. Who was the first to call demonetisation a disaster? Who fought for land rights? For farmers? For the oppressed?
By the way, what is U.P. CM Ajay Bisht — yes, that’s his name — doing campaigning in West Bengal when law and order is in shambles in his own State? The BJP are trying to divide this nation and if we don’t stop them, they will rewrite the Constitution.
You claim that it is an unfair battle, that the TMC is outnumbered in terms of artillery and money power by the BJP. At the same time, your campaign manager Prashant Kishore has been going all out claiming that the TMC is returning to power. How do you arrive at such conclusions?
The people of Bengal give us the confidence. It’s the ‘tourist gang’ versus Mamata Banerjee. That’s the choice. The other side have half a dozen aspirants scrambling for the CM chair.
The BJP are clueless about Bengal — they tell you Rabindranath Tagore was born in Shantiniketan; they garland the wrong statue of Birsa Munda; they desecrate the memory of Vidyasagar. Bengal does not want these ‘outsiders’. We warmly welcome all to come and live and work here. You can be Sharma, Ahmed, Gupta, D’Souza, Menon or Roy. You are not an ‘outsider’. ‘Outsiders’ are the bloodsuckers whose only aim is to sell fake promises during elections. They can do anything for it, divide society, create riots like 2002, and rewrite the idea of India.
The truth is, they do not have an answer to Mamata Banerjee’s remarkable work that’s touched lives. Measurable impact, not just talking in the air. Also, let me ask, who is their CM candidate? When I last checked, Modi and Shah were not on the list of MLA candidates!
Good governance of the last decade will ensure a third term for Mamata Banerjee. Our proposition is simple — Bangla nijier meyekei chay (Bengal wants its own daughter).
The TMC has been accused of unleashing political violence in the State ahead of the elections. How do you react to the charge?
Bunkum. This is a totally false narrative that the Modi-Shah spin machine have been building for the last six months to suit their campaign. They have been feeding this to the media they intimidate to control. I would humbly urge real journalists to come here and report the facts from the ground. We challenge the BJP to come and debate the real issues with us — health, education, agriculture, jobs, social schemes for the marginalised, the economy, rising unemployment.
The Left has accused the TMC of facilitating the BJP’s entry into Bengal, with the entire TMC campaign designed to target the BJP, so aren’t you yourself placing them on the prime perch?
The Left-Congress alliance will not win half a dozen seats in Bengal. They too have tied up with communal forces and also have a tacit understanding with BJP on the ground.
But why a BJP-centric campaign?
Ours is a people driven campaign — good governance; touching lives; our deep understanding of Bengal. But yes, the BJP is going to be the principal Opposition party in Bengal. So we have to expose them, their track record in other States. Who do you want us to attack? AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam)? NCP (Nationalist Congress Party)? RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal)?
Mamata Banerjee in many public meetings has been heard asking voters to not waste votes on the Left-Congress alliance. Is the TMC worried that they could play spoilsport?
We are quietly confident. We are focused on our positive campaign. We will see a Trinamool government 3.0 on May 2. The question is not whether we will win the election, the question is how good is the margin, that is what we are playing for.
How do you see the recent overtures made by the BJP towards the Matua community?
Modi-Shah run a divisive agenda. They have no integrity. Have we forgotten the powerful and poignant photograph from 2002, of a man pleading for his life with tears in his eyes and folded hands? That one image is not what India should be. I respect the positions of Prime Minister and Home Minister. But these individuals, no. Yes, you can get vaccinated to instil confidence among people. But why surround yourself with medical personnel who are from the four States going to elections? Must Modi’s picture appear on the digital COVID-19 vaccination certificates being issued to recipients? Is the Election Commission taking cognisance ?
Bengal’s Swasthya Sathi card started two years before Ayushman Bharat. All 10 crore people in Bengal get the card, irrespective of whether they are Dalit or Brahmin or Hindu or Muslim or Adivasi. When the State government provides a cycle to a student, they don’t check who you are. We work to bring in development for all.
The TMC has been accused of being communal, of following an appeasement policy. Furfura Sharif’s chief patron Abbas Siddiqui, among others, has said that the TMC government believes in giving alms to Muslims and not their rights. How do you react?
Yes, of course the TMC appeases. We appease women, children, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, migrant workers. The sad part is, people need to come here, travel [to] the interiors to see the truth. This tourist gang has come here to ask for votes, while we have been touching lives for 10 years here.
There has been an exodus of TMC leaders to BJP. The latest to go was Dinesh Trivedi, who said that the party is no longer under the control of Mamata Banerjee and, instead, a select few are running it. How do you react?
Great people talk about ideas. Good people talk about issues. Small people talk about other people.