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October 4, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Mamta Banerjee

'When Vajpayeeji's government is reinstalled, naturally my party has to be repaid'

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. On late Saturday evening, a day before the polls in Bengal, this was evident in the Trinamul Congress chief Mamta Banerjee as she unleashed choice epithets against Chief Minister Jyoti Basu to a small group of journalists at her house on Harish Chatterjee street. The normally composed Mamta raved and ranted against Basu who had rekindled the controversy relating to her alleged procurement of a 'false doctorate from the non-existent East Georgia University', as the chief minister kept repeating to reporters.

When Basu called Mamta 'a 420 and cheat', she shot back underlining that 'he is a 840 who is looting the state in the name of the poor people'.

The Mamta-Basu verbal duels still elicit chuckles in political circles but they have long lost their novelty. Trinamul workers are fond of pointing out that Mamta fights at the drop of a hat and she drops the hat herself when the CPI-M is the opponent.

In an interview to Tara Shankar Sahay, Mamta underscores her strong dislike for the Marxists and Basu, and contends that her party is well set to dislodge the Left Front government's "misrule" in the state.

Your revulsion against the chief minister has surfaced on the eve of the polls. Does it indicate nervousness?

If it is the CPI-M in question, I will take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It is the CPI-M which is nervous and scared. We have consolidated our hold on Calcutta and the suburbs and we are now spreading in the rural areas. You know, my party workers inform me that Jyoti Basu has told his partymen in the rural areas that he will have their guts for garters if the Trinamul makes a similar showing there as my party did in and around Calcutta last year. That is the level of the chief minister's fright. That is why he is going around saying that if I became chief minister the state would perish. The point is, Jyoti Basu has read the writing on the wall and acknowledged the possibility of my becoming the chief minister. That should speak volumes for me, my party and for the fact that it has captured the people's imagination and support because of the non-performance of the Left Front government. Jyoti Basu has reversed the glorious progress of West Bengal by a 100 years.

The people of this state take pride in Bengal's culture and traditions. Does not the mud-slinging between your party and the CPI-M lower this image?

That is all right but who started it? Jyoti Basu and his CPI-M goons have been targeting me ever since I entered state politics. Why? Because they came to know that here was a person, a woman at that, who could upset their rosy existence and expose their tall claims regarding what they have done for the people of Bengal. So they unleashed a smear campaign against me.

When the people refused to buy that CPI-M line, Jyoti Basu instructed his corrupt administration to make me fall in line by force. It only strengthened my resolve to fight the CPI-M. I was hit with lathis and injured but I carried on the fight. The people got to know that I am fearless and strong-willed. They saw somebody who could spearhead their movement against the Left Front's non-performance. That is how the Trinamul is marching ahead. Unless you fight Jyoti Basu and his party with guts and resolve, he and his men get away with murder.

Jyoti Basu almost became the prime minister....?

Thank God for small mercies. Bengal, indeed, the entire nation, would have suffered if this man had gone to the Centre. With the kind of track-record which the Jyoti Basu government has, that would have been a sheer disaster. Frustrated in his pipe-dream of becoming the prime minister, Jyoti Basu's long saga of incompetence, non-performance and maladministration is reflected on his government. This has been going on not for five or ten years but 23 longs years. No wonder people want to see this government banished.

The CPI-M's organisation in the rural areas, especially its cadres, is legendary and that's one of the reasons why the Trinamul could not make headway in rural Bengal.

The fact is the CPI-M cadres have bullied and badgered the rural voters into toeing their party's and the Left Front line or face dire consequences. It is sheer blackmail and the rural voters don't have a choice because they are threatened by the CPI-M cadres. But all this will wither away because the people are fed up and they have seen that our party is in a position to meet their aspirations. Despite various constraints, I did my best to ensure that my workers prevent the CPI-M's goondaism in the 29 seats the Trinamul is contesting. It may take some time but I am determined to dislodge the CPI-M even in the rural areas.

Is there a possibility that the Trinamul will rebuild bridges with the Congress to fight the assembly elections in West Bengal in 2001 as is being talked about?

You are talking about what will happen two years later, I am concentrating on the present.

That doesn't answer my question. Do you foresee the Trinamul and the Congress joining hands to topple the Left Front government?

We will cross the bridge when we come to it. But right now, such a course is too distant.

You have just reaffirmed in your recent public speeches that Bengal will play a crucial role in reinstalling the NDA government headed by A B Vajpayee. If it is so, what is your party's pound of flesh?

The Trinamul Congress was born became I felt that the Congress was too steeped in factional fights and the CPI-M was gaining. Basically, my party is here for its due share in the national cake. I have struggled for 15 years to achieve this. You might have observed that because of this, the Trinamul is respected. So when Vajpayeeji's government is reinstalled at the Centre, naturally my party has to be repaid. I have demanded an economic package for West Bengal to undo the Jyoti Basu government's all-round non-performance. I am confident that it will get the package after the elections.

What about your nagging differences with the NDA leadership?

Whatever I have done is for the overall benefit of this state. My actions have been dictated by the pressing needs of West Bengal.

Why have you cold-shouldered the BJP's Tapan Sikdar in the Dum Dum parliamentary constituency? Is it a case of ego clash?

It is untrue. The Trinamul is extending all help to the BJP wherever it is fighting in the state.

But BJP workers in Dum Dum say their request to you to canvass for Sikdar in the constituency has gone unheeded....?

(Interrupts) The CPI-M is spreading all kinds of canards. You should ignore it. The CPI-M is so desperate that it is trying to drive a wedge between the Trinamul and the BJP in Dum Dum now.

How many seats are you expecting along with the BJP in West Bengal?

I don't want to give tantalising numbers. I had already told you that my party will give a better performance this time than last year. The recent flood situation in the state including Calcutta has further testified to the Left Front's non-performance. Here the CPI-M cadres cannot help because they don't have any magic formula to make the floods disappear. Water-logging is still widespread and you can hear the people abuse the Jyoti government. So don't be surprised if the Trinamul doubles its last year's electoral showing.

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