‘Peo­ple fed up with Tri­namool, mood in Ben­gal is for change’

Hindustan Times (Patiala) - - Nation - HI­MANTA BISWA SARMA, As­sam min­is­ter

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.

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