Trinamool MLA Sikha Mitra lashes out at party leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in this exclusive interview with Rediff.com's Indrani Roy.
Friction within the Trinamool Congress resurfaced when Sikha Mitra (left), a member of the West Bengal assembly, vociferously criticised the 'dictator-like approach' of TMC supremo, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Mitra has reportedly been suspended by the party; she says she has not received any official intimation from her party.
In a candid conversation with Rediff.com's Indrani Roy, Mitra -- whose husband is TMC MP Somen Mitra -- explains why she has decided to speak up against Banerjee and the TMC.
You are not happy with your party leadership any more...
No. The Trinamool Congress does not have a democratic structure. It's a one-woman dictatorship. It's impossible for a free spirit like me to continue working here.
I feel claustrophobic. Every minute, one has to listen to some diktat or the other.
Could you please elaborate what exactly do you mean by diktats?
Recently, all party members received an SMS from (Bengal Commerce and Industry Minister) Partha Chatterjee with an 'instruction' to get his approval before speaking to any electronic media.
Are we living in India or are we the residents of a country ruled by the Taliban?
It is not easy to speak out against one's own party high command...
I am the daughter of Nripendra Chandra Chowdhury. He was a freedom fighter -- a man of infallible principles. He did not even apply for the freedom fighter's pension as he felt it was unethical for a solvent person like him to accept it.
I grew up amid stalwarts from the political world -- Prafulla Chandra Sen, Ajoy Mukherjee, Sushil Dhara, Pratap Chandra Chunder, Vinoba Bhave et al. My political ideology evolved out of my association with these luminaries. They taught me to be truthful and to speak my mind.
I was forced by my conscience to raise my voice against my party high command's high handedness.
Somenbabu (Somen Mitra) has always had good ties with the Congress. What made him join the TMC?
It was I who brought him to the TMC. He has always been a prominent Congress leader. Through him I had come in contact with (then prime minister) Indira Gandhi. I had met Soniaji (Congress president Sonia Gandhi) too.
Once when my husband was seriously ill, Soniaji helped us immensely by arranging for his treatment. After he got well, my son and I had visited her to express our gratitude.
However, for the past few years, my husband's ties with the Congress got weakened and he was feeling very low. It was at this juncture that I urged him to join the TMC.
Had I known things would be this suffocating here, I would have never taken that step.
I heard Mamata Banerjee came visiting prior to your joining the party.
Yes, of course.
The honourable chief minister, along with (Rajya Sabha member) Kunal Ghosh did pay us a visit.
Things were different then.
What led to the rift?
I think my self-respect and individuality had not gone down well with the party chief.
Soon after winning the election in 2011 and after becoming a member of the assembly, I came to realise that mine was an ornamental post and that I would not be able to do anything on my own.
I was shocked. After all, I was elected by the people. I was supposed to work for them. I couldn't afford to act like 'Popo the Puppet'.
I first voiced my grievances at the Pradesh Congress Party headquarters on the occasion of former chief minister Bidhan Chandra Roy's birth anniversary on July 1. Following this, Partha Chatterjee started hurling insulting, almost abusive, comments at me.
I was left with no choice, but to file a defamation suit against him.
What is the status of that suit?
The next hearing is in January. I have complete faith in the judiciary and do hope to get justice.
How is Somenbabu reacting to your stand?
He is extremely supportive. We have known each other for years. He trusts me. He not only backed my comments, but also told the media that he did not know why the TMC was suspending me.
You have often said you hate Mamata Banerjee's way of blaming the Left Front government for everything.
The amount of debt that the Bengal government had on its head was a well-known phenomenon. When respected Ms Banerjee became chief minister, she knew she would have to deal with this liability.
What surprised me, therefore, was why she was making this debt issue an excuse for lack of development in the state?
I couldn't understand why she was referring to the Left Front's misdeeds at the drop of a hat.
The Left had lost the people's mandate following which the TMC had come to power. The onus now rests on Banerjee and her party to improve the state of Bengal. Isn't it?
I felt it was meaningless to harp on the Left Front's misrule.
What is your say on the recent brawl between MLAs in the Bengal assembly?
Whoever instigated the incident, irrespective of the political party s/he belongs to, should be shunned from politics. I condemn the episode.
In fact, I am now scared to attend the assembly. Who knows, I might be the next to get injured.
How does it feel to be suspended by the party?
This is another strange aspect. The whole world knows about my suspension, but I am yet to get an official letter.
If I am suspended, why was no show-cause notice issued to me? This is a democracy, right?
Here, even a terrorist like Ajmal Kasab is allowed a fair trial.
But in this same country, a party like the TMC suspends a member without even giving her a chance to read out her side of the story. It's a pathetic situation.
How are the people of your constituency reacting to our rebellion?
They are supporting me wholeheartedly. I am receiving thousands of phone calls and messages from people expressing their solidarity. I am touched.
Do you think your stand will affect Somenbabu's political career?
Somenbabu has won seven elections so far. He is a much greater leader than me. He has groomed so many MPs and MLAs. He is a born organiser and mobiliser, someone who can die for his association.
He never wanted to leave West Bengal. But he had to after he became an MP. My political decisions, therefore, will never have any impact on him.
What will be your next course of action? Have you received any calls from other TMC dissidents?
No. Only common people have called me to boost my spirits.
Do you feel a split within the party is imminent?
Let me get the suspension order. It would be improper to make any predictions at the moment.
What would you do if Mamata Banerjee offers an olive branch and invites you for a discussion?
Discussions and deliberations are important pillars of any democracy. If such an opportunity comes my way, I would approach it positively.