'It is the start of a new era'
From almost being politically wiped out after the West Bengal assembly polls in 2006 to being touted as the woman who will single-handedly usher in the winds of change in the state in 2011, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has come a long way.
She initially made her mark as a Youth Congress leader, rising through the party's ranks without the backing of a political godfather.
To take her fight against the Left Front's rule to a new level, Banerjee broke away from the Congress in 1998 to form the Trinamool Congress. She has become one of the rare leaders who has thrived on her own after splitting from the Congress. Today she has not only taught the Left Front a lesson but also the Congress, a lesson the Congress's Rahul Gandhi will do well to imbine in his fight against Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh.
Her gut feeling and her political instincts have helped her survive and stay on top in her fight against the Left Front's decades-old rule in West Bengal.
In an e-mail interview with Rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt, Banerjee expresses confidence that the people of Bengal will vote for change after 34 years of the 'destructive rule' of the Left Front. Friday the 13th will show the nation just how much they have reposed confidence in her.
Now that the rule of the Communist Party of India-Marxist led coalition is likely to end in West Bengal, what kind of thoughts are on your mind? As a Bengali, what does it mean to you?
I like to think that it is the start of a new era. The past is so horrible -- so many people have been suppressed, killed and tortured in Bengal. The struggle has been immense. We want the people of Bengal to look at the future with hope. We have suffered enough at the hands of the CPI-M and their organised terror.
Image: Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee at a political rally
'I only wanted to be with the people'
When you were in your 20s, did you ever think that you will become a mass leader representing the voice of the Bengali people? Can you share how and when you realised that you have to go into public service and take up the leadership of poor people? Was there any turning point in your life that led you to this unbeaten track?
I never thought that I would enter such a large arena of politics. I started politics in my college days with simple dreams. I only wanted to be with the people, for the people and of the people. I did not take up any job after my law degree because that would not have given me time for politics.
In those early days, there was no giving up, no fear. There was only the pledge to take up causes that were good. From 1976 till 1983, we did these people-oriented programmes. In 1980, Indiraji (late prime minister Indira Gandhi) returned to power. From 1983, I entered a larger arena of politics.
My first Parliament election was in 1984. The stalwarts of the party were not willing to contest from Jadavpur (a constituency in south Kolkata). My name was proposed, so what could I do? I submitted my nomination paper as the Congress candidate for Jadavpur constituency. I would win -- but I was determined not to give an inch without a fight.
Behind my electoral victory was the important role of the common man. On August 12, 1990, in Delhi, Rajivji (late Congress leader and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi) told me, "I have waited for a long time. No more waiting. Take up the responsibility of the Youth Congress in West Bengal."
Image: Mamata Banerjee (left) with Congress president Sonia Gandhi
'I did not have time to dream'
Have your parents or teacher or any guru influenced you? Who has shaped your thoughts and your ideology when you were in your 20s and 30s?
My father, Promileswar Banerjee, was my idol. He is no more. Today, my belief about humanitarianism is all because of his outlook. I was only 15 when my father died at the age of 41. My elder brother was two years older. My father's death was a big shock and I still sometimes wonder what I could have done to prevent it.
Every individual has a specific goal and direction in life. I too dream of doing something that would make my father proud of me.
Later, Rajivji protected me like an elder brother. He surprised me one day by saying, "Some selfish giants are trying to malign you. Don't be scared. I am here. Whatever help you need, tell me about it."
What are the sweet memories you have from your childhood days in Kalighat? Why do you continue to stay in Kalighat? Will you stay there even if you become the chief minister?
I was a bit different from others since childhood. When I was in class 9 and my friends spoke of so many things, I would sit quietly in one corner, thinking. While in class 9, my friends talked about going to college, dressing up and clothes; I would just gaze at them. I had never thought of what I would do after schooling was over. I carried with me the worried thoughts of my younger brothers and sister. My mother had been unwell. I would get up at 3.30 in the morning, finish the entire cooking, get my brothers and sister ready for the day, and then, somehow, make it to school. Again, after school, I would rush back to cook the evening meal. I did not have time to dream about the future.
My mother and I still live together in our house in Kalighat. Before leaving the house, I always take her blessings till this day.
Image: Mamata Banerjee takes part in a rally to protest against the government's actions in Lalgarh
Photographs: Parth Sanyal/Reuters
'CPI-M has tried to hurt and kill me'
I know well that you are the great symbol of the 'anti-CPI-M' movement today, but can you assess the good and bad qualities of their 34-year-old rule? In your view, has there been any good factor in their rule?
What is there to say about the CPI-M? In three decades, they have turned Bengal into a bankrupt state. The people will punish them. It has been a very long and difficult struggle. They have tried to hurt and kill me many times. They know their only hope was to finish me. In the first few years they did some work, but after that it has been one big zero.
Many people think that the movements in Singur and Nandigram have given you the push that was much needed to take your movement against Left parties forward. Do you agree?
These movements of the people exposed the CPI-M. They have forgotten that it is the common man who votes for them. They forgot the promises that they made to the people of Bengal.
Violence, loot and rape have been their gift to Bengal. Singur and Nandigram are just two examples of the atrocities they have committed on this land. The Netai massacre, the Kashipur massacre...the list (of their atrocities) is long. Now is the time to look ahead.
Do you think your decision to leave the Congress and create Trinmool Congress has been the best move of your political career?The decision was necessary because the people of West Bengal needed someone to represent them, to fight against the brutality of the CPI-M. They wanted someone to represent them truly and honestly. Trinamool Congress gives them the opportunity for the same.
Image: A file photo of Mamata Banerjee at a protest rally in Singur
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
'People will not accept CPI-M's sorry'
It is very ironical that in Singur you fought against corporate groups like the Tatas, but now you have candidates like Amit Mitra and Manish Gupta, who are not only 'outsiders' but are identified with the same values that the Tatas represent. Isn't this action contradictory?
The fight in Singur was not against any individual company or industry. It was against the CPI-M and their disrespect for the farmers of Singur. The forcible acquisition of land was wrong. Our fight was against that.
You have said that you to want to take Bangal to new heights and you are not against industries. How will you develop an industry when the government doesn't have enough land or doesn't want to give away land for industrialisation? In West Bengal, 68 per cent of land is fertile and owned by small farmers. How will you industrialise the state when your land policy is not flexible enough to release land as per the industry's demand?
We will be guided by the policy of Maa, Mati, Manush (Mother, Motherland and People). We will ensure that we will work for the benefit of all the people. Why cannot both agriculture and industry prosper together? We will address the issue scientifically and prepare land maps. It will be clear what is agricultural land and what is industrial land. We have our plans.
Prior to the polls, CPI-M seems to be very apologetic. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is saying sorry for all their misdeeds. Do you think sentimental Bengalis will forgive them? Are you ready to accept their 'sorry'?
The people will not accept their 'sorry'. They will give their reply on May 13 (day of counting). (There are) only a few hours to go. You will see.
Image: Mamata Banerjee at a protest rally against the Tata Nano plant in Singur
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
'CPI-M has spread terror and fear'
What are your major plans to tackle unemployment in urban areas and poverty in rural areas?
We have detailed our plans in our vision document. Our mission is to rejuvenate the state of West Bengal. The Vision Document of the Trinamool Congress is on our official website (www.aitmc.org)
The migration rate of the residents of Bengal to other metros has skyrocketed noticeably in the recent past. How will the TMC tackle this internal brain-drain?
If the people start believing in Bengal, then they will stay here. In fact, if there is growth and development, people will come from other states to West Bengal. In the last 35 years, there has only been destruction: of culture, of pride, of industry and of agriculture. We will restore the confidence of the people. This is our first priority.
There is a predominant fear that violence will follow the declaration of the poll results. Do you think that will happen? Do you agree with the view that the CPI-M will be a formidable opposition?
The CPI-M has spread terror and fear in the state. So, there is nothing they may not do. But the people will not allow that to happen. We will maintain law and order in the state.
Image: A file photo of Mamata Banerjee during her visit to a cyclone-devastated site in Sunderbans
'CPI-M is the only beneficiary of the 34-year-long rule'
How will you deal with the agitation in Gorkhaland? Do you think smaller states have a better chance of development?
Dialogue is important to resolve any issue. Development is the long-term answer. It is not possible to have peace and happiness if there is no development. We will focus on solving the issue in the short term and in the long term. I will visit North Bengal in the next few months.
Mamtaji, the CPI-M alleges that you are "untested" in administration. Can you tell us your top priorities?
The CPI-M should be the last people in the world to give certificates for administration.
What are your big dreams for West Bengal?
Our first priority is to bring good governance to the state of West Bengal. For a long time, money and arms were diverted from development to other purposes. One party (CPI-M) was the only beneficiary of the 34-year-long rule. The people were forgotten. We will bring about a people-centric government.
Image: Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee with the Railway Budget papers
Photographs: Saab Press