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February 23, 2014

Mamata Banerjee’s interview with The Times of India

Mamata Banerjee’s interview with The Times of India

Only a tough leader can deliver governance, believes Mamata Banerjee. If you feel she`s hinting at Narendra Modi, think again. Didi wants all her adversaries to learn from her expert handling of Gorkhaland. She stresses she didn`t give up like UPA did on the Telangana issue. Instead, her “rough and tough” approach worked, while she gave Darjeeling a “healing touch”. Development and governance are the major planks of her much touted `federal front`, the Bengal CM tells TOI in an exclusive interview.

You gave the “Dilli chalo” call in Kolkata and TMC has launched a joint campaign with Anna Hazare in Delhi. Leaders like Chandrababu Naidu and Jagan Reddy have called on you in Kolkata. How do you see the prospects of a federal front?

Federal front is the future. Whatever happens, will emerge only after the elections. All I can say is that the country has been badly run for 66 years since Independence. We need a change in the system. We want the states to be empowered; the federal structure has to be strengthened. Currently the Centre is behaving as masters and states are like its slaves. We need to change that. So, an alliance of the states must be formed. Like minded people have to come together to save the country. We want political and economic stability. Only a tough leader can deliver good governance. Fronts like Third Front have not worked in past. Third Front means third class. CPM will lose polls, so there is no question of Third Front. Third Front is a tired front. I am hopeful about the federal front. 

Various surveys have predicted that BJP has the best prospects of coming to power and the Congress may suffer severe losses. What is your prediction?

I am a social and political worker, not a political fortune-teller to predict what will happen after elections. The Congress has lost all credibility, accountability and morality to rule. People will vote them out of power in the next elections. But BJP is not the alternative to Congress and Congress is not the alternative to BJP. We cannot do away with a corrupt government and bring a party of rioting to power. I can only say, next government will be formed by an alliance of federal forces. I also feel, if you add up the Congress and BJP seats after the LS elections, it will be way less than the halfway mark.

The passing of the Telangana Bill is likely to stoke fire in the Hills. So far, you have been able to restore and maintain peace in the Hills. How do you plan to address the situation?

 What happened in Lok Sabha was more than an Emergency. It was unconstitutional. We had asked for division, which was not allowed. Even live telecast was stopped. There was some hanky panky. Congress is in a deep soup over the creation of a new state. These things require better handling and cannot be done in a hurry just before the elections. The Centre should learn from our handling of Gorkhaland. We adopted the rough and tough attitude. We did not allow violent protests, but we were with the people. We gave Darjeeling a healing touch. That is needed. Development is the key here, not vote-bank politics. I am happy Darjeeling is now smiling. We even conducted the first ever celebration of Netaji`s birthday outside Kolkata, in Darjeeling this year. I want the people of my state to be happy. 
Both Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh have criticized the Cong-led UPA government for refusing to give Bengal a moratorium on the huge debt left behind by the Left Front government. Do you expect Bengal to get better treatment if Modi becomes PM? 

We are not beggars. Bengal does not need to go around with the begging bowl. We are only asking for what is due to us. The demand for moratorium is not new. Even before 2011 elections the Prime Minister promised to offer us a financial package and help us in debt restructuring. Me and my finance minister did so many meetings with them, but they did not do anything. They did not keep their promise. We are working against all odds. We have doubled our tax collection in 3 years from Rs 20000 to Rs 40000 crores. We have increased revenue without raising taxes. We have done this by introducing better compliance in tax collection. Bengal is getting ready for a golden era after the sins of the Left.

If the situation demands, will you agree to become the prime minister? Anna Hazare has already said that he would like to see you as the next PM…

My life has been one of struggle for more than three decades. I have worked at the Centre and state. More than anything else, my inspiration is the people. Kursis come and go. I want to continue to work for the people.

How will Bengal benefit if Trinamool turns out to be a key player in government formation at the Centre? Will it help you get the moratorium? Will it help bring more investment to Bengal? Will it fetch major investment in infrastructure?

We have already got investment on the basis of our own efforts. We are number one in MSME sector. The state government cleared seven new industrial projects in the month of January with a proposed investment of Rs 3,422 crore. This includes a cement factory of Emami Cements on 65 acre land at Raghunathpur in Purulia, bringing investment worth Rs 418 crore. Rs 5,500-crore fertilizer project in Panagarh, Rs 20000 crore investment by Steel authority of India for capacity expansion, an investment worth Rs 10000 crore for the second phase of DVC`s thermal power station at Raghunathpur are also in the pipeline. Bengal has potential and we will ensure that our state becomes Sonar Bangla again. Even in infrastructure we are doing good. We will complete electrification of rural Bengal soon, we are number one in rural development.

You have already said that you are not leaving Bengal. Do you have a team ready to take on the huge responsibility in Delhi? Have you given thought to taking the leadership at the Centre to determine policies if the situation so demands? 

Bengal is my state and I belong to that soil. I also have a responsibility towards the people of Bengal, as they gave me a huge mandate in 2011. After 35 years of misrule, they wanted good governance; it is my duty. But I feel justice can be done to both Centre and states. I want to help the Centre as well as the states. I cannot comment now what will happen after elections. And why only me? There are many other leaders who can be good leaders for the country. Democracy will decide the next Prime Minister, people will decide…

How well can Trinamool manage the huge responsibilities in Delhi and Bengal in the event that it becomes kingmaker?

We are not greedy. We just want the political system in India to change. What will happen in the Centre after May, only future will tell. I can only say that our party had ministers in the Centre. I myself have been railway minister twice. Before that I was Cabinet minister during Rajiv Gandhi`s government. My party members were also ministers of state in UPA 2. I believe that if someone wants, they can manage both Centre and states. What matters is policy and governance. I did a lot for Bengal as rail minister. Bengal is progressing now also. 

Do you perceive a harmonious relationship with the Centre in case a non-Congress government comes to power?

What is the function of Central Government? Just to demand taxes and use CBI to strike fear? Under the current system, the power of the states is very less. We have to change that. There should be clear demarcation between the power of Centre and states. We will always fight for the right of our state, as well as other states. We have to strengthen the federal structure. We withdrew our support to UPA 2 when it went against the people. We are not afraid of anyone. We will work for the people.

Name one or two schemes or a policy matter that the federal front government may take up after coming to power.

Our only target is to formulate policies that will help people. We need a change in the political system. We need electoral reforms, judicial reforms, administrative reforms. Why should a few political parties fight elections with black money? It must stop. We must let the public know our policies. We have to develop our villages. West Bengal is number one in 100 days` work. We have to strengthen federal structure. There should be clear demarcation between the power of Centre and states. That will be our priority.

BJP`s chief campaigner Narendra Modi has been showcasing `Vibrant Gujarat` to people in other states. How do you propose to launch your campaign in other states? 

See, you have to understand that we are a poor party. We do not have money. In fact, I had to sell my paintings to collect money for our party`s campaigning. West Bengal also is riddled with debt left behind by the Communists. With such a burden, we cannot do PR campaigns. Some states can do whatever campaign they want. We will rely on spreading our message of development. We will carry this message directly to the people. We certainly do not have money for multi-hundred crore ad campaigns. Our strength is our people, and their love for the Trinamool cause. We are working hard for the people despite the odds and my state is growing. We are doing whatever we can to promote our state in our way. You will be happy to know that West Bengal`s tableaux at this year`s Republic Day parade got the first prize. Bengal has a lot of talent. We are trying to showcase it.

Do you support Arvind Kejriwal`s quitting the Delhi government on the Jan Lokpal bill issue? 

They are a very new party, and I do not know anything about them. It would be wrong to make any comments about them at this moment. Our party has been built on a three decade struggle … 

Your party fought the panchayat and municipal polls alone and got majority in most bodies. Will your opponents – Congress, BJP, CPM – will be of any consequence in the four-cornered contest in any of the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies?

We know only one thing, if we work for the people, they will bless us with their votes. After 2011, every election we fought was without any alliance. Yet we won. Be it the bypolls or the panchayat polls or the municipal polls, people have placed their trust on us time and again. Even workers and leaders of other parties now want to be part of our development agenda, and are joining our party. People now know about the syndicate between CPM-Congress-BJP. People will surely make a wise decision; our actions speak for ourselves.