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'We believe in only one leader and that is Mamata'

By SWARUPA DUTT
April 12, 2021 17:02 IST
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'Mamata is synonymous with Bengal, its culture, language, traditions.'

IMAGE: Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee addresses an election rally at Baruipur in South 24 Parganas. Photograph: PTI Photo

Chandrima Bhattacharya straddles multiple portfolios in the Mamata Banerjee government.

She is minister of state for housing (independent charge), health and family welfare, land and land reforms and refugee relief and rehabilitation, panchayats and rural development.

At a time when the West Bengal chief minister has lost many leaders -- MLAs, MPs, gram and zilla parishad leaders, grassroots members -- Bhattacharya has never wavered from her allegiance to the party and its chief.

She is contesting from the Dum Dum (North) seat this election and reports say a bigger portfolio and more responsibility await her if Mamata scores a hat-trick.

Bhattacharya is also president of the Trinamool Mahila Congress, a spokesperson for the party and a member of its core committee.

Speaking to Rediff.com's Swarupa Dutt from her car while returning from her constituency, which goes to vote on April 22, Bhattacharya, below, says she has only one message for the Bharatiya Janata Party: Stay out of Bengal.

There has been an over 80 per cent turnout in West Bengal in the first two phases of the polls. Psephologists say a high voter turnout normally means an anti-incumbency vote.

It may be true for other states but not Bengal where historically we have always gone to the hustings in large numbers.

In 2011 and 2016, we had more than 80 per cent voter turnout.

Yes, in 2011 it was anti-incumbency, but not in 2016.

Let the phases end and we will have a good voter turnout and on May 2 the incumbent will form government.

What about Nandigram? It had an 88 per cent voting percentage this time, over 1 per cent more than that in 2016.
If Mamata is confident about a win from her constituency why did she reach out to a former TMC local leader in Nandigram?

That's because our polling agents were not being allowed in some booths.

So she called a former TMC worker and she had every right to do so.

Nandigram has always voted in large numbers and this time it's no different except that the winner will be Mamata Bandopadhyay, not Suvendu Adhikari.

Mamata Banerjee is bitter about the Adhikaris, calling them Mir Jafars (a historic betrayer) and dolbodlus (turncoats). Even Amethi, a Gandhi bastion for decades, went to the BJP in the general election in 2019.

The Adhikaris are who they are in Nandigram because of Mamata. Who even knew of them?

Purba Medinipur (Nandigram is located in the Haldia subdivision of Medinipur (East) district) has 16 seats. The people here will give the right answer to your question.

There is no question about the CM not winning from her constituency, she will in fact win handsomely, despite every effort by them (the BJP) to threaten and intimidate voters by calling on goons from other states.

Yes, they were from other states because they did not speak Bengali, but Hindi.

Mamata has blamed Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for the hooliganism in Nandigram and she is right.

Ever since the second phase, the PM and his party have been saying the game is over, khela shesh. There are still four phases to go, but don't you think perception politics can swing the undecided voter towards the BJP?

They do this during polls in every state; the politics of lies, violence and moral turpitude.

But Bengal is different, what may work in other states, will not work here.

If it was indeed khela shesh, why are they coming here every day?

That is why I'm saying the vote here is for the incumbent.

Khela ei toh shuru holo. The game has just begun.

A video recently made its way to social media showing Mamata Banerjee tapping her injured foot. The voiceover by a BJP spokesperson said the CM should 'stop doing drama over her injuries'. This adds to the BJP's narrative that the CM and her party cannot be trusted, isn't it?

Doctors have said she can and should move her foot now that two weeks are over since the accident. Tabler tolay giye ei kore ora. This is what they (BJP) do under tables.

Why are they so concerned about whether Mamata Banerjee's injury is real or not? What are they so scared about? Meanwhile, his beard and hair keeps growing! (Laughs) Next question, please.

But the TMC still believes the accident was a BJP-sponsored conspiracy?

Obviously, it's a conspiracy. There is a saying that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.

This is what we have been saying and demanding of the EC.

This was an accident but was it a result of a pre-concocted plot, that has to be seen.

Has it hampered the campaign trail? The CM has been everywhere, she hasn't missed a single rally, has she?

People understand the truth, you don't have to point it out to them.

But, yes, it's difficult. She can't walk yet, but she is going everywhere.

They can't keep Mamata Bandopadhyay down.

Has the PM, Amit Shah or J P Nadda (BJP president) called her expressing their sympathy?

They do not have the courtesy. Politics is at the political level, but courtesy has to be there.

Our CM has visited the former CM (Buddhadeb Bhattacharya of the Communist Party of India-Marxist) at his house and in hospital when he was unwell. These are courtesies.

These are normal in a democratic country where there is rule of law.

But these people don't know that because they are only interested in capturing Bengal somehow or the other.

Unfortunately their dreams will not come true.

The TMC has filed close to 70 complaints with the Election Commission so far on various issues including the charge that the polls are not free and fair.

People are not being allowed to vote.

The fact that the Election Commission is in cahoots with them is obvious from various instances across constituencies in the just-held phases.

How can the PM say khela shesh or khela shuru? Have they peeped inside the EVMs? Therefore a question mark hangs over whether the EC is indeed neutral and unbiased.

Just as the BJP has been trying to coax the woman voter to defect by drawing attention to crimes and violence against them, the TMC has made the woman voter central to its schemes. Mamata Banerjee always mentions ma-boneyra (mothers and sisters) in her speeches.
According to the new draft rolls, 3.73 crore voters are male, while 3.59 crore voters are female. Will women remain loyal to the TMC?

We are not BJP that we know before May 2 who is voting for whom, can we? Yes, half of the electorate in Bengal is women.

To Mamata Banerjee women are always important and not just as voters. Remember, Bengal is the only state in India with a woman CM. That is where we place women -- at the head.

We believe women will vote for us because we have over the past 10 years, with six schemes, specifically targeted women and girls.

Our manifesto promises ‚Äča minimum annual income of Rs 6,000 and Rs 12,000 for general category and backward community people respectively.

We have promised Rs 1,000 per month for widows above the age of 18 years.

What is the amount going to the bank of any beti in the Centre's Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme? Is any beti benefitting from the scheme? All their schemes are nothing but publicity campaigns.

Let them answer whether our Kanyashree was before Beti Bachao…, whether Ayushman Bharat is comparable to Shastho Shaathi which empowers women as the head of the family.

Ayushman Bharat was launched in October 2018, Shasto Shaathi was in December 2016.

They have copied a successful scheme from us and now they have the cheek to say we are not allowing central government schemes for our people?

We have our own schemes and we have better schemes.

Manusher taka manusher kache jaabe. The wealth of the people should go back to them.

Unlike the wealth of the people going to the PM Cares Fund which is outside the purview of Right to Information or audit.

Mamata doesn't work like that.

The CM earmarked a 50 per cent reservation for women in gram panchayat in 2012. The state wasn't going to the polls then.

Kanyashree was formulated in 2013. That wasn't an election year either.

When Shastho Shaathi was announced in 2016 December, the elections were already over.

We walk the talk at all times, not because of elections.

But what about the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme? The PM has said the TMC has refused to allow Bengal farmers to be beneficiaries.

Not at all. Who are the farmers who come under this scheme? Those who have less than two hectares of land.

We have brought all the farmers of our state, around 77-lakh, under the Krishak Bondhu scheme.

They were being paid Rs 5,000 per acre earlier, that was upped to Rs 6,000 and now in the manifesto it is Rs 10,000 per acre.

Under the PM Kisan scheme, farmers get Rs 1,214 per acre.

Let them look at what is happening in Delhi (alludes to the six-month-long farmers' protests). Our farmers are happy, which is why there are no protests here.

The PM didn't even find the time to meet the protesting farmers, who is he to talk about farmers' distress?

Let's talk about the Muslim voter which formed the backbone of your victory in 2016. This time, the vote is likely to be split with the Indian Secular Front and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen's entry.
Mamata Banerjee has also been asking Muslims not to vote for outsiders from Hyderabad (AIMIM) and to unite and vote for TMC.

We don't believe there will be a split in votes. Whether Hindu or Muslim, all communities will vote for Mamata Banerjee.

In fact, the tie-up with ISF puts a question mark on the CPI-M's commitment to being non-communal.

There is nothing secular about the ISF.

Like the appropriation of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the BJP has also attempted similar tactics with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Raja Ramohan Roy, Ramkrishna Paramahansa. Are you unnerved?

They are learning all these names now. They stumble several times while trying to say Vidyasagar's name.

They say Swami Ram Krishna Paramahansa. They don't even know how to address them.

They are children, let them learn. It doesn't bother us at all.

Mamata Banerjee's Chandi paath, temple visits, the drop in representation of Muslim candidates this election, is this an attempt to reach out to Hindu voter?

Mamata Banerjee has popularised the Durga Puja festival before the world; we were not going to elections then.

Mamata Banerjee went to several puja mandaps and chanted the Chandi paath and the Durga stotra (shlokas); we were not going to elections then.

Mamata Banerjee gave a dole of Rs 25,000 to each and every Durga puja organiser; that has been upped to Rs 50,000; we were not going to elections then.

We don't believe in appeasement to garner votes.

Yes, we believe in appeasement of every socio-economic strata of our people because working for their benefit is our job.

If they are happy, we know we are at least trying to make their lives easier and doing our job at the same time.

The BJP accuses us of minority appeasement.

The Constitution of India has laid down special rights for minorities as well; would they also call that appeasement? It is done so that minorities have parity with the majority community.

These people who murder the Constitution every day, point fingers at Mamata Banerjee.

She does not stoop to appeasement for votes.

Mamata Banerjee's father used to do the Durga pujo; they were not even born then.

It is our Durga puja. Mamata has been reciting the Chandi paath before Modi even became PM.

For them it is only Puja politics.

The BJP and its leaders have been incessantly telling voters that Bengal is unsafe for women. That there is an atmosphere of fear thanks to the TMC and its goons, they say. The BJP's mahila morcha chief Agnimitra Paul has gone on to say that the TMC is directly responsible for 80 per cent of crimes against women.

I do not know how they can make such allegations! Everyone knows that Uttar Pradesh leads in crimes against women. First, ask them to look at their own states.

They are confused. We are asking them why does their government in UP have so many crimes against women?

Every single day there are rapes, murders happening in Yogi's (Adityanath) state.

The BJP should be the last party to talk about security of women.

Yes, there are stray incidents that have happened in Bengal as well.

But do you know, Bengal was the first state to open a mahila court? Now, we have 51 such courts and it ensures woman gets justice.

I'm not saying crime is non-existent in Bengal; it's just not to the extent the BJP makes it out to be.

Bengal ensures that the interests of every woman in the state in the political, social or economic spheres are looked after.

So I don't think that their lies will work.

The BJP has modulated your rallying cry of poriborton in 2011 and calls it 'ashol poriborton'. Will they steal the thunder of 'Banglar nijer meye'?

Is that ashol or 'asol'?

First let them pronounce ashol correctly.

Let them learn the language, our culture, our way of life. Learning any language is an enriching experience.

But speaking Bengali by reading from a teleprompter only because you want to hustle votes will result in mispronunciations.

People are laughing at your attempts to ingratiate yourself into our culture. There is no point, leave it be.

And what is Asol Porbiton?

Poriborton has already happened. And they are looking at the poribortito (changed) people of Bengal.

They love this state so much that they keep returning here and faced with empty rally grounds make excuses of technical snags in their choppers (alluding to Amit Shah's rally in Jhargram on March 15.)

They have set up a huge office in Hastings but unfortunately it will come to little use after the elections when they will see defections to the TMC.

The Banglar nijer meyeke chai slogan, has it been coined by Prashant Kishor?

No, why? Prashant Kishor is a vote kusholi (expert). This is the party's slogan, it has nothing to do with him.

We settled on Banglar nijer meyeke chai because we realised that Mamata Banerjee embodies it.

She is synonymous with Bengal, with its culture, language, traditions.

As railways minister and during both her terms as a CM, Mamata Banerjee has taken a 1,000 cuts to save this state.

This is not fiction, or a political gimmick. Its history, you can look it up, the world knows this.

And mind you, we are not calling those who have come to Bengal from other states as bohiragato (outsiders) because they have assimilated themselves with Bengal.

We are calling people who come to shop in the vote bazaar as outsiders.

They only think of Bengal during the elections.

Have we seen them during the land acquisition movement in Nandigram and Singur?

During the Left Front government, in Bolpur's Ballavpur, where Mamata held a rally recently, the authorities were caught burning the body of a man. When asked they had said it’s a dog. That is how lawless this state used to be.

Were they there then?

Our heads have greyed in politics, we don't forget history.

Mamata has always fought against wrongdoings, that is why Bengal wants is own daughter to win.

As opposed to the BJP, which has been fielding a platoon of leaders during its rallies in Bengal, the TMC has only one recourse -- Mamata Banerjee.

So what? It is because we have Mamata Banerjee that we do not need anyone else.

We believe in only one leader and that is Mamata.

She built this party. All of us MLAs or MPs or ground-level workers joined TMC because we saw the work she has done for the people.

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