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October 15, 2011

Paschimbanga CM a case study for Yale University

Paschimbanga CM a case study for Yale University

The Ivy League institution, Yale invited Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha member Mr. Derek O’Brien to deliver a lecture on his leader Ms. Mamata Banerjee, her struggle and triumph on October 11.

Titled “My leader is a one-woman army who demolished Communism from India”, the 90-minute lecture was followed by a chat show-style interview of Mr. O’Brien by a student and K. Sivaramakrishnan, Chair, South Asian Studies Council, Yale University.

Here are excerpts from the session.

The communists had been in power in West Bengal for decades. How did your party take on a strong cadre-based party? What were the key elements of your party’s strategy in combating the Left in Bengal?

Derek: There was no quick answer. It happened over a long period. It took a series of movements to take on the communists (including a 26-day hunger strike!). The strength was that they were people’s movements. It had to be down upwards not top downwards. You’ve read about the Nandigram and Singur movements but they were not the only ones. There were many such movements. Yes, people’s movements were the key.

With respect to future alliances and the 2014 general elections, how wedded is your party to the UPA? Trinamool has been a coalition partner of the BJP in the past. Would you consider joining hands with them in 2014? Is that foreseeable?

Derek: I do not think this would be appropriate for me to discuss nor am I qualified to discuss Trinamool’s strategy sitting here on a New Haven campus in Connecticut. But having said that, we are a dependable ally of the UPA. We have been elected to govern from 2009 to 2014 and that is our job now in Delhi and our job in Bengal from 2011 to 2016 is to govern and that is our focus.

Several commentators have said the Trinamool’s victory in the 2011 Assembly elections was a ‘self goal’ by the Left. Do you agree or is it taking credit away from your party and its strategy?

Derek: The people of Bengal spoke loud and clear and to call this a self goal is an insult to them. The bottom line is in a democracy votes are cast and votes are counted and seats work out that way. People are the best judge.

As the UPA’s largest alliance partner, what are your priorities? How important are issues such as passage of the new land acquisition bill and managing price rise?

Derek: In whatever we do we have three priorities. Our first priority is the people, our second is the people and our third is the people. So we never lose focus and whatever we do is people-centric.

We can say with a sense of pride that the land acquisition bill is in its present form thanks to movements that happened in Bengal under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. The bill got there largely because of Trinamool`s view on land acquisition….

Our view is very clear: no private acquisition of land. Among all the political parties in India, and let me say this with some conviction, we have been the most consistent in our view on land acquisition. In fact it wasn’t a surprise when the Union rural development minister, at the press conference after the bill was tabled, publicly thanked the general secretary of his party and Mamata Banerjee for their efforts in getting the bill where it is today.

Given the strong grassroot presence of the Trinamool in Bengal, how accurate is it to call the party a ‘one-woman army’?

Derek: Good question. When I shared the subject of this lecture with my leader, she also in all humility told me that Derek, this is more than a one-woman army: we are all in this together and we’ve all been working on this together. But her humility apart, the reality is you need a persona, a larger than life person to bind this all together. So she is very much the binding and guiding force.

How do you see the demands for a separate state of Gorkhaland? Where are negotiations with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha headed?

Derek: This question is beautifully timed, because less than 24 hours ago, the chief minister had a wonderful visit to north Bengal where she made some very interesting points about the development of the region. Everything was possible to do there from development to education to tourism and she pointed out that all this was possible but Darjeeling will always be a part of Bengal. So she has made a straightforward statement.

For the people of Bengal and elsewhere, Trinamool means Mamata Banerjee. There seem to be succession issues in other political parties but how do you and your party see the future of Trinamool? What after Mamata?

Derek: That’s a tough one. I think when you have a leader of this stature the question of succession doesn’t arise. However, she is a democratically elected leader of the party. In fact, on November 2 we’ll be holding elections again for the chairperson and the state president.

And this is a question that can be asked to so many other parties. But I think what Mamatadi has the ability to do is to attract talent. And I must assure you that there is a lot of talent. To be fair a lot of people underestimate this talent and that is actually our strength.