‘People fed up with Trinamool, mood in Bengal is for change’
Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam’s finance and PWD minister and convener of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), spoke to Shishir
Gupta about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election battle in West Bengal against the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC). Sarma, who leads one of the 20 special teams deployed by BJP president Amit Shah with a special focus on West Bengal, said the state will throw up a “big surprise” in the Lok Sabha elections. Present in Kolkata on the day of the BJP chief’s roadshow, Sarma also spoke about issues ranging from the Citizenship Amendment Bill to the Opposition’s onslaught. Edited excerpts:
What is the mood like?
I think the mood in Bengal is overall for a change. People are fed up with the rule of TMC, particularly criminalisation. Here, you will see it is a total criminalisation of politics. Everywhere, there will be one mastaan (goon) who will control one area... I think people are fed up, people are fed up with the appeasement kind of politics and I am sure that Bengal is heading for a big surprise.
There is this theory that CPI(M) votes are getting transferred to BJP because CPI(M) thinks BJP could be tackled in the future better than they could tackle Mamata. What do you say to that?
In a political sense, you can say that CPI (M) votes are being transferred to the BJP; this is one part of the story. But I believe that the CPI(M), Congress and TMC — the rightthinking people of all these three parties are voting for PM Modi.
If there is so much violence, even if someone wants to vote for the BJP and cannot reach the booth, how will the BJP gain?
This is a big problem. You have to see the number of votes that are being cast and the amount of rigging. The whole election result will be [determined by] whether the impact of rigging is higher or impact of voting is higher.
When we calculate 21-22 seats in this election, from a purely political point of view, we are deducting a portion of votes that are being cast on the strength of rigging.
Then, we find out what is the net number. But that net number [for BJP seats] is also very high, because they are not doing rigging inside the centre.
They are threatening people from 48 hours before the polling in the local village. They have taken their Aadhaar cards, they have taken their Voter IDs.
They say until you vote for the TMC, you will not get these identity cards back. People plead before them they say, ‘We will vote for the TMC’, then these cards are returned... The behaviour of Mamata Banerjee in the last 48 hours has convinced me that Bengal is headed for a big surprise.
Are you saying that the state bureaucracy is hand-in-glove with Mamata Banerjee?
It is. In Bengal, the politics is such that the bureaucracy knows that after May 23, we have to work with Mamata Banerjee. The Election Commission has to think on certain issues very seriously.
Are you saying they are afraid?
They are totally afraid. You have seen an IPS officer commit suicide. In the suicide note, he named the CM. So you can imagine the range of terror in Bengal.
You can imagine the range of terror [over the issue] of one lady [BJP youth wing leader Priyanka Sharma who was arrested for sharing a meme on Mamata Banerjee. She was granted bail by the Supreme Court on Tuesday] who has just shared a Facebook post.
It was not being done by her. It was posted by somebody else, she just shared it. The local councillor filed the FIR against the lady who has shared the post. But in the FIR, he has not even mentioned that another person has posted it. It is pure vendetta.
If there is anger against Mamata Banerjee, what attracts Bengal to the BJP?
Bengal has tremendous respect for Prime Minister Modi. This is a vote for Modi. People are saying that they will vote for Modi. The Prime Minister’s image is single-handedly responsible for the BJP upsurge that you are seeing in Bengal today. Then, we have established a huge organisational network in the last three years. Amit Shah visited Bengal many times. He has posted his trusted and efficient organisational people in Bengal.
Is the vote in favour of Modi or is the vote in favour of development?
You cannot distinguish between Modi and development. I think it is a vote for nationalism as well a vote for development. It is not only for development, people are also voting against appeasement, people are voting for a strong leader and people are also voting for the nationalistic ideology.
What are your views on the NRC as well as the Citizenship Amendment Bill?
In Assam, we updated NRC without the Citizenship Amendment Bill. This has created a problem also because many Hindu refugees who came from Bangladesh over time are facing problem... Although through appeals, claims and objections, the Supreme Court is trying to mitigate the sufferings of the people. But still Hindu people are suffering... It is a major suffering. What our party president is saying [is], ‘First pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which will give citizenship to Hindu, Christian, Buddhist minority of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Then you do NRC to find out the illegal migrants.’
› The whole election result will be [determined by] whether the impact of rigging is higher or impact of voting is higher... In Bengal, the politics is such that the bureaucracy knows that after May 23, we have to work with Mamata Banerjee.
Coming back to Bengal, where do you see the Congress and the CPI(M)?
Sadly, the Congress has disappeared from the scene except in two constituencies. It is missing in action. You’ll not see Congress party except in two constituencies of Bengal — Jangipur and Berhampore.
And the Congress has also surrendered before Mamata Banerjee. That is one part of the story. Rahul Gandhi has surrendered before Mamata Banerjee. The CPI(M) is trying to put resistance somewhere but they are also limited in pockets... Post 23rd [May], Bengal politics will be a straightforward match between TMC and BJP. The Congress and CPI(M) will disappear further. The process of dismantling will be further expedited.
So, you think Bengal is going to add to the BJP’s seats under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership?
In a big way.
Do you have a number?
I’ll be very conservative and I’ll say the number will be 20, give or take 10%. That will be my own assessment but party cadre here have said that it won’t be less than 22.