By Bappaditya Chatterjee and Sirshendu Panth
Kolkata: West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Thursday said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that 40 of its MLAs were in touch with him to desert the ship post the elections results, was a “sign of desperation” born out of his realisation that the BJP was not “making any headway” in the eastern state.
In an interview with IANS, TMC Parliamentary Party Leader in the Rajya Sabha, Derek O’Brien also slammed the BJP for trying to communally polarise West Bengal and claimed that the saffron party “hates Bengali Hindus”.
Asked whether the party leadership was trying to identify the Vibhishans in its ranks after Modi’s claim, O’Brien asserted: “Not at all, not even one councillor will go.”
He said that two of his party’s MPs — Saumitra Khan and Anupam Hazra — defected to the BJP after they became certain of not getting a Trinamool nomination this time around.
“It was decided they would be dropped. So I simply removed them from our MPs’ WhatsApp group. That was the clue for them. Another MLA, Arjun Singh, wanted to contest the Lok Sabha polls. When he was denied a ticket, he crossed over to the BJP.”
All three are BJP candidates — Khan from his old constituency Bishnupur, Hazra from Jadavpur and Singh from Barrackpore. “But all three of them will lose,” said Obrien sitting in his corporate office in South Kolkata.
O’Brien, who is also the TMC’s chief national spokesperson, said the Prime Minister’s comment was a “cheap political gimmick”.
“You have to give credit to the BJP for their good market research. And they have got the feedback that they are not making any headway. Whether they (the BJP) come second or third (in a few constituencies), does that really matter? Who is going to go with them? This is what I call the 40 MLA lie,” he said.
West Bengal may have become the ground zero of the BJP campaign in the polls, with Modi and BJP President Amit Shah carpet-bombing the state with rallies, but O’Brien was not impressed. “It is true. They will be closest to zero here only,” he said, dripping sarcasm.
O’Brien rubbished the Left and the state Congress leadership’s repeated references to a “Didi (TMC chief Mamata Banerjee)-Modi” collusion, saying that his party did not need a certificate for its fight against the Prime Minister, both in and outside Parliament.
“Ask the people, who has fought Modi in the strongest way possible outside Parliament. Mamata Banerjee’s name will be number one on the list,” he said.
He also dismissed the Opposition criticism that the TMC’s bid to divide the votes had facilitated the growth of the BJP and the other Hindutva organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the state.
“There are two factors which propelled their growth. First, these outfits have reaped the benefits of the Modi government being in power since 2014. Being in a position of power, it was easy for them to get the resources, manpower, funds from abroad. In an area like Alipurduar (a district in North Bengal), they distributed bikes not only to Hindus, but also to Christians, and tried to convert them as their voters.
“Second, the collapse of the Left vacated the Opposition space in West Bengal. In a democracy, that space will be occupied, and it did get occupied. The TMC’s range of votes is 40-42 per cent. So, they (BJP-RSS) filled the vacuum,” he explained.
Asked whether the BJP had succeeded in polarising the state communally, he replied: “You see, Bengal will never accept BJP-RSS. Because there can never be a Khudiram Parekh, there can never be Benoy Shah or Badal Shah.”
(Khudiram Bose, Benoy Bose and Badal Gupta were revolutionaries who embraced martyrdom to free India from the British rule.)
To persistent questions about the latent communalism, which existed in Bengal since Partition and that the BJP had made some progress in channelising it during the ongoing polls, O’Brien said: “This is a danger, this is a sad part. We have to fight it politically. We have to go and do the healing.”
O’Brien described Modi and Shah as “opportunists and rioters” and slammed them for “spitting communal venom”.
He also lambasted the BJP’s brand of Hindutva, claiming that it went to court after Banerjee announced Rs 10,000 for each of the 28,000 community Durga Pujas in the state.
“When the Chief Minister wanted to give the money, why did they take us to court to stop it? That’s because they are anti-Hindu, more specifically anti-Bengali Hindu. Why were Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate notices slapped on 40 big community Durga Puja organisers? The BJP actually hates Bengali Hindus,” said the TMC leader.
He rubbished the BJP’s allegations that there were hindrances in the state on holding the Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja festivals. “This is nonsense, and everyone knows about it. Saraswati Puja is organised at residences. We have also introduced the Durga Puja carnival, which has become an international event”.
O’Brien denied that the current elections were the most challenging for his party since 2011, when it rode to power in the state. “If a political party starts saying that an election is not challenging, either it is arrogant, cocky or day-dreaming. In politics, every two or three years, you have to earn your right to be with the people. Every election is challenging,” he asserted.