TMC’s Roy alleges BJP’s manipulation of the EC, and its use of money and muscle power are worrying issues.


New Delhi: Known to be very close to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, member of the Trinamool Congress’ (TMC) core committee and one of the most senior leaders of the Trinamool Congress and also the party’s MP from the Dum Dum constituency in West Bengal, Saugata Roy spoke to The Sunday Guardian on the multiple issues ranging from defections in TMC, TMC’s soft Hindtuva policy, among many other issues that revolve around the ongoing Assembly elections in the state. Excerpts:

Q: The insider versus outsider narrative is constantly being played out by the TMC. How much political and electoral benefit is this going to bring to the TMC, according to you?

A: I cannot comment about electoral or political gain. It is a principle stand that we have taken. Bengal should be ruled by people from Bengal and not by outsiders. We objected to the fact that a Gujarati released the election manifesto of the BJP for West Bengal election. He spoke in Hindi. These are matters of basic principles and that is what we have raised.

Q: But then, the BJP has been categorically saying that Bengal will not be controlled by outsiders and whoever will be the Chief Minister from BJP, he or she will be a son of the soil. How do you counter this then?

A: No, it is not the question of that. But the question is who will determine the son of the soil? It will be determined by the people from Gujarat and other places. So, decision making for Bengal is being passed on to the outsider by the BJP which is something we object to. Already, the campaigning, finance, candidate selection, everything has been done by outsiders.

Q: Over the last few months, TMC has witnessed large-scale defection of senior leaders, including MLAs and MPs, from the party. How has it affected the party from within?

A: Large-scale is a word being used by the media; it is not factual. We had 211 MLAs in the Assembly, not more than 20 have left us. Do you call 20 MLAs leaving as large-scale defection? Let me tell you, apart from Suvendu Adhikari who had little influence over some small area and his family’s influence, the defection of others is hardly anything to be bothered about. Most of the MLAs who have gone are all single constituency leaders who have no influence beyond their constituency and that too their positions there were not up to the mark, which is why they left. The TMC cadre has not left in large numbers and they have stuck to the party, therefore, there is nothing to worry.

Q: Most of these leaders who left have questioned the rise of Abhishek Banerjee within the party and expressed their discontent with him. So, is Abhishek Banerjee the heir apparent?

A: Abhishek Banerjee has still not been anointed as the heir to the party. He is an important leader of the party, because he is the president of the TMC Youth Congress. He is a Lok Sabha member; he is a popular party leader and has a mass base. That’s all. The rest are all journalistic additions.

Q: But from within the party also your leaders have expressed their discontent about his “unfair” rise in the party.

A: From within the party, no one has expressed discontent. It has only been expressed by people who have left the party and betrayed us; they are making such comments.

Q: Don’t you think that the allegations of corruption, and cut-money against the TMC are affecting the party in any way in this election?

A: These are all unproven allegations. If it has happened in any place, then in that local area there will be a counter effect. But we have no specific instances of where this has taken place.

Q: But then the TMC has somewhere acknowledged that corruption did happen and changed about 57 sitting MLAs to fight anti-incumbency.

A: Yes, we have changed a lot of sitting MLAs. We have eliminated those who were above 80 years old.

Q: What is the biggest challenge that the TMC is facing in this election?

A: The only challenge we are facing is the money power, the muscle power and ministerial power that the BJP has brought into the political spectrum of Bengal. The way the Election Commission is being manipulated by the BJP; these are some challenges that the TMC is facing. As far the people are concerned, there are no challenges.

Q: To counter the BJP’s Hindutva narrative, is the TMC also pursuing a similar strategy of soft Hindutva, evident from Mamata Banerjee’s recurring visit to temples and her recital of Chandipath at almost every public rally?

A: She always does visit temples and recites Chandipath. This is not new. Only that this is now being highlighted since the BJP is here. Mamata Banerjee is a devout Kali bhakt, she goes to Kalighat temple, she lives near the Kalighat temple and she inaugurates at least a 100 Durga Pujas every year where she also recites the Chandipath.

Q: Does the TMC worry about the entry of Abbas Siddiqui, (Peerzada of Furfura Sharif) and the ISF into the electoral politics as it could dent the TMC’s minority vote bank?

A: Abbas Siddiqui is propped up by the BJP. It is BJP’s effort to dent the TMC’s minority vote bank. Every Muslim in Bengal is aware of this and tell me, which Muslim would waste their vote against Modi by voting for ISF? They are not even a substantial force.

Q: What is the TMC’s biggest strength this election?

A: I think TMC’s biggest strength is its people. TMC is the only party which has got people in all the booths in Bengal, which no other party has. The BJP does not even have people in over 50% of the booths. Moreover, Mamata Banerjee is also our biggest strength, she is the daughter of Bengal and people of Bengal love her.

Q: So, is Mamata Banerjee winning from Nandigram? What is the internal assessment?

A: There is no doubt about her winning from Nandigram. We are 100% confident that Mamata Banerjee is winning from Nandigram.