What do you make of the BJP’s allegation that the TMC has been indulging in appeasement politics and doing little for Hindus?
The BJP is the most anti-Bengali Hindu party in the country. Around 28,000 Durga pujas are held in West Bengal… When the Bengal government wants to give Rs 10,000 to each of the clubs organising these pujas, what does the BJP do? They take the West Bengal government to court. Of the 28,000, forty of the biggest Durga puja clubs were sent Enforcement Directorate notices. They were also sent IT notices. They were all harassed. Why did the BJP not appreciate the state government’s effort to organise the Visarjan Carnival on Red Road? Twenty-two lakh Bengali Hindus are going to be affected by the National Register of Citizens which the TMC has opposed tooth and nail in the Standing Committee and Parliament. I challenge the BJP to put out the records of the Standing Committee. If you see those records, you will understand how anti-Bengali Hindu these people are. The Mamata Banerjee government can have the Visarjan Carnival on Red Road, the Eid prayers on Red Road and, a few months later, have the Christmas carnival on Park Street. We understand the Hinduism of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, but we do not understand the Hinduism of the terrible twins. If appeasement means working for all religions, then yes, we appease all people.
Lok Sabha Elections 2019 | Polling schedule, results date, constituency-wise results, how to check live counting
What are some of the issues that the TMC is focusing on?
We have asked the Prime Minister for a one-hour debate with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. He can chose any spot but he should not have a teleprompter before him. We will discuss six issues – jobs, the poor performance of the economy and agriculture, the demonetisation disaster, the Goods and Services Tax, and the idea of India. This election is not about party ‘A’ or ‘B’ winning. This is an election to define the idea of India.
But India-Pakistan relations and national security have dislodged most of these issues in the campaign.
This India-Pakistan hyphenation is sad. This is what they have brought our international policy to. Ten years ago or even seven years ago India and Pakistan were not discussed in the same breath. We are trying to remove this India-Pakistan hyphenation. We are not at Pakistan’s level; we discuss India with China. Bringing in this hyphenation is the failure of Narendra Modi’s foreign policy. It shows the desperation of the Modi government.
PM Modi has accused the West Bengal Chief Minister of being a “speed-breaker” in the way of the state’s development. Your response?
I agree with him. For once he has said the correct thing because Mamata Banerjee is the biggest speed-breaker between Modi becoming Prime Minister and not becoming Prime Minister.
Several incidents of political violence have been reported in West Bengal in these elections, and the Opposition has accused the TMC of perpetrating it.
Has even one election been countermanded in Bengal? Who is running Tripura? You have two seats in Tripura and you cannot have an election in the second seat. (The Election Commission had postponed voting in the Tripura [East] Lok Sabha seat from the second phase on April 18 to the third phase on April 23 citing law and order issues).
They are talking about violence in Bengal. Unfortunately, Bengal has a history of poll violence. In a parliamentary constituency with 2,000-plus booths, if there are incidents in four booths… even the Election Commission will throw (such a complaint) out. If the BJP cannot put a poll agent at a booth in West Bengal then what can we do?
The BJP has said that it will win 23 seats in West Bengal. How do you see their assessment?
Forget about the number. Will the BJP’s state president win the election here? I challenge the state president to win his seat first. They have got two ministers from the state. Will both those ministers win their seats? They are only making tall claims.
How does the TMC see the Election Commission’s role in the elections so far?
We respect the Election Commission as an institution but people are watching. I have heard that in six of the complaints against Modi-Shah, the EC had a split verdict of 2-1. We have criticised the EC, we will give them our complaints, but we respect it as an institution. We will maintain it.
What is the TMC’s equation with the Congress?
The Congress, BJP and CPM are together fighting the TMC in Bengal. They have made adjustments. I have audio and video tapes where CPM leaders are saying don’t vote for us if you are angry with us, vote for the BJP instead. This is here in Bengal. Once we take a two-hour flight to Delhi, we will all work together. It is not an issue of working with the Congress. It is a federal engine that will drive this. We will have a common agenda and there is enough leadership in this federal set-up. This is a collective leadership and coalitions have worked very well in India in the past.
The PM recently said that about 40 TMC MLAs were in touch with him and would defect to the BJP after May 23.
They have taken two of our expelled MPs and one sitting MLA. They are making loose statements.