BJP’s pol­icy of ha­tred has de­stroyed the coun­try

India Today - - STATES - Pho­to­graphs by YASIR IQBAL

West Ben­gal chief min­is­ter MA­MATA BAN­ER­JEE was her usual feisty and com­bat­ive self as she sat down for an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with Group Ed­i­to­rial Direc­tor RAJ CHEN­GAPPA at her of­fice in Kolkata. She spoke can­didly on her bit­ter bat­tles with the Cen­tre and the BJP, her sec­ond term in power, ef­forts to build an Op­po­si­tion al­liance, re­la­tions with So­nia and Rahul Gandhi and ac­cu­sa­tions that she has built no sec­ond line of lead­er­ship. Ex­cerpts:

Q. You’ve faced many chal­lenges in your life, whether in your early child­hood, or later in pol­i­tics. What has been the big­gest strug­gle of your life so far?

A. Strug­gle has been a part and par­cel of my life. Af­ter my fa­ther died, we faced hard­ship but never asked any­body for help. We were self-suf­fi­cient. Stu­dent life taught me a les­son—never bow down your head, be straight­for­ward and bold in what­ever you do. Then I faced 34 years of Left mis­rule, their tor­ture. If you see my health re­ports, I’ve been op­er­ated on five to six times, from my brain to my belly to my hands to my eyes. I was about to die so many times. It was only my spirit [that kept me alive]. I was never scared, never afraid.

Q. So was de­feat­ing the CPI(M) the hard­est of those strug­gles?

A. We fought them for 34 years, right from our stu­dent life. Even now, when we are in gov­ern­ment, we are deal­ing with the ef­fects of Left mis­rule. In the seven years of my gov­ern­ment, we have paid Rs 2,14,000 crore to ser­vice the debt [they left be­hind]. Now how do we run the gov­ern­ment, do so­cial work, de­vel­op­men­tal work? The Cen­tre has not given us any sup­port. We have said so many times that this is not our fault, it is the legacy [we in­her­ited]. Re­struc­ture the debt, at least give us some scope to re­pay. But they are not tak­ing any ac­tion. This year, too, we had to pay Rs 47,700 crore as in­ter­est.

We want to de­velop the state, but we are not get­ting any co­op­er­a­tion from the Cen­tre. Be­cause we do not sup­port them, they are not do­ing any­thing for us.

Q. What about the co­op­er­a­tive fed­er­al­ism that Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi keeps talk­ing about?

A. For­get co­op­er­a­tive fed­er­al­ism, there is no fed­eral struc­ture to speak of now. They (the BJP-led gov­ern­ment) want to de­stroy every­thing. Their pol­icy of ha­tred has de­stroyed the coun­try, de­stroyed so­ci­ety and de­stroyed the econ­omy. Now even the me­dia, with ex­cep­tions, have be­come saleable com­modi­ties. Re­cently, the BJP has been talk­ing of the Emer­gency. But what is it do­ing now? Ev­ery­body is scared, ev­ery­body is afraid to speak. There is no free­dom of speech or ex­pres­sion be­cause they will just utilise their agen­cies against you. They ar­rested our peo­ple too, but we will con­tinue to fight our bat­tle.

Q. Are you ac­cus­ing the Cen­tre of not do­ing any­thing for your state?

A. Yes. In fact, it is tor­tur­ing us ev­ery day—men­tally, phys­i­cally, eco­nom­i­cally, re­li­giously, so­cially. See the per­for­mance of Ben­gal. In­dia’s GDP growth rate is 6.5 per cent (2017-18), ours is 11.46 per cent. It is a record, al­most dou­ble the av­er­age. If you see gross value ad­di­tion (GVA), In­dia is at 6.1 per cent, we are 11.8 per cent. Even in in­dus­try, In­dia’s growth is 4.4 per cent and we are at 11.4 per cent. In the ser­vice sec­tor, In­dia is 8.3 per cent, we are 15.6 per cent. In the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, too, In­dia’s growth rate is 2.1 per cent, ours is 2.3 per cent. We are the only state where farm­ers’ in­come has tripled [in the TMC’s tenure] even as the PM claims he will dou­ble their in­come.

Q. Have you ap­proached the prime min­is­ter?

A. We will not beg. The Gov­ern­ment of In­dia dis­crim­i­nates against us, it does not give us any pack­age. Let me give you some more facts. Do you know that Ben­gal has the high­est num­ber of so­cial se­cu­rity schemes? We give rice and wheat at Rs 2 per kilo to 90 mil­lion of our peo­ple; we give free treat­ment, free medicines and free beds to all. We have schemes for girl child em­pow­er­ment—when they turn 18 and want to con­tinue their stud­ies rather than get mar­ried, we put Rs 25,000 in their ac­counts. And we give Rs 25,000 to­wards mar­riage ex­penses of a daugh­ter to fam­i­lies whose in­come is less than Rs 1.5 lakh a year. We give schol­ar­ships to mi­nori­ties, the tribal peo­ple, SCs. We have a scheme to pay for cre­ma­tion or burial ex­penses. For ev­ery caste, ev­ery creed and ev­ery need, there is a scheme. Q. Where do you get the money to fund these schemes? What about the state’s fis­cal deficit?

A. We man­age it. We have in­creased our rev­enue, al­most dou­bled it. We bal­ance our spend­ing. We have started so many re­forms. We have worked to­wards de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion and ef­fi­ciency. We had 63 de­part­ments and min­istries when I took over. We have cut them down to 52. We have won an award for e-gover­nance. In skill de­vel­op­ment, we are No. 1 in In­dia. Also in small scale in­dus­tries and de­vel­op­ment of mi­nori­ties. We have in­creased em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties by 40 per cent, which the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia also re­ported in Par­lia­ment. We set aside Rs 18,000 crore for in­fras­truc­ture this year, in­clud­ing fly­overs, roads and hous­ing. We also built 43 multi-spe­cial­ity hos­pi­tals, 48 new col­leges and 22 new uni­ver­si­ties, among other things. We have im­proved every­thing. That is why our GDP is sky high.

Q. Yet Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s schemes like Beti Bachao, Beti Pad­hao are bet­ter known than yours.

A. They are mas­ters of pub­lic­ity; they spend lots of money on it, we don’t. We feel ev­ery paisa is im­por­tant, it is our peo­ple’s money. Take the Beti Bachao, Beti Pad­hao scheme. In the past four years, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment has set aside Rs 600 crore for 29 states and Union ter­ri­to­ries. I have al­ready spent Rs 5,500 crore in my state for our Kanyashree girl em­pow­er­ment scheme which has ben­e­fit­ted 5 mil­lion girls. And what has the Cen­tre spent? Just Rs 20 crore per state. So what could it have achieved?

Q. In terms of poli­cies, you seem more left­ist than the Left it­self...

A. I am not Left or Right. I be­lieve in na­tion­al­ism, pa­tri­o­tism, the fed­eral struc­ture, democ­racy and the poor. If you ask me to de­fine my party’s ide­ol­ogy in one line, I would say it is gov­ern­ment of the peo­ple, for the peo­ple, by the peo­ple. It is in our name Tri­namool Congress, which in English means grass­roots level.

The Cen­tre is a mas­ter at pub­lic­ity. They spent just Rs 600 cr on Beti Bachao in all the states. I have spent Rs 5,500 cr on girls’ em­pow­er­ment”

Q. This is your sec­ond term as chief min­is­ter, what are you do­ing dif­fer­ently this time?

A. Gover­nance is a con­tin­u­ous process and we are im­ple­ment­ing the projects we started. This term, I am do­ing more for un­em­ploy­ment and in­dus­try. As I said ear­lier, em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties have in­creased by 40 per cent. In terms of in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, we plan to do more for in­fras­truc­ture. A Sil­i­con Val­ley-like project will be set up in Ben­gal. We have al­ready iden­ti­fied the land and we will in­au­gu­rate it in Septem­ber. There are more such projects in the pipe­line. I wanted to con­struct two ports, but the cen­tral gov­ern­ment agreed to only one. We also started the Global Ben­gal in­dus­trial con­fer­ence to at­tract in­vest­ments.

Q. Your im­age be­fore you took over as CM was anti-re­form, anti-in­dus­try. Has there been a trans­for­ma­tion? A. There is no trans­for­ma­tion. What­ever I was in the be­gin­ning, I still am. De­vel­op­ment is my dream. It is also a strug­gle. I have never seen such atroc­i­ties by any cen­tral gov­ern­ment. As re­gards de­vel­op­ment, I will give just one ex­am­ple. They started GST hur­riedly, the unor­gan­ised sec­tor was badly af­fected. Even by de­mon­eti­sa­tion. On the day it was in­tro­duced, I said de­mon­eti­sa­tion was big cor­rup­tion. And now GST. Ev­ery state has mi­nus growth, mi­nus 18 per cent [in some cases], only Ben­gal has sur­plus. How do you think this has hap­pened? If there is no re­form, no ac­tiv­ity, no ac­tion, no re­struc­tur­ing, how do you de­velop fi­nan­cially? I chal­lenge any­one else to do the same.

Q. The im­pres­sion stems from what hap­pened to the Tata fac­tory in Sin­gur and oth­ers…

A. So many Tata fac­to­ries are work­ing in the state now. The Tatas are also work­ing with the gov­ern­ment. It is not that we were against any in­di­vid­ual com­pany. The pol­icy to force peo­ple to sell land was wrong. See our pol­icy now. We have a land bank, a land use and land pur­chase pol­icy. We are giv­ing land to in­dus­try. If there is any­thing con­nected with roads, fly­overs, rail­ways, we go for ne­go­ti­a­tion. We don’t evict peo­ple forcibly.

Q. What is your pol­icy in terms of in­dus­try? Do you be­lieve in pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship?

A. Yes, we have had many PPPs. We have also gone for merg­ers. There are so many sick in­dus­tries here. The merg­ers have helped, the em­ploy­ees are work­ing and they are happy. The ex­tra land I can use for new ven­tures, the em­ploy­ees I have ac­com­mo­dated in dif­fer­ent sec­tors.

Q. Do you sup­port the dis­in­vest­ment of Air In­dia?

A. I don’t sup­port it. If you have poverty in your home, do you sell every­thing in your home? Your daugh­ter, your son, your wife, your par­ents? Air In­dia is a na­tional and in­ter­na­tional brand name. You have al­ready sold all the im­por­tant Air In­dia routes, de­stroyed the or­gan­i­sa­tion. But please don’t sell the coun­try’s pres­tige. You have so much pri­vati­sa­tion in the avi­a­tion in­dus­try. There are so many pri­vate air­lines now. We are not against them. Let busi­ness go on in the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tor. But in­stead of clos­ing down pub­lic sec­tor com­pa­nies, three or four can be merged into one.

Q. PM Modi feels that gov­ern­ments should not be do­ing any­thing that busi­nesses can do.

A. Busi­ness is dif­fer­ent, so­cial com­pul­sions are dif­fer­ent.

I don’t sup­port [the dis­in­vest­ment of Air In­dia]. If there is poverty in your home, do you sell every­thing? Your son, your daugh­ter, your wife, your par­ents?”

Why do Euro­pean coun­tries have so­cial se­cu­rity pro­grammes? If some­one dies, why does ev­ery­one at­tend their cre­ma­tion? It is not out of com­pul­sion but be­cause of friend­ship, a re­la­tion­ship. It dif­fers from is­sue to is­sue. You go for pri­vati­sa­tion where it is nec­es­sary. But what was the need for de­mon­eti­sa­tion? How did the coun­try ben­e­fit from it? Only his party ben­e­fit­ted. Now the BJP is spend­ing crores on the elec­tions. They are giv­ing bikes to BJP work­ers, cars, loot­ing money and giv­ing it to their par­ty­men. How will poor peo­ple fight elec­tions? If you want to re­form the coun­try, go for elec­toral re­forms.

Q. Why haven’t you shared your ideas with the Cen­tre?

A. They are big peo­ple, I can­not give them advice. I am a very sim­ple per­son. There is a proverb in Ben­gali ‘Bou, bud­dhi aar boi kau ke debe na’, which means ‘never give your wife, your in­tel­lect and your books to any­one, they’ll never be re­turned’. If there are changes in the fed­eral struc­ture and the re­gional par­ties come to power, I’ll give my views.

Q. You have be­come the ful­crum of an op­po­si­tion al­liance. Do you think such an al­liance is fea­si­ble?

A. Yes, it is pos­si­ble. I am very op­ti­mistic. It is very sim­ple. Ev­ery­body has to work to­gether. I be­lieve who­ever is strong wher­ever, let them fight the elec­tion. Wher­ever the Congress is strong, let them fight the elec­tion, wher­ever the re­gional par­ties are strong, let them fight the elec­tion.

Q. You are say­ing a sin­gle com­mon can­di­date must be put up?

A. I am not say­ing that. If it is done for 75 seats, then the game will be over. If Mayawati and Akhilesh work to­gether in Ut­tar Pradesh, the game will be over. Then af­ter the elec­tions, a com­mon min­i­mum agenda can be pre­pared. It is a big fam­ily, let it be a col­lec­tive de­ci­sion.

Q. So all of you are work­ing to­gether on an anti-Modi, anti-BJP vote?

A. They are com­mit­ting atroc­i­ties, in­flict­ing tor­ture! Even some BJP peo­ple are not sup­port­ing them. They are be­hav­ing like a hun­dred Hitlers.

Q. You are call­ing Modi a Hitler as well?

A. I am not. I have no com­ment on him, let the pub­lic judge him. What­ever opin­ion I have of the BJP, I have told you.

Q. When you ask for votes to de­feat the BJP, what will you say? A. Why should I tell you right now? We have every­thing ready, when the elec­tions come, you’ll see. If you want to hear the mu­sic, you have to wait till the fes­ti­val. We’ll show our slo­gan at the time of the fes­ti­val of democ­racy, in the next elec­tion.

Q. Some Op­po­si­tion par­ties want a fed­eral front with­out the Congress.

A. Some par­ties don’t sup­port the Congress, they have their own re­gional com­pul­sions. I don’t blame them. I say let’s work against the BJP to­gether. If the Congress is strong and gets more seats in some places, let it take the lead. If the re­gional par­ties are to­gether some­where else, they can be the de­ci­sion-mak­ers. On this, I to­tally agree with Chan­drashekar Rao, Chan­drababu Naidu, the DMK, H.D. Ku­maraswamy, Arvind Ke­jri­wal or any other party. I don’t want to elim­i­nate any­body, even the Shiv Sena.

Q. You are not averse to deal­ing with the Congress or hav­ing an un­der­stand­ing with the party?

A. I don’t have any prob­lem. My in­ten­tion will be to unite with all. But it is not my de­ci­sion alone. It has to be the de­ci­sion of all the re­gional par­ties. I have no prob­lem work­ing with any­body as long as they are ef­fi­cient, and their in­ten­tions, their phi­los­o­phy, their ide­ol­ogy are clear. My only in­tent is that we should unite the peo­ple of the coun­try.

Q. How are your re­la­tions with So­nia Gandhi?

A. My re­la­tions with her are very good, I re­spect her. She is very gen­tle, sober and po­lite. And she lis­tens. We have never had a quar­rel.

Q. What do you think of the cur­rent Congress pres­i­dent, Rahul Gandhi?

A. I have not worked with him, so give me some time. He is from the younger gen­er­a­tion, let them work ac­cord­ing to their choice. He is also from the Congress fam­ily. I have re­spect for them. Let them also serve the peo­ple as they can. What I can say about Ra­jivji or So­ni­aji I can­not say about Rahul be­cause he is much ju­nior.

I am very op­ti­mistic about an op­po­si­tion al­liance. Where the Congress is strong, let it fight the elec­tion, where re­gional par­ties are strong, they should fight the elec­tion”

Q. You think you can work with Rahul if the cir­cum­stances de­mand?

A. I said col­lec­tive fam­ily, what­ever the coun­try de­cides. I am no­body. We have to trust the de­ci­sion and man­date of the peo­ple. We have to take our coun­try­men into con­fi­dence. What­ever the re­gional par­ties de­cide, we will abide by that. But some par­ties have their own prob­lems, their own re­gional com­pul­sions. We have to re­spect those too.

Q. What about the lead­er­ship?

A. Lead­er­ship will not be a prob­lem. If there is un­der­stand­ing, every­thing can be sorted out.

Q. Am I speak­ing to a prospec­tive prime min­is­ter of the coun­try, you?

A. Me? It is a very silly ques­tion. First I will say I have no in­tent. I told you, I am a sim­ple per­son and happy with my job. But we want to help ev­ery­body as mem­bers of a col­lec­tive fam­ily. In­stead of prepar­ing for PM can­di­da­ture, let us work to­gether.

Q. But you are not rul­ing your­self out...

A. Who am I to rule out any­thing? I know I am a sea­soned politi­cian, a very se­nior politi­cian now, af­ter my strug­gles. I have been MP seven times, MLA twice and a CM twice. So I can­not say any­thing that oth­ers may not like.

Q. Rahul Gandhi has said he is work­ing to­wards be­com­ing the prime min­is­ter.

A. It is his pre­rog­a­tive. If his party gets a ma­jor­ity, why not? It de­pends on the pub­lic. Q. You have worked with the NDA in the past when Atalji was prime min­is­ter…

A. Only for Atalji. Be­cause he was a sec­u­lar man. At the time, the BJP was also not in a ma­jor­ity, it was de­pen­dent on the al­lies. There was a com­mon NDA agenda and we worked to­gether on it. We were happy with Atalji. There are some min­is­ters we re­spect—Ra­j­nathji, Sush­maji and oth­ers.

Q. How would you com­pare Atalji with Modiji? A. Atalji is Atalji.

Q. Let me flip the ques­tion. If to­mor­row the BJP’s num­bers drop be­low the ma­jor­ity mark and they ap­proach you for sup­port, would you ally with the NDA?

A. I am not a po­lit­i­cal as­trologer. You have seen the re­sults, of the by­elec­tions and other polls. What­ever the BJP got was their peak, they have reached the top of the moun­tain. They can’t go any fur­ther, they have to come down. On that, our math is clear.

Who am I to rule it out [be­ing PM]? I am a se­nior politi­cian, I have been MP seven times, MLA twice and now CM twice”

Q. So, would you sup­port such an NDA for­ma­tion?

A. I can­not sup­port those who cause atroc­i­ties. We can only sup­port a demo­cratic sys­tem, the unity of this coun­try, an eco­nomic agenda that is for the peo­ple.

Q. When you say gov­ern­ment atroc­i­ties, are you talk­ing about PM Modi and the way he runs the gov­ern­ment? A. I am not say­ing any­thing against any in­di­vid­ual. I am not say­ing any­thing against the prime min­is­ter or his gov­ern­ment. It is not in my ethics to do that.

Q. Let me ask you then about the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s per­for­mance in the past four years.

A. Ex­cept for the pub­lic­ity, their per­for­mance is zero. From for­eign pol­icy to eco­nomic pol­icy, they have failed in ev­ery de­part­ment. Even Par­lia­ment is not run­ning prop­erly. If you see the func­tion­ing of Par­lia­ment dur­ing this gov­ern­ment, you will hardly see a work­ing day. It is the duty of both sides to patch up, but they are not in­ter­ested. So many im­por­tant bills have been passed just by voice vote.

Q. The BJP has now be­come your pri­mary op­po­si­tion in your state. The Congress has fallen be­hind the CPI(M)? A. I may be No. 1 but I can­not de­cide who will be No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4. If the Congress says some­thing, and the CPI(M) says some­thing, and if they sur­ren­der to it and con­vert the Congress to BJP or the CPI(M) to BJP, it is not my fault, it is not my game or my area. Then let them be ‘chha­galer tri­tiyo san­tan’ (the goat’s third child).

Q. In the re­cent pan­chayat elec­tions, the BJP emerged as the sec­ond largest party. Do you see the BJP as a threat? A. What threat? In Ben­gal, the BJP is noth­ing—we got 82 per cent of the pan­chayat sami­tis and 95 per cent of zilla parishads. There is a proverb, the moth­ers of thieves shout the most. Even in the by­elec­tion re­sult af­ter that, we won by over 60,000 votes.

Q. Amit Shah has been talk­ing about win­ning 22 seats in Ben­gal in the next Lok Sabha elec­tions...

A. Please don’t men­tion his name. I am not go­ing to an­swer this. Let me ask a ques­tion. What are they do­ing through the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies? I have never heard of such im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tions work­ing just for one party. They can­not fight us po­lit­i­cally, so they are threat­en­ing us through these agen­cies. How many busi­ness­men have left In­dia? More than 75,000. If you ask them se­cretly, con­fi­den­tially, ev­ery­body is against them. But they are afraid to speak, they are afraid to open their mouths. They can try to kill me also. I am not afraid, but we will fight this bat­tle.

Q. Their counter-charge is that it is your party that is in­dulging in vi­o­lence.

A. What vi­o­lence are you talk­ing about? In the pan­chayat elec­tions, my party lost 30 peo­ple. The BJP lost only two and that too due to in­fight­ing. They hired the goons. Ben­gal is a peace­ful, de­vel­op­ment-ori­ented state. The BJP, with their fake news, is try­ing to give us a bad name.

Q. What was be­hind the can­cel­la­tion of your trip to China? A. I know there was some foul play. I can­not dis­cuss it be­cause I re­spect my coun­try, that’s why de­spite know­ing the de­tails, I will not tell you. Tell me why my Chicago trip was can­celled. Swami Vivekananda was the son of this soil, Ra­makr­ishna Mis­sion was his birth­place. They in­vited me for the 125th an­niver­sary of his Chicago speech. This is the let­ter that says please come, and I ac­cepted their in­vi­ta­tion. Why did they can­cel the pro­gramme af­ter that? You see their lan­guage, they talk of un­fore­seen dif­fi­cul­ties. What does that mean, don’t you think they are be­ing threat­ened?

Q. You think the BJP and RSS are do­ing this di­rectly? A. They have A to Z pari­vars, so I do not know. They even started an ag­i­ta­tion against me when I vis­ited the Puri tem­ple, say­ing I was not a Hindu. Who are they to de­cide whether I am Hindu, Mus­lim or Chris­tian? I have in­her­ited my reli­gion, my caste, my home from my par­ents.

Q. What are your re­li­gious or spir­i­tual be­liefs?

A. I love all re­li­gions. I at­tend all the fes­ti­vals, the Durga pu­jas, Eid na­maz, mid­night masses of Chris­tians, Sikh pro­grammes, Ch­hat puja, Bud­dhist events, Deep­avali cel­e­bra­tions... Why not? A fes­ti­val is for ev­ery­one.

Q. But the Sangh ac­cuses you of mi­nor­ity ap­pease­ment? A. What do they want me to do? To be like them and go lynch peo­ple? Ben­gal has one of the high­est con­cen­tra­tions of Mus­lims, over 27 per cent. Do you think they are not vot­ing for me? Do you think the Chris­tians, trib­als, Sched­uled Castes are not vot­ing for me? Do I need the BJP to tell me who I am, who my par­ents are, where I was born, what my caste is? Ben­gal is a very cos­mopoli­tan place.

What does the Sangh want me to do, be like them and lynch peo­ple? Ben­gal has one of the high­est con­cen­tra­tions of Mus­lims... I am a lib­eral Hindu, not a mil­i­tant one”

Q. What is your view on cow vig­i­lan­tism and the beef ban? A. We don’t sup­port any ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion, be it ISIS or RSS mil­i­tants. I re­spect some peo­ple (in the RSS) who are ded­i­cated but I can­not con­done peo­ple who are do­ing all this in the name of Ram. They are in­sult­ing our Hindu reli­gion, I am sorry to say. Our gods and god­desses never taught us this. Swami Vivekananda, Ra­makr­ishna Paramhansa, Rabindranath Tagore and all the gods taught us to love ev­ery­body and live in peace.

Q. What is your no­tion of Hin­duism?

A. What Swami Vivekananda said, uni­ver­sal­i­sa­tion of reli­gion. You can­not di­vide the coun­try with your mil­i­tant ac­tiv­i­ties, your pol­i­tics of hate. You are giv­ing Hin­dus a bad name. Hin­dus are big­ger than that, they are very lib­eral. I am a lib­eral Hindu, not a mil­i­tant one.

Q. You have put the RSS and ISIS on the same plat­form? A. I re­spect some RSS mem­bers. But I don’t re­spect these men who are killing and lynch­ing peo­ple, those who are spread­ing false pro­pa­ganda. They are tor­tur­ing the mi­nori­ties, even Dalit Hin­dus. They are be­hav­ing like su­per­gods.

Q. One of the peo­ple you ad­mire, Pran­abda [Mukher­jee], re­cently agreed to de­liver a lec­ture at the RSS head­quar­ters. A. Please don’t ask me about this, I am re­ally dis­turbed.

Q. If the RSS asks you to speak to its cadre, would you go? A. If they leave the BJP and say we are for the coun­try’s unity, then I will think about it. Not be­fore that.

Q. When it comes to party lead­er­ship, there is only one leader in the TMC and that is you, where is the sec­ond line?

A. Which party does not have one leader? In the BJP, PM Modiji is the leader; in the Congress, So­nia Gandhi was the leader, now some­one else has be­come the pres­i­dent of the party. In the NCP, there is Sharad Pawar, the DMK has Stalin, Mu­layam Singh’s son Akhilesh is the leader of their party, the BSP has Mayawati. In my party, I am the chair­man till the time peo­ple have trust in me. We do have a sec­ond, third and fourth gen­er­a­tion. This is not a party of an in­di­vid­ual but a col­lec­tive.

Q. What do you think of dy­nas­tic pol­i­tics?

A. If peo­ple have been in pol­i­tics from the be­gin­ning, if they work from the grass­roots level, then there is no harm. If they just come and want to be prime min­is­ter, that’s dif­fer­ent.

Q. Ev­ery­one says your nephew (Ab­hishek Ban­er­jee) is grow­ing fast in the party.

A. I hate re­spond­ing to these kind of ques­tions. He is just an MP. One out of 47 Tri­namool MPs. Only one per­son from our fam­ily has joined pol­i­tics. I want ev­ery­body young to join pol­i­tics. If you don’t build up your young gen­er­a­tion, who will take the lead? You have to pre­pare the younger gen­er­a­tion. I have told all my MLAs and MPs to bring in their sons, daugh­ters, rel­a­tives. Pol­i­tics is a dif­fi­cult place. Who­ever is ded­i­cated, dy­namic or de­ter­mined, sin­cerely de­voted to work­ing for the peo­ple, I want such peo­ple with us. Who­ever is self­ish, only wants to col­lect and get money, I don’t like them.

Q. Fi­nally, who is your men­tor? What in­spires you?

A. My men­tors are the com­mon peo­ple and my in­spi­ra­tion is my strug­gle. My par­ents were not from a very rich fam­ily, they came from a com­mon back­ground. They were not able to give us an English ed­u­ca­tion but they did leave us with good life lessons—unity, in­tegrity, lov­ing ev­ery­body, think­ing about ev­ery­body, speak­ing for ev­ery­body, be­ing to­gether, not hat­ing any­body. Be a good hu­man be­ing first, then prac­tise your pol­i­tics. What you be­come is be­cause of your be­gin­nings.

Which party does not have one leader? In the BJP, Modiji is the leader, in the Congress it was So­nia Gandhi till re­cently. In the TMC, I will be chair­man till the peo­ple have faith in me”

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