The Trinamool Congress (TMC) calls hundreds of thousands of hired “guns and goons deployed in West Bengal” outsiders, but it does not use such a label for leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), chief minister Mamata Banerjee has told News18 in an interview.
“We don’t call the Prime Minister or the Union home minister an outsider,” she said. “Why should we?”
“We say the people who have been deputed in Bengal to defeat the TMC — the guns and goons who have also brought corona — are the outsiders. We will continue terming them so…Guns and goons are not your assets…,” Banerjee said.
The debate has gained political centre stage this election season with the TMC calling the BJP a party of outsiders. It has also said Bengal doesn’t need Gujarat’s brand of politics, a remark seen targeted at PM Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah (both of them are from the western state).
The BJP, on the other hand, has termed the argument shallow, asking if Rabindranath Tagore is an outsider to the rest of India. It has also said a “son of the soil” will become the chief minister in Bengal if the BJP comes to power.
In the interview, Banerjee exuded confidence about comfortably winning Nandigram, where she is contesting against her former party colleague Suvendu Adhikari. “Why would I be contesting only one seat if I am not confident?” she asked.
Agitations against land acquisitions for industries in Hooghly’s Singur and East Medinipur’s Nandigram helped Banerjee end a 34-year Left rule in 2011.
Banerjee said her decision to contest Nandigram, in place of Kolkata’s Bhabanipur (her traditional seat), was aimed at honouring the watershed land agitations. “My commitment is greater than my self-interest,” she added.
The BJP will not win Nandigram “no matter how much they have tried”, she said, accusing the Centre’s ruling BJP of election malpractices while terming her challenger who switched sides in December a “gaddar (traitor)”.
The chief minister said she was also confident of a victory in the state with two-thirds majority. The writing on the wall is “crystal clear. There will be magic”, she said. “Our government will be re-elected and work for ma, mati, manush (mother, soil and people),” Banerjee said, referring to her popular political slogan.
Banerjee said the BJP’s uncertainty was evident from the fact that it was sending the PM, the home minister and CMs of other states to campaign in Bengal regularly. She also criticised the Election Commission (EC)’s decision to hold eight-phase polling in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
As Bengal’s single-largest party, “we appealed to EC to club the last three phases and end the polling in six rounds”, she said. But since that has not been done, “we have decided against big campaigns in Kolkata” and those outside the capital, she added. “EC doesn’t listen to us, it only listens to the BJP,” she alleged.
On her purported audio conversation with a party leader on the Sitalkuchi incident in Cooch Behar, where four people died after security forces fired at a mob during the fourth phase of polling, Banerjee said she discussed “nothing illegal”.
In the leaked audio tape, the chief minister could be heard telling the TMC leader to ensure the bodies of the firing victims were kept till the next day so that there could be a rally, prompting her critics to say she was doing politics over deaths.
Banerjee said she wanted to pay respect to the dead and meet their families, and added that she had no option but to visit the place the next day as polling was underway on the day of the incident. “It’s not a crime…I have humanity…the BJP is doing politics over the issue,” she said.
Banerjee wondered how the conversation was leaked and if her “phone was tapped into”. “We want punishment for the guilty,” she said.
Banerjee also said she wanted to promote the “third generation” in politics. Asked about the charge that she wanted to pass the baton to her nephew Abhishek Banerjee and promote nepotism, the chief minister said: “Why are you repeating the BJP line…You can ask me questions about lakhs of party workers…He (Abhishek) has his democratic right to join party politics.”