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January 2, 1998


The Rediff Interview/Mamata Banerjee

'Kesri's Congress will be wiped out in the election, Sonia or no Sonia'

Even as Sonia Gandhi tried to broker a peace between Congress chief Sitaram Kesri and Mamata Banerjee, it was clear that the party's gadfly in West Bengal was in no mood to relent. After that, it was just a matter of time before Kesri expelled her from the party which hardened Banerjee's resolve to form the breakaway Trinamul -- meaning grassroot -- Congress.

In an interview with Tara Shankar Sahay, Banerjee discusses recent developments and underlines her contempt for the Congress leadership.

Is it not a fact that after swearing loyalty to Sonia Gandhi, you changed your tune and formed the Trinamul Congress?

(belligerently) What exactly do you mean?

You said earlier that Sonia Gandhi was your leader and that if she entered politics you would desist from forming a new party.

Ever since Rajiv Gandhi was killed, I was the only one in West Bengal who has unflinchingly fought the CPI-M in the state. Many Congressmen called me foolhardy, but I did not budge. I have been beaten up by CPI-M goondas. They keep on victimising me. But I have not given up the fight. In fact, I have intensified my struggle against Jyoti Basu and his Marxist government.

I let Soniaji know that I am totally disillusioned with Sitaram Kesri and his leadership of the Congress. But what did she do? She did not disclose her mind. Kesri expelled me and there was no word from 10 Janpath (Sonia Gandhi's home). You have seen what a tremendous response my Trinamul Congress has received.

When I am quite prepared to take on the CPI-M as well as the Congress, Sonia Gandhi has now entered politics. Must I destroy everything that I have achieved with my patience and hard work? The answer is an emphatic no. The Trinamul Congress is the real Congress and Sitaram Kesri's Congress will be wiped out in the election, Sonia or no Sonia.

People say you are being overly ambitious, even defying Sonia Gandhi.

I don't care. I waited for her to do something and prevent Kesri from illtreating me. Ami ekhon onek door chole gecchi (I have now gone too far.) Soniaji has come to campaign for the Congress but as far as I am concerned, her proposed visit to West Bengal will not have any impact because people will vote for the Trinamul Congress. People will not vote for the CPI-M, they are too disgusted with its corruption.

What happens if your party manages only a few seats?

Don't be presumptuous. You are not a fortune-teller.

Will you meet Sonia if she visits Calcutta?

Have you forgotten that I have an extremely busy schedule? However, if I run into her and if she approaches me I will put things in perspective.

What does that mean?

I will do some plain talking.

Some Bengali papers have reported that West Bengal Congress chief Somen Mitra has invited both Kesri and Sonia to come to Calcutta and campaign for the Congress.

(Loudly) So what! Heavens will not fall.

Don't forget that it was during the 1984 general election that you were given a Congress ticket by Rajiv Gandhi and that you became an MP for the first time. Sonia is his widow and she is bound to elicit response from the people in your state.

Too much water had flown in the Ganges since then. The CPI-M has been ruling the state for two decades and after Rajiv Gandhi's death the incompetence and indifference of the Congress leadership, both in West Bengal and the Centre, has made a mockery of the Congress. No wonder, it is the target of people's jokes.

The people expect somebody like me to show them the way. I am doing it and that is why I say Soniaji will not be an effective Congress campaigner, at least in our state.

You say the BJP is not a factor in West Bengal. Yet, you keep your party's options open regarding an electoral alliance with the BJP. You want to share power with the BJP, is that it?

What will happen after the election can only be known once the results are declared. But if there is a Trinamul-BJP alliance, why should anyone object if we were to share power?

So there is, after all, going to be a Trinamul-BJP alliance.

I cannot say anything at this juncture, A clear picture will emerge next week, hopefully.

Are you flattered that the likes of Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Ajit Panja are flocking to your banner?

I had said earlier whoever wants to join the Trinamul Congress to fight the CPI-M is welcome. Of course, I am glad that Ajit and Siddhartha Babu are under my party's banner.

How would you describe Mamata Banerjee now?

As a fighter of injustice and oppression, somebody who wants Bengal to regain its glorious days.

The Rediff Interviews

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