Updated: March 11, 2021 2:07:38 pm
A good show in Bihar and forging a grand alliance with Congress and other parties may have rekindled some hope in the Left ahead of the West Bengal Assembly election. With talks of the Left trying to shape itself as a viable alternative to the TMC and BJP in the state, young guns like SFI state secretary Srijan Bhattacharya are leading the campaign this time.
In an interview with Indian Express, Bhattacharya tells us that the Left is the only party that is talking about issues such as education and employment and why their work at the grassroots has made them confident of putting up a stronger fight this time.
The Left-Congress alliance got just 76 seats while the TMC bagged 211 seats in the 2016 Assembly polls. So, what according to you went wrong last time and how do you propose to rectify your mistakes?
Srijan Bhattacharya: TMC and BJP are essentially parties which are undemocratic and not secular. They try to shift the narrative away from issues of ‘roti, kapda and makan’ to divide people on the basis of religion, language and caste. So, we’re trying to bring together all people who oppose parties like TMC and BJP and are in favour of a secular and democratic alliance. In 2016, the discussions on forming an alliance started very late and there was not much time. This time the talks have started early and we are hopeful that our alliance will provide an alternative to TMC and BJP.
With BJP emerging as a strong force this time, will it eat into your votes or that of the TMC?
Srijan Bhattacharya: BJP has eaten into half of TMC’s leaders. Mamata Banerjee had famously said that she would turn Digha into Goa and North Bengal into Switzerland. That has not happened and Kolkata has not become London either, but the TMC has become another BJP. The saffron party knew that as long as BJP was a left bastion and ruled by leaders like Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, it would be very difficult for them to make a dent. So, they prescribed the formation of the TMC which would break away from the Congress. BJP wanted someone like Mamata Banerjee who would pose as more left-leaning than the Left itself but would actually serve the interests of the right. But I think just like 2016, BJP won’t get many votes this time.
Is the Left today relevant to the youth of the state and what efforts are being put in to ensure that?
Srijan Bhattacharya: If you consider our march to Nabanna on February 11, I can say I can’t think of a bigger student-youth rally after 2011. From the number of people turning up in our rallies it is pretty evident that the acceptance of the Left among the students and youth is increasing. Leaders who are coming up as an alternative to BJP, such as Aishe [Ghosh] or Kanhaiya [Kumar], are all from the Left. The Left is finding support among the youth because it is the only force which is addressing the problem of unemployment. It is the only force that is speaking about rejuvenating the public sector, creating more jobs and improving the manufacturing sector. The Left has a definite policy alternative. Without the Left, nothing will be left in the future.
There are talks of a resurgence in the support base of the Left after it bagged 16 seats in the Bihar Assembly polls. How important will be the Bihar result in the context of the Bengal polls? Also, does the Left plan to field young, dynamic leaders in Bengal this time?
Srijan Bhattacharya: I cannot comment on this. Only the Left leaders will be able to say who they will field. But all I can say is that a perception was manufactured that the Left consists of only older people. That perception has been destroyed in the last 5-6 years. I have already talked about Aishe and Kanhaiya. In West Bengal, we have seen the rise of many student and youth leaders.
What went into the decision of forming an alliance with Congress and other parties? Was it ever considered at any stage to reach out to the TMC?
Srijan Bhattacharya: We’re sure that TMC will not remain in power. After all the wrongs that they have done in the last 10 years, TMC leaders are joining BJP to save themselves from public wrath. Sovan Chatterjee, who has been an MLA, minister and the mayor of Kolkata besides being a close aide of Mamata, has now joined the BJP. He has said that Mamata had formed the TMC because the RSS advised her to do so. So, the roots are in the same place. TMC’s symbol is the grass and flower. If you cut off the grass, the cow will go away because there will be nothing left for it to graze on. So, we can never be part of any anti-BJP alliance that has TMC in it.
From the standpoint of the Left, how do you see your alliance with Congress? Is this a post-ideological tie-up where ideology does not matter?
Srijan Bhattacharya: I don’t think so. A much graver danger than the Congress party has arrived. TMC and BJP don’t want a third force to emerge. These two right-wing forces are engaged in a mock fight and they want to fool the people. Our job is to break this binary. So, if we want to fight for secularism, democratic rights and livelihood issues, are we doing anything wrong? Ours is also a social alliance. That is why we are talking about protecting the legacy of Rabindranath Tagore, Subhas Chandra Bose, Gandhi and Vivekananda. The other parties are trying to destroy the social fabric and we have formed an alliance to protect Bengal.
While the Left is in alliance with Congress in West Bengal and in Assam, it will be contesting against it in Kerala. In fact, Rahul Gandhi has been criticising the Left in his recent speeches in Kerala. What is your take on it?
Srijan Bhattacharya: The BJP in Uttar Pradesh kills people for storing beef in the fridge and carrying cows. But the BJP in Manipur eats beef. How do you explain this? This is such a huge and diverse country that different situations are bound to arise in different corners. You can’t have a one cut-to-size T-shirt for everything and everyone. The party is working on state-specific situations.
There have been reports that there was some initial reluctance in tying up with ISF. Also, are you thinking of having any agreement with AIMIM?
Srijan Bhattacharya: We want to form an alliance that is based on the principles of democracy and secularism. That is something we cannot compromise on. That is why since the days of Golwalkar and Hedgewar, the RSS has treated the Left as its primary enemy. Abbas Siddique may be a religious leader but our alliance is with a party and not a person. Besides Muslim leaders, ISF has people from other oppressed sections as well as a lot of Hindu people. I don’t know of any talks with Asaduddin Owaisi. He doesn’t have any supporters in West Bengal.
Tell us a little bit about the kind of work the Left has been doing here at the grassroots level to help people after Amphan and during the pandemic.
Srijan Bhattacharya: Even before the lockdown was announced, student youth workers of the Left and other outfits started spreading awareness among the people. Their work included making masks and sanitizers and distributing them free of cost. Then when the lockdown hit hard the migrants labourers, the Left helped bring them back home and made sure that they have food and water on the way. The Left volunteer groups have done an outstanding job, from donating blood to rescuing people after Amphan and distributing rice, dal, cereals and medicines. They formed community kitchens and canteens, some of which are still running.
The Left has practically run an alternative government throughout the lockdown. It’s true that our enemies and our opposition mock us by saying the Left is finished. But if a force which has been electorally diminished to a much smaller form can still do so much, it makes you think what the parties in power could have done. They have all the power, money and access to the state machinery. But the central and state governments did nothing.
DYFI activist Maidul Islam Midda was killed after being injured in the police action during your recent march to Nabanna on February 11. Also, cases were lodged against you and many other Left leaders for assaulting a cop. Your reactions?
Srijan Bhattacharya: The Nabanna march was about seeking better education and jobs. It was a peaceful rally. But the police tried to create another Jallianwala Bagh. That was evident from the fact that they brutally lathi-charged us, used water cannons, tear-gas shells and hurled bricks. The way male police manhandled women and how they targeted heads, I can say all human rights were violated.
We think Maidul Islam Midda’s case is one of political murder. In the coming days, you’ll see that thousands of Maiduls have been born across the state.
What will be the key issues you will be campaigning on ahead of the polls?
Srijan Bhattacharya: Our agenda will be education and creation of jobs, tackling the issue of price rises, and addressing the issues of farmers and the working classes. We will make sure that the economic distress is diminished and the spirit of unity in diversity remains intact. We will ensure broader democracy.
How many seats will the Left-Congress alliance win this time?
Srijan Bhattacharya: We will win the number of seats that are enough to form a government. We also know if there is a Hung Assembly, the TMC and BJP will support each other to keep the Left out of power.
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