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'Are You On The Side Of Hatred?'

February 23, 2024 13:54 IST

'The time has come for all those believe in a democratic India to stand up and be counted and to make a choice.'

IMAGE: Trinamool Congress candidates Sagarika Ghose, right, and Mamata Bala Thakur after filing their nomination papers for the Rajya Sabha elections at the West Bengal assembly in Kolkata, February 15, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Sagarika Ghose is the latest journalist to become a member of Parliament.

The newly minted Rajya Sabha member-elect from the Trinamool Congress believes the time was right both personally as well politically for her to make the change in course.

Ghose, who is married to journalist Rajdeep Sardesai -- hails from a family of distinguished administrators and diplomats. Her father Bhaskar Ghose, a senior IAS officer, served as India's information and broadcasting secretary. Her aunt Arundhati Ghose was a formidable diplomat.

In 1997, her first cousin Sanjay Ghose was kidnapped and killed by ULFA.

"The values that I hold dear, the values of the Republic born in 1947, the values of plural multi-faith India are in danger, a darkness is descending. We must fight the darkness," Sagarika Ghose tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/ in the concluding segment of a two-part interview.

IMAGE: West Bengal Governor C V Ananda Bose meets women affected by the violence of Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas. Photograph: ANI Photo

You have become a Trinamool MP at a time when hashtag #SandeshkhaliHorror is dominating social media. Why was your party caught off-guard here, and what is the truth in the allegations of rape, etc?

The party and CM Mamata Banerjee have made it very clear: There will be zero tolerance on crimes against women.

The TMC will not allow any kind of assault on women anywhere and anyone guilty will be booked. Arrests have been made, the state police is acting and the chief minister has promised action.

Facts have to be established and investigation must be allowed to take place in a free and fair manner. Whoever is guilty will be brought to justice, make no mistake on that. Law will prevail and the law will be strictly implemented.

But why is the BJP is trying to politicise the events when the state government is itself carrying out the investigation?

By constantly attacking the TMC government, the BJP is trying to destabilise the very government which is trying to implement the law. The BJP is trying to destabilise the Mamata Banerjee government when she is trying to implement law and order.

There are ghastly allegations circulating about Sheikh Shahjahan, the main accused. Here the narrative set by the BJP is that because the TMC is dependent on Muslim votes, they do not take action against Muslim goons like Sheikh Shahjahan.

There is no question of any of that.

Trinamool stands for the coalition of poor, women, minorities and all those who are helpless and vulnerable.

Trinamool is a people's movement. TMC stands sentinel, a pahradar, on the rights of all. There is no question of protecting or shielding anyone who has committed a crime.

TMC will ensure justice for all women. The law will take its course and it has already taken its course.

Let the investigation be completed. A 10-member panel headed by two women police officers is investigating the case.

But from the beginning the BJP is levelling charges about the TMC appeasing a religious group, demanding President's rule, a statutory body like NCW is making political statements, the governor of the state making political statements, why?

Did the NCW demand President's rule in Manipur which has been burning for months?

Don't you feel it was wrong of the TMC government to arrest a Republic TV journalist for doing his job in Sandeshkhali?

Are there 'journalists' in Republic TV?

Republic TV is known for a lot of things, journalism is not one of them.

The police will act according to the law. Whoever is seen breaking the law or causing trouble will have to face the law.

The situation is very sensitive at the moment in Sandeshkhali and you need to let the investigation happen and let the rule of law prevail.

Those who violate Section 144 or try to create mischief or act in an irresponsible manner will have to face the law.

The problem here is the Mamata government has not arrested the main accused Sheikh Shahjahan in these rape cases and he happens to be a TMC leader. This is the reason for anger among the public.

The law will prevail and arrests will be made and have been made.

Brinda Karat of the CPI-M and the Congress, who are a part of the INDIA bloc, have come down heavily on the TMC on this issue.

I would just say again, let the law of the land prevail.

TMC stands for zero tolerance for crimes against women. Whoever is guilty will be brought to book. Law will prevail, justice will be delivered.

Politicians should not jump in to politicise the issue.

You were already being trolled heavily on social media for your liberal views as a journalist and author. In the last one week since you have become a politician, has it gotten worse?

There has been a lot of trolling. I have disabled my notifications so I don't see them. I switch them on once in a while to see what people are saying, but I mostly keep notifications off.

I have been intensively trolled for the last 15 years so I am totally used to it by now. I don't give a damn actually. Water off a duck's back.

What surprised me the most was the tweet by Suvendu Adhikari, who posted your old video where you say politicians and journalists cannot be friends. And as a journalist you cannot be loyal.

I am immune to any kind of reactions on Twitter. I don't read any of it.

IMAGE: Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi meets suspended Opposition MPs on the Parliament premises, December 15, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

We all know what happened to Mahua Moitra and how the government went after her because she was raising her voice against the government.
Don't you fear that by joining the TMC you can also face the government's ire? In such circumstances, why it is important to be in politics?

It is important to join forces with the Opposition because the Opposition viewpoint needs to be shored up. The time for non-alignment is over.

The time for not taking sides is over.

The question is: Which side are you on? Are you on the side of hatred? Or are you on the side of multi-faith, plural harmonious India?

Our democracy is facing a crisis and is on a precipice. Those who believe in secular values, plural values, who believe in multi-faith and multicultural India, must stand up and be counted.

The values that I hold dear, the values of the Republic born in 1947, the values of plural multi-faith India are in danger, a darkness is descending. We must fight the darkness.

With the media muzzled and captive to the Modi regime, the political Opposition will have to stand up.

Now you are sounding like George W Bush who post 9/11 said you are with us or against us.

The time has come for all those believe in a democratic India to stand up and be counted and to make a choice. I have made my choice, have you?

Do you believe in majoritarianism or do you believe there is more to democracy than simply am electoral majority?

The capture of the media and the complete polarisation of society have made matters urgent. Democracy can breathe only when the Opposition breathes.

Pressure need not always be on you, even your family can face it. This government will go to any extent against their opponents so are you ready to take the heat?

I will just quote George Bernard Shaw, 'I say to you, Cast out fear (dar ko jaaney dijiye).'

IMAGE: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at a media interaction in Howrah, February 19, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Your book Why I Am A Liberal is about liberalism and what you stand for. For many centrists, however, it seems that Mamata Banerjee is a long way from being termed a liberal. How open do you think she will be to criticism?

She has evolved tremendously as a politician and today is a stateswoman of wisdom.

Yes, I recall she told guest students that they are Maoists and SFI cadre, before walking out of one of your shows...

Yes, but after that show, she never cut off relations with me. She continued to talk to me and she continued to take my questions. She never shunned the press.

I find her very tolerant and accepting of all views as well as very skillful at taking diverse people along, which is the mark of a liberal.

She is also an ace politician with terrific political instincts.

Mamata Banerjee has consistently upheld the values of a multi-cultural, multi-faith India.

What is your brief for the Rajya Sabha?

To raise issues on behalf of citizens, ask questions of the government, ask questions about how ministries are functioning.

Debate, argue and dialogue -- that's the essence of democracy. I hope to use this platform to be of real use to citizens and ensure that citizens enjoy their democratic rights.

I'll have a clearer idea once I have taken my oath and begun work.

Would you have said yes if some other party, say, the Congress, had offered you a Rajya Sabha berth?

The TMC appeals to me particularly because it is a party rooted in West Bengal, which is my home state.

As I said, I see the Rajya Sabha seat as an honour and recognition from my home state. And it is a party headed by India's only woman chief minister.

What was your husband Rajdeep Sardesai's reaction to you becoming a TMC MP?

That you have to ask him.