'No right thinking student of politics can name one state where the BJP gains in double digits.'
On May 14, violent clashes between Trinamool Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party workers during Amit Anilchandra Shah's roadshow in Kolkata and the desecration of a bust of Bengali rationalist and icon Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, inadvertently led to the defining moment of the ongoing Lok Sabha election campaign in West Bengal.
It was an attack on the citadel of Bengali culture and heritage, a confrontation by the 'bayrer lok', or outsiders, with Bengal's ethos and pride.
When Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi blamed the TMC for the desecration, a fiery Mamata Banerjee said he should be made to do sit-ups.
Derek O'Brien, the TMC's parliamentary party leader in the Rajya Sabha, went a step further and called the PM and BJP President Shah 'lowlife' and 'pathological liars'.
In an interview with Rediff.com's Swarupa Dutt, O'Brien justifies why he used such such language against them.
As the seven-phase elections end on Sunday, May 19, and just ahead of the results on May 23, O'Brien, below, is confident of the TMC upping its seat count in the state -- 42 out of 42.
And at the Centre?
Here's his verdict: "You have to have 272 seats to prove a majority... Forget BJP, not even the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) will get those numbers."
Now that the Lok Sabha polls are done and dusted, what is your gut feeling? Who do you see forming the government?
Modi, Shah are out.
The alliance of Opposition parties, the Mahagathbandhan, will form the government.
People do not want Modi, Shah. They are like the bullies in school. If you take on the bully, you realise the bully is a kid.
They are putting on this great machismo, but underneath there is no foundation.
Modi, Shah know they are going to be ripped apart in Uttar Pradesh, they know what they are capable of in Bengal -- only big talk.
You give me the name of one state where the BJP can gain 10 seats or more.
No right thinking student of politics will be able to name one state where the BJP will be able to gain in double digits.
I can name many states where they will go way below their 2014 number and they are in the public domain.
So if, as you say, the BJP will not form the government, who will be the PM from the mahagathbandhan?
Tell me, where in the Indian Constitution does it say that you have to declare your PM candidate?
Don't worry. The BJP will be the single largest party, but so what? So what? You have to have 272 seats to prove a majority.
If Modi and Shah stand on their heads they won't get that number.
Forget the BJP, not even the NDA will get those numbers.
If you say the BJP will be the single largest party, how many seats do you give your party?
I'm not a psephologist. The people of India will decide. But I would say 42.
The last time I counted there were 42 seats in Bengal .
That pathological liar says he is going to get 23 seats in Bengal. Let's wait, no, because 2+3 is also 23.
You have always been judicious in your choice of words. But the Derek O'Brien we have been hearing on TV and reading on Twitter is markedly different since May 14 when Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's statue was desecrated and you called the PM and Amit Shah pathological liars and used #lowlife on Twitter.
Are you still angry? Have you moved on from the incident?
There is no question of putting the incident behind us. Anybody who has any inkling of Bengal's culture, heritage, ethos, its politics, its youth and its education cannot ever put this incident behind them.
It's bad enough that you do this to students who are just standing there with black flags and placards, but what is worse is the next day you go back to Delhi and try to justify it and pass on the blame to someone else!
That's why I called Modi, Shah what they are, and mind you not in a state of anger. They are pathological liars.
Have you forgotten that this combination of pathological liars had promised Rs 15 lakh in everyone's account in 2014?
The same pathological liars had said that terrorism would end with demonetisation. As would the scourge of black money.
Somebody has to speak to them in a language they understand because they are lowlife.
Their idea of India is the wrong idea of India.
Somebody passes a comment on Nathuram Godse and they say they need 10 days to decide what to do with the person!
They are trying to use make-up, but they have blood on their hands after the 2002 Gujarat riots.
They are trying to install the Gujarat model of riots in Bengal and everywhere else.
They will not succeed.
So, what has the PM's legacy been -- has he been divisive or a unifier?
In 2014, before the Lok Sabha elections, I used the phrase butcher of Gujarat. I didn't use it in a fit of anger.
This time I used the phrase pathological liar. Again, I've not used it in anger.
The people of India are watching. But it's not even about the phrase I've used.
It's a very clear election. There are only two ideas here. One: You either vote for the idea of India or you vote for Modi and Shah's idea of India.
That's it, that's what's up for voting. That should answer your question on legacy.
What is their idea of India as opposed to yours?
I will give you my idea of India in one sentence: Follow the Constitution in letter and spirit.
My idea of India is being able to exercise my democratic rights to protest in Parliament before the session starts, being able to go with my colleagues and stand in front of Mahatma Gandhi's statue and mark my protest using placards or a silent protest.
What is their idea of India? They want to glorify the person who killed Mahatma Gandhi. That's the difference.
My idea of India, our idea of India, is to reach out to everybody and to work together. That is why this coalition will work together.
My idea of India is not to make a little club of corporate honchos.
I come from a state called Bengal and I can tell you something, there can never be a Khudiram Shah or a Khudiram Modi. There will never be.
(Khudiram Bose was a Bengali revolutionary who, along with Prafulla Chaki, attempted to assassinate a British judge by throwing bombs at his carriage. While Prafulla committed suicide before the arrest, Khudiram was arrested and sentenced to death in 1908. At the time of his hanging, Khudiram was 18 years old, making him one of the youngest revolutionaries in India. Khudiram Bose remains to this day an iconic figure of courage under fire and revolutionary zeal.)
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and you have said that the BJP is out to destroy Bengal's culture and heritage. Is it Bengali culture to call the prime minister a 'goon', 'shaitan' (scoundrel), or mithyebadi (liar)?
What do you mean? They will come here and use the word kangal!
(During a rally on May 13, Amit Anilchandra Shah claimed that under the TMC rule, sonar (golden) Bangla has been turned into kangal (pauper) Bangla, and it is only the BJP that can return the state to its former glory.)
You come here and you lie through your teeth and say there is no Durga Puja or Saraswati Puja in Bengal.
I mean if these guys are not pathological liars, who are?
Do you know, there are 28,000 Durga Pujas held in Bengal?
Modi and Shah come here in Bengal and say they the Mamata Banerjee doesn't allow Durga Pujas to be held in Bengal.
Anyone who is familiar with Bengal knows that pujas are organised by clubs.
When Mamata Banerjee wanted to give Rs 10,000 to each of these clubs for puja, guess what the BJP did? They took the government to court. They are anti-Bengali Hindus.
The enforcement firectorate and the income tax department -- you know who controls them -- served notices to 40 of these big clubs organising Durga Puja.
The world's biggest bishorjon (immersion) carnival is held on Red Road every year.
Are Modi and Shah even aware of all this? These guys just don't know!
And we have to see these two pathological liars in newspaper advertisements in Bengal. OK, it's a democratic country and they have the money so we have no choice but to see their faces in the morning.
But that aside, Modi goes to Birbhum, he goes to Santiniketan and in the opening line of his speech says, (mimicking the PM's tone) 'Yeh Birbhum ki janambhoomi jahan Rabindranath Tagore janam liye the'. This man doesn't even know that Tagore was born in Jorashankho and he presumes to talk about Bengal?
Does he know that because of the National Register of Citizens 22 lakh Bengali Hindus are scared?
So what do these guys know? Nothing. They are bunch of low-life, pathological liars.
Why isn't that OK? Why does the PM or Shah have to know where Tagore was born or for that matter who Vidyasagar was?
In fact, the PM has never mentioned Vidyasagar in any of his speeches before the desecration. So?
One minute, one minute... you have the cheek to come here in Birbhum and you make a political speech asking for votes and you don't where the first Asian Nobel Laureate (for literature) was born? If you don't know, then keep shut.
Talk about some poet from Ahmedabad.
This is disrespect to the people at the rally. This shows how little you care. It shows you are only here to loot the banks.
You know you can't win seats anywhere else; you've got two seats here so, come try your luck.
They have a hosepipe pumping money into Bengal.
And if you've come to Bengal, tell the world that the state is #1 in MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises), skill development, agriculture -- I'm not saying it, it's a central government award.
Tell the world that Bengal is #1 in e-governance.
Tell the world that Bengal has improved more than any other state in tax collection without raising taxes.
Tell the world that Bengal is #1 in rural employment guarantee programme.
We are #1 in the construction of roads in rural Bengal.
Do you know that Bengal offers up to 70 discount on medicines?
Tell the world that you have a scheme called Beti Bachao Beti Padhao with a budget of Rs 600 crore for the entire nation, which is Rs 3 crore per state.
Mamata Banerjee's United Nations award winning scheme (Kanyashree Prakalpa) has a budget of Rs 7,000 crore and touches the lives of 65 lakh girls!
This is the kind of stuff they cannot talk about.
Is the desecration of Vidyasagar's statue the turning point in the elections in Bengal? Will fence sitters now vote for the TMC?
In fact, the PM spoke about the desecration in a rally in UP. Has it unsettled the BJP?
This is not just about Bengal. You've heard about the desecration of Periyar statues (In September 2018, chappals were hurled at the statue of the Dravidian icon and rationalist in Vellore in Tamil Nadu for which a BJP worker was arrested).
Mamata Di put up a post listing all the statues that were desecrated.
Listen, lowlife will always remain lowlife. It's an attitude and it doesn't change just because you've moved from Ahmedabad to Delhi.
What is said in Central Hall (of Parliament, where leaders of the Opposition and the ruling party crossing the political divide often talk informally and off the record about the politics and the party) remains there, but I can tell you that there are several senior BJP leaders who don't have charitable things to say about these two pathological liars.
They are waiting for them to fall flat on their face.
The BJP has slowly gained ground in Bengal and is occupying the space left behind by the Communist Party of India-Marxist. Did the change in your opponent from the CPI-M and the Congress to the BJP, creep up on you?
If you're ahead in the race, as the sports master taught us in school, you look ahead.
What shuffling is happening at the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place we don't know. Why do we care?
We are not cocky, we are not arrogant.
It's a democracy. Anybody can occupy any space they want. We are focused on getting our message across.
We are saying vote for us because of what we have delivered in the last eight years and what these pathological liars have not in the last five years.
In foreign policy, what have they done besides the hug and the biryani?
Five years ago, when this complete nincompoop was not the prime minister, if you spoke about India in the international space, it would be India and China.
Now we've gone back to the hyphenation -- India, Pakistan, Indo-Pak. We've fallen in the eyes of the world. It was never Pakistan all the time. It was too small and irrelevant. China must be laughing at us.
These guys have brought the hyphen back in India-Pakistan.
Look at anything -- the economy, world affairs, Parliament... and I'm not giving you rhetoric.
What is Parliament meant for? To legislate, debate, deliberate. In previous governments up to 70 to 75 per cent of bills were sent for scrutiny. In the last five years it's down to below 20 per cent because Modi and Shah don't understand what Parliament is.
They are illiterate about Parliament. Illiterate. They don't want Parliament, they don't want RTI (Right to Information Act).
Where has the railway budget gone? It's been subsumed into the Union Budget.
Look at the way they brought in demonetisation.
My leader Mamata Banerjee was the first Opposition leader to march to Rashtrapati Bhavan to protest demonetisation.
Omar Abdullah (National Conference chief) and the Shiv Sena (BJP ally) marched with us. We didn't mind the Shiv Sena marching with us because the issue was of economics, never mind their ideology.
After one month, every other party joined the protests.
By the way, we are not a regional party. We are a national party, the Election Commission recognises us.
Yes, I do agree we are a national party with a provincial, a regional footprint.
Did the Election Commission's silence period a day earlier on May 16 really going to make a difference for the TMC?
It's not about making a difference. Whether it's behen Mayawatiji, whether it's Akhilesh Yadavji, or the Congress party, whether it's the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, whether it's the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), Jagan (Mohan Reddy)'s party (Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress), whether it's Mr Chandrababu Naidu's party (Telugu Desam Party), nobody has taken it lightly.
The way the EC... but why are we surprised -- this is their operating mechanism.
The only problem is that they are up against a lady called Mamata Banerjee who has come into politics without a mentor -- the only woman who has come into politics without a mentor. And I have no disrespect towards anybody else but they've all had mentors.
From 1947 to 2019 anyone who left the Congress party to set up a new one has flopped. Or they have left but returned. Or in the case of Mr Sharad Pawar he is running a coalition government. Mr Pranab Mukherjee and Mr P Chidambaram have lost everything.
Mamata Banerjee is the only one who is independently running the state -- 220 MLAs out of 294. She is the only person since 1947 to do so.
I give you this story not to demean the Congress party, but to give you the story of Mamata Banerjee.
speaking of the Congress, at a rally in Bengal in March, Rahul Gandhi accused Mamata Banerjee of running the state according to her whims and of doing nothing for the youth and farmers. How is this gathbandhan going to work with so much pull and push?
Mr Rahul Gandhi said what he said, don't take it so seriously. It was summer lassitude in Malda. He is allowed his pollspeak, we are allowed our pollspeak.
Let me tell you, everybody is together, we are in touch at various levels.
There are no permanent enemies or friends in politics.
Can there ever be an alliance with the Left?
All these issues will be discussed after May 23, but there is no problem with whoever wants to see the BJP out.
The primary goal is to save the Constitution, save democracy and save India and the only way we can do that is to get Modi and Shah's BJP out.