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March 4, 2016

Didi Direct – An interview with Mamata Banerjee

Didi Direct – An interview with Mamata Banerjee

Should we call you the Chief Minister or just Didi?

I prefer being called Mamata Di rather than Chief Minister.

Is your party ready for the upcoming election?

We are always with people. We believe in working for people. We never delay our work. We fulfil the promises we make. Our Manifesto is complete. It will be released next Friday. We are proud of our workers and leaders at grassroots. Our workers are our assets. They are ready for the election. While others engage in slander, we work silently. Just like a three-tier Panchayat,  I believe democracy has three tiers: People > Political Parties > Support of the Electorate.

What would you say about the Congress-CPM alliance?

I had said way back in 1997 that CPI(M) and Congress have an unofficial understanding. We had decided to break away from the ‘watermelon’ Congress (green on the outside, red on the inside) in 1997. They gave up ideology to help CPI(M). A fight without ideology and principles is meaningless. A political party without ideology can never have people’s support. I do not support BJP because of their communal politics. I do not support CPI(M) because of their politics of violence. If someone is in a strong position, why would they go for an alliance?

In 2001, Congress put up dummy candidates against us. This is not an alliance. This is the politics of opportunism for survival. They are facing an existential crisis. The Marxist and the Marxist-Congress Party are running a joint venture. Why is the Congress not fighting in alliance with CPI(M) in Kerala?  People from all walks of life have been given a ticket by us – doctors, sportspersons, journalists, singers, artistes. I believe in ethics. I do not believe in personal attacks. I have respect for Jyoti Basu, Atal ji, Asok Ghosh & others.

What do you expect in the coming days?

Bengal has turned around now in the last four years. Bengal will show the way to the Centre in fthe uture. CPI(M) was in power for 34 years but didn’t work for the State. Cong/BJP have been in power at the Centre but didn’t help Bengal. A section of the media is working at the behest of some Opposition parties. Some people are opposed to me because I am not an intellectual, cannot speak good English and was born in a humble family. My life has been one of struggle. People are my family. Working for people is my responsibility.

The candidature of Bhaichung Bhutia – was it a masterstroke?

Bhaichung Bhutia has more transparent credentials than many politicians. He is an asset of the country and has captained the national team.

Have you been angry or sad when slander have been directed towards you?

I have felt insulted, often sad and sometimes angry when some people spread canards about my credentials. I believe in God. I know one day the truth about chit funds will come out. They were started during CPI(M) rule. Our leaders have been arrested because of misuse of power. No proof has been given against them. People are intelligent. I will fight the war of votes not the war of courts. People are the ultimate judge in a democracy. Congress and BJP were in power at the Centre. Why did they not act? Where was SEBI?

What is your opinion on intolerance?

There is religious intolerance. There is verbal intolerance. It is a trend now to hound someone you do not like. Artistes, industrialists, social workers, performers, are living in fear today because of this intolerance.

The media is focusing on Trinamool for the wrong reasons…

A section of the media is working at the behest of some political parties is doing this. Some people are opposed to me because of who I am… as I told you before.

The stories of factional feud in Trinamool are a creation of the media. Disputes between two clubs, family quarrels are being projected as internal party squabbles. During our rule, even ruling party members were arrested if they break the law. This was not the case earlier. Political violence has decreased in Bengal after 2011. Our slogan was ‘Bodla noy, bodol chai‘ (Change not revenge).

Media puts me on trial even when I am not at fault.

Kamduni has got justice. Tapasi Malik (in Singur) was also raped and murdered. She is still waiting for justice. Kolkata is India’s safest metro city. Earlier FIRs were not even taken. There was no media back then. We have not forgotten (the political violence at) Keshpur, Netai, Kandua, Nandigram… We have not forgotten the horrible cases of political violence at Marichjhanpi, Anandamargi, Singur, Bantala, Amta… What did the media do then? Where is all the footage?

Look at cyber-crime. It has become a huge issue now… We have set up 89 new police stations, 60 female police stations and 80 fast track courts.

Why does the Leader of Opposition not meet the Chief Minister of Bengal once a month?

Even I have the same question. It happens in every State. We should be constructive. I have paid visits to Asok Ghosh or Jyoti Basu in the past. The Trinamool Congress decided to put an end to the culture of strikes and bandhs three years before we came to power. We believe in constructive and positive politics.

The State has a huge debt, so why clubs are being given money?

What is wrong if clubs get money to improve their infrastructure? Even the CPI(M) organised a soiree called Hope 86. The government spent Rs 1.4 lakh crore to pay off debts. See the latest report of the Economic Survey and how Bengal is placed there. We have undertaken administrative reforms. We created Alipurduar district. Six more districts will be set up. Beds and medicines at government hospitals are free. Forty one new multi super speciality hospitals are coming up.

Tell us about the Didi of the people…

I love people. Trinamool was created to serve the people. I do not take a salary as CM. I pay for the fuel for the car I use. I pay for my own tea at office. When we become good human beings only then will people accept us. Muri (puffed rice) is my favourite food. I like cooking. Call me for an apolitical interview sometime and I will share some recipes. (Then she happily shared three recipes including Dim-posto bora).

What is the scope of doing business in Bengal?

Bengal is the gateway to the North East. It is THE destination now. So many big ticket projects are coming up in the State, from coal blocks to power projects. We are developing an alternative route to connect north and south Bengal. Maldah and Balurghat airports are being developed; new helipads are being set up. We are Number One in small scale industries and skill development. A lot of scope is still there. We have a land map and a land bank. Bengal is a power surplus State. We have created an Employment Bank. It takes time for big industries to come.

How are you following up on the success of London visit or the Bengal Global Business Summit?

Investments worth Rs 2.45 lakh crore were received by us at the Bengal Global Business Summit  in 2015 of which projects worth Rs 1 lakh crore are already in process. Investments worth Rs 2.50 lakh crore came in during the Bengal Global Business Summit, 2016.

The latest Economic Survey by the Government of India shows inflation is lowest in Bengal. Just three per cent. Our GSDP is 12% and the GDP of India is 7.5% . Agricultural growth of India is 1.1% and that of Bengal is 5.5% . There is more. Bengal has India’s first greenfield airport. Bengal is being connected to Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan by road. Industrial growth of Bengal is 10.5% against India’s 7.3% .

We have provided services under various schemes to 8.5 crore out of the 9 crore people in Bengal. We have 100% coverage under mid-day meal scheme. The four top districts in Swachh Bharat Mission in India are from Bengal. Capital expenditure of our State has increased six times in four and a half years while planned expenditure has increased three times.

I have conducted 105 block-level administrative meetings. We have set up a Secretariat in north Bengal. Although the Centre has stopped giving funds for several schemes like ICDS or Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan, we are funding them.

No matter how much work you do, there will be always be scope to do even more work.

What have you done for Singur?

Our government brought a Bill to return the land in Singur, our first decision after coming to power. It is sub-judice. We live by our commitments. We won the case in the HC but now it has been challenged in Supreme Court. We give allowances to the farmers in Singur. We did our work. We are always close to the people of Singur. We do not support SEZ or any forcible acquisition of land.

Is the land law a major hurdle to attract industry?

We have a land bank. If anybody wants to start an industry, land is there. I will create more parks for IT. But we do not support SEZ. I try to help people as much as I can, in each and every respect. We are against FDI in multi-brand retail. We even walked out of central Government on the issue.

Do you want the people who had gone abroad to come back to Bengal?

Seventy eight lakh mandays were lost in Bengal before 2011 due to bandhs. Now the number of mandays lost is zero. Those who are in power, let them work. Do not destroy the infrastructure that is being built by our hard work. We built infrastructure in health, agriculture, transport, roads, education. Who gave these vandals the rights to destroy things and hamper progress. CPM could not do anything in 34 years and they are now hindering progress. I want the people who have gone abroad to come back here and do business in Bengal. There is peace here. See how we celebrate our religious festivals. They are always peaceful without any untoward incident.

We have set up 45 new colleges, 15 new universities, 171 Kisan Mandis and cold storages. 1500 new buses have been introduced.

We will keep working for people. We will come up with new innovative ways to specially fulfil the demands of new generation.

Do you miss anything?

The only thing I miss is my days in Parliament. I was always a keen listener to the debates.

Will you write an autobiography?

I have been writing continuously. I write whenever I can find the time.

Of the 294 seats how many do you expect Trinamool to win?

We have dedicated all 294 seats to the people of Bengal. They will decide how many they will bless us with. We have tried our best. People gave us a chance to serve. We tried hard and did our best.

I want to lead my life as a commoner. I have never aspired for power. I want to live like a commoner, like an LIP – ‘Less Important Person’.

Do you have any regrets?

We really want to do more work. Generate new ideas. New visions. We have had obstructions. Files were missing when we joined office in 2011. History will chronicle the amount of work we have done in the last four years.

Had we come to power in Bengal a few years ago, we could have done much more. I want to see Bengal as the best in the world.

I request the media to criticise me if you like… but do not ever insult Bengal.