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July 17, 2008

West Bengal, at the moment, is divided into two easily discernible camps -- one that supports Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee's refusal to put in his papers, and another that doesn't.

Whether his action is approved or disapproved, Chatterjee has overnight become a 'hero' among Bengalis, a clan that is intrinsically drawn to rebels with or without a cause.

And the common sentiment of the residents of this state found a voice in West Bengal's Sports, Transport and Youth Affairs Minister Subhas Chakraborty.

Turning to the reported move by the Communist Party of India-Marxist to seek Chatterjee's resignation, Chakraborty, regarded as a protege of CPM patriarch Jyoti Basu, said recently: "The post of Speaker has its sanctity and is above party politics. Chatterjee was elected unanimously by the members of all political parties".

"The Speaker's case should not be viewed as a CPI-M party affair," he said.

Chakraborty also blamed CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat for creating a situation where the Left would have to vote with "communal" Bharatiya Janata Party against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.

A day after, Chakraborty was showcaused for questioning the party line in public and asked to explain his remarks on the party's stance over the trust vote in Parliament on July 22.

His comments will also come up for discussion at the CPI-M state secretariat meeting on July 18.

But the show-cause hasn't ruffled Chakraborty a bit. Or that is what transpired from the long conversation he had with Senior Associate Editor Indrani Roy Mitra at Kolkata's Writers' Buildings on Wednesday afternoon.

Donning his trademark white cap, the maverick minister shared his thoughts with on the present political imbroglio, economic crisis, CPI-M's dilemma and many other issues.

The CPI-M central committee seems extremely irked by your comments. Do you still stand by what you said?

Of course I do, though I don't want to repeat the comments that led to the controversy.

Our respected comrade the late Pramod Dasgupta had once told me: 'Never trust a journalist even if he or she is your own blood'. And he could not have been more right.

On Monday, while I was having a conversation with a few local television journalists here at the Writers' Buildings, I made those comments essentially off the record.

I had categorically asked the scribes not to make them public, to which they nodded. But within an hour, my comments were being beamed everywhere.

Is this journalism?

How do you plan to reply to the show-cause?

Why should I reply? The central committee has demanded an answer from the state unit. Let the latter decide. I have decided to be nonchalant about it.

In politics, one has to take things like these in one's stride. I am ready to face any eventuality.

Don't you think commenting publicly against the party diktat is wrong and you should apologise?

Why on earth should I apologise? What did I do? I have been like this all my life. I only listen to my inner voice and do what I feel is right.

Don't forget, it was I who had led a team of thousands to gherao the Dum Dum airport to prevent former United States Secretary of Defense and World Bank President Robert McNamara from entering Bengal. That time, I had defied Pramodda (Dasgupta)'s orders.

It was I who had cremated the body of a religious leader Balak Brahmachari after freeing it from the custody of the religious guru's 3000-odd disciples bent on establishing a 'false' theory of reincarnation.

I was the one who had had a leading Bengali daily's office vandalised because it had defamed Jyoti Basu.

I am a braveheart and am never scared. I have always swum against the tide and have never stooped.

What do you think the UPA's fate will be at the July 22 trust vote?

Can't say. I am not an astrologer. However, I can only tell you that whether the UPA wins or loses the trust vote, the state of the common people of this country is not going to change for the better.

Do you approve of the Left's decision to withdraw support at this juncture? Don't you think its stand has led to the possibility of mid-term election on an economy already reeling under inflation?

The Left's decision is led by its ideology. I should not comment on it. But I do agree that a mid-term election would be a burden on the economy.

What is the reason for CPI-M's poor show at the recent panchayat polls?

These things happen in a democracy. You win some, you lose some. The party leaders are reviewing the situation and I am sure they would come up with a winning solution.

Also, please get rid of the impression that the CPI-M  faired miserably in the panchayat polls. It did lose a few important seats but the media chose to blow that loss out of proportion. The CPI-M still continues to be as strong as before in Bengal.

Please don't have any misconception whatsoever.

Apart from the present political crisis, inflation is the other most-talked about issue. Do you blame the UPA government for this economic crisis?

Of course I do. It is the Centre's faulty policy that has created this helpless situation. Our economy suffers from a severe imbalance. Here, an IT executive earns a few lakhs a month whereas a Cabinet minister's monthly salary happens to be only Rs 65,000.

Just think, there are 2.5 million people in this country who earn over a crore of rupees (Rs 10 million) per annum. Don't you think that's a bit too much for a country that still has millions who can't have two square meals a day?

Think of the recent Indian Premier League [Images] cricket tournament. I have nothing against the game. But somehow I cannot accept the fact that a cricketer is awarded an astronomical sum for just having hit a few sixes and fours.

Similarly, I see no justification in a filmstar getting a fee as high as Rs 20 crore (Rs 200 million) for signing a film.

Shouldn't there be some restrictions or control over this 'free' and 'easy' flow of money?

Has your government discussed the issue of inflation with the Centre in recent times?

I wrote to (Commerce Minister) Kamal Nath a few weeks back wherein I mentioned clearly inflation can never be tackled unless the government came up with some drastic steps to regulate flow of money in the following sectors: power, steel, cement, land or real estate and human cost.

State governments too have to take conscientious steps to reduce sales tax and other duties.

Only then can the spiralling prices be brought down.

When a fungus affects the roots of a tree, the roots need to be treated, cutting the tree's branches won't help.

It is often said there is a Bengal versus Kerala [Images] lobby in the Left. Is it true? 

(Smiles) I am not aware of it. What I know is that every state's ruling government has an influential lobby at the Centre. But West Bengal has none.

Would you approve of the Left's voting with the BJP if the latter sheds its communal tag?

(Pauses and then roars with laughter) A non-communal BJP? You must be kidding!

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