Updated: April 28, 2021 7:08:37 pm
Ahead of the final round of voting in West Bengal Assembly elections on Thursday, CPI(M) Politburo member Md Salim speaks with Atri Mitra about the pandemic, the polls, the politics of Bengal, and the role of the Left.
Left Front was the first political alliance to announce that no big meetings will be held due to Covid-19. What spurred the decision?
Yes, because the situation is deteriorating. Now people are searching for hospital beds and we saw many deaths in Covid-19, so we have to be careful. We not only decided to stop organising big rallies but also shifted to lockdown mode and will try to stand beside the affected people. We have already activated our red volunteers. We campaigned to increase awareness on coronavirus.
What is your opinion on the incident in Sitalkuchi (where firing by paramilitary forces led to deaths)?
We demanded a detailed neutral investigation. This was not a small incident – four people have died. How the firing happened…many fake videos are circulating. So people should know the truth. Who ordered firing? We want to know (that). The rifle was in the hands of the central force personnel but who had the control of the trigger? The “goli maro saalo ko” gang (a reference to certain BJP leaders) is saying that more Sitalkuchi-like incidents should happen. That is why we demanded a neutral judicial inquiry.
The CPI(M) has fielded many young candidates in this Assembly election. But will the party manage to win seats this time?
The people have liked our candidate list. There are many young and new candidates — I had referred to this in the Brigade rally in Kolkata as ‘Basanta eshe gyachhe (spring has arrived)’. But this did not happen in one day. We could not recruit from other parties, nor could we bring retired bureaucrats or movie stars to our fold…. Parties which are propagating false narratives against the Left forces have no youth face.
The Left was not really visible in the political space over the last three or four years…
We are then building our in-house capability. Our students and youths are in the forefront of the fight against unemployment, corruption, etc. Some experts were busy developing the binary phenomenon of BJP and TMC. But then we were stressing on non-social media and networking.
Today, elections are fought on three strengths: network, net worth, or both. With the media and money, the BJP jumped into the fight. They are using the RSS network. The TMC not only created its own machinery using government resources — using cut money and money from chit funds — but also created their (own) net worth… They wanted to break the network of CPM…they committed heinous crimes against us — our comrades were prosecuted in false cases and many of them were murdered. Despite all these, our student network stood strong.
While we were earlier a nine-party coalition, now we are a 16-party coalition…. The BJP is losing its allies such as Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal every day. Another natural ally (of BJP) was TMC. Both BJP and TMC use religious sentiments. They also tried to establish religious binary, which has challenged our natural cultural foundation and values. But in Bengal, culture is harmonious.
Why did the Left choose Abbas Siddiqui’s ISF as an ally?
Mamata Banerjee tried to introduce a divisive culture in Bengal. But in the state, language and ethos are always supported by an inclusive culture. The RSS tactfully converted anti-incumbency against Mamata Banerjee and Trinamool Congress into anger against Muslims.… But when we went to the districts and villages of Bengal, we saw that Hindus and Muslims are not fighting against each other.
But it’s also true that some of our comrades had became regimented against Muslims because the TMC supporters who were attacking them were mostly Muslims. They thought that these goons should be punished. But we say that these atrocities have been committed by the TMC, which is trying to portray itself as (friends of) Muslim. And on the other hand, the BJP by exposing this is trying to create a binary. We are trying to break this binary.
We cannot fight this alone. So we asked all other parties — (those) who would not sell to either the BJP or the TMC — to join us.
Did you welcome Abbas Siddiqui to break this binary?
Abbas is part of this binary. We never say that we formed an alliance with Adhir Chowdhury (of the Congress). We say the alliance is with the Congress. So why don’t we then say the alliance is with ISF, rather than Siddiqui? The RSS has tactfully made the alliance appear so (with Siddiqui). The chairman of ISF is Simul Soren. No one talks about that… This is the work of WhatsApp university… I am sorry to say that those who never took interest in the welfare of Muslims have started saying that Abbas is wearing a “fase tupi (cap)”. They should have at least Googled, because that’s called a skullcap…the cap which RSS cadres wear is known as the Jinnah cap.
Identifying a person from dress or beard is the politics of Modi-didi (Mamata Banerjee). This does not adhere to the ethos of Bengal…
How did you bring the ISF into the alliance?
The media was ignoring (us) when we spoke of our alliance with ISF. I had spoken about this in two or three press conferences. As Mamata Banerjee was talking about the AIMIM, the media was also only talking about the AIMIM. So there was a script (about including AIMIM in the political narrative of West Bengal). Our responsibility was to break the script.
How did you compete with the grand campaigns of the BJP and the TMC?
We are campaigning on foot. More than 25 candidates of our party have no money to campaign. We are fighting against grand campaigns. Mamata Banerjee and the BJP have driven our culture to five-star, seven-star hotels. And most of the people do not approve of such campaigns.
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