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|February 26, 1998|
The Rediff Election Interview/Mamata Banerjee
'Jyoti Basu is the biggest fraud, cheat and conman in West Bengal'
As February 28, the poll day for the Calcutta South parliamentary constituency, draws near, the crowds at Trinamul Congress
chief Mamata Banerjee's meetings are
perceptibly growing larger.
the gatherings for the other two main
contenders, Communist Party of India-Marxist candidate Prasanta Sur and the Congress's Saugata Ray, have become sparse
by any reckoning.
In this interview
Simultaneously, the gatherings for the other two main contenders, Communist Party of India-Marxist candidate Prasanta Sur and the Congress's Saugata Ray, have become sparse by any reckoning.
In this interview withTara Shankar Sahay, given over two days at meeting venues, the firebrand former Congresswoman explains her poll magic:
Your anti-CPI-M hysteria continues unabated. Do you think it will be enough to get you votes?
(Pointing to the large gathering) Ask these people, go ahead ask them. My Trinamul Congress was born exactly 52 days ago. In this short time, the people of West Bengal are joining my party every day. That is what has traumatised the Left Front government and sent shivers down the spine of the Congress. I have flatly refused to be conned by Jyoti Basu and his corrupt government. Instead of helping the people, the chief minister has sought comfort and luxury. You know, small children today are chanting, 'Twinkle, Twinkle little star, Thakurdada loves five-star'. They refer to Jyoti Basu as Thakurdada because he is 85 years old.
But Jyoti Basu's Left Front has been in power for the last 21 years. Don't you think this is because the people want him?
Arre baba, the people of this state are fed up with the CPI-M-led government because of its misdeeds. Jyoti Basu has been conning the people that his government has signed a memorandum of understanding with foreign companies and multinationals to the tune of Rs 300 billion. And you know what the reality is? After the chief minister wined and dined with the executives of the multinational companies in five-star hotels for three days, all he got was investments worth Rs 1 billion. Can you imagine the insult to West Bengal? And Jyoti Basu has the temerity to say he will get foreign investments worth Rs 300 billion! This is why the people know the CPI-M government will not generate employment.
There is a limit to giving false hopes and promises. And the chief minister is asking the people to vote for the Left Front government when the development of West Bengal has come to a grinding halt. All that you have is huge potholes on the roads. I have seem that with my own eyes while campaigning. That is why if children chant the parody to the nursery rhyme about Thakurdada, they cannot be faulted.
CPI-M leaders say it is you who is taking the people for a ride...
Since the spectre of a negative verdict from the people haunts them, what else can they say? The people are coming to me because they know I am sincere in my Bangla bacchao (save Bengal) campaign; about saving Bengal from the misrule and tyranny of the Left Front government.
What do you have to say about the CPI-M slogan 'Bish-brikha dooti phool, BJP aar Trinamul' (the poisonous tree has two flowers, the BJP and Trinamul)?
Jyoti Basu is the biggest fraud, cheat and conman in West Bengal. Where did his pseudo-secularism go when in 1977 he welcomed the Janata Party government in which Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the foreign minister? Then, his slogan was 'Hum dono hai bhai bhai, Jyoti Basu aur Atal Bihari Vajpayee' (we two are brothers, Jyoti Basu and Atal Bihari Vajpayee)!
Can you substantiate your allegations about the chief minister?
Arre baba, these are not allegations. Whatever I am saying is 100 per cent true, you can check it out. Recently when one Congress MP wanted Jyoti Basu to spell out how many plots of land he had sanctioned to his party MPs, the chief minister agreed. But he said in the same breath that he would also disclose the names of those Congress MPs whom he had sanctioned plots. So, you see, the CPI-M-led Jyoti Bosu government is a fraud and the Congress is its agent. That is why the people are coming to the Trinamul for succour and freedom.
Why did you choose the two-leaves symbol for your party?
That symbolises the grassroot (Trinamul). We are from the grassroot level. And that what I have faithfully depicted in the party symbol. I might add that the Election Commission offered my party the almirah and key and lock symbols. But I rejected those because the almirah denotes the millions of rupees looted by the Jyoti Basu government, the lock and key its answer on every front to the people's problems.
Why do you say the state government is unfair to your party in your campaign activities?
Yesterday a policeman wanted me to finish my public meeting in Dhakuria five minutes before the scheduled end, which was at 2200 hours. But my partymen have furnished proof that the CPI-M has been holding its election meeting outside its central office at Alimuddin street even at 2245 hours. You can see the unfairness yourself.
Your campaign appears to be a one-point programme against the CPI-M and the Left Front. Don't you have any issues?
I have repeated ad nauseam my party's issues which range from improving the lot of the poor to women's issues. But the crux of my campaign is to dislodge the Jyoti babu government. It has grown into a virtual goondaraj with too much tyranny and terror being unleashed by the CPI-M. Do you see the rushing reception accorded to me wherever I move around? That is because the people are fed up and want Jyoti Basu's government thrown out. They want my party to replace it. They want something fresh, something new, and that is why I am emphasising that if the people want to see me deliver the goods, the CPI-M government must be thrown out first.
Whom do you hold responsible for the recent attack on you?
Arre baba, the goondas and malcontents of the CPI-M, ably supported by those of the Congress. After all, the Congress in West Bengal has been reduced to the position of being the CPI-M's agent.
State Congress chief Somen Mitra says your party will become nonexistent after the election.
You have seen the support I enjoy among people. Do you even for a moment believe that the Trinamul Congress will not be a permanent player in West Bengal politics? It is the real Congress. When the Congress recently held its plenary session here, I also staged my party's rally. It was attended by nearly 1.5 million people (media estimates, however, put the figure just above 500,000).
After that, the Congress leaders including Sitaram Kesri and Somen Mitra are having sleepless nights. They know that Mamata is knocking on the doors of the CPI-M government. So they are trying to pretend that my party does not matter when the reality is that it has relegated the Congress to a position of absolute insignificance.
Don't you feel apprehensive that you are being targeted by both the CPI-M and the Congress?
Certainly not. Go and ask the people in Calcutta how many times I have been assaulted by CPI-M ruffians. Ever since I broke away from the Congress to form the Trinamul Congress, the Congress has also got into the act. You see, it suits them both. The people here support me and sympathise with me because they have seen a lone woman braving goondas to work for the people. So there is no question of being apprehensive about anything. In fact, it is the CPI-M and the Congress which should be apprehensive of Mamata Banerjee.
Are you confident you will get the Muslims votes after you party's alliance with the BJP?
Yes. I don't believe the BJP is communal. In any case, my party has its own distinctive policies and programme and I consider that my party is the senior alliance partner.
How many Muslim voters are there in the south Calcutta constituency?
Calcutta South has just over 1 million voters. Of this, I think Muslims constitute about 35 per cent. It is because of my deeds that I have struck a sympathetic chord with them -- that is why I am confident they will vote for me.
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