In Bengal, if you are with BJP, you lose: Saugata Roy
Interior Minister Amit Shah has just concluded a two-day visit to West Bengal, where 10 politicians defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including seven lawmakers from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). The BJP expects big gains in the upcoming assembly elections, spurred by the induction of its latest heavyweight recruit from TMC, former minister Suvendu Adhikari. Adhikari was one of the key members of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s team. HT spoke with former trade union minister and MP Saugata Roy about the impact he hopes Adhikari’s departure from TMC will have. Roy told HT’s Sunetra Choudhury that Adhikari was pressured by cases brought by the Directorate of Execution, but the Muslim vote will be an insurmountable factor for the BJP.
We just watched Amit Shah wrap up what appears to be a successful trip to Bengal. Do you agree that BJP’s influence in Bengal is growing?
No way. I don’t think the influence of the BJP is growing. There is no field proof of it. Amit Shah is gone, they spent millions of rupees and in one of these shows they got a lot of people, but they are all outsiders. I don’t think a lot of people join the BJP. They said it, but only six TMC MLA joined, no deluge, nothing. So what is it? Amit Shah had two rallies; Mamata, if you go, will hold a rally twice the size. So how do you show that BJP’s influence is growing?
Also read: Will the BJP leaders resign if the party does not get 200 seats in the World Bank, asks Prashant Kishor?
One of the cases cited is that Suvendu Adhikari was one of Mamata Banerjee’s key people who led the entire Nandigram protest.
No, no, he did not lead. Suvendu was a young man at the time. He had just become an MLA. He played a role, his father also played a role. He did not lead the Nandigram protest, he is not a Nandigram local. He is from a place which is about 100 km from Nandigram. But Suvendu had some relevance as a popular leader. Having gone to the BJP, you will lose the Muslim support base. Nandigram himself is 40% Muslim.
But isn’t this talk about the Muslim base that the BJP is betting on? What will they use to polarize the vote?
In Bengal, 30% of the people are Muslim. Any leader without any support does not realize that without Muslims, he will be in trouble. BJP cannot get that percentage of votes and will be at a disadvantage.
So you are saying that the usual BJP strategy will not work in Bengal because of simple arithmetic?
No, it does not work. Apart from other political factors, if you are with BJP, you lose volume.
But we saw seven people join in and they said that by the time the elections are here, we will see many other people cross. Isn’t that a cause for concern?
Not yet. We have 218 MLAs and I don’t think the number of Trinamool dropouts is great. Some of the people who have left with Suvendu are so non-entities that they wouldn’t have a nomination this time. Even if they did, they would lose.
Also read: BJP vs TMC politics unleashes a family drama
Why did Suvendu Adhikari really leave?
Suvendu is very ambitious. He wants to be prime minister or at least senior vice minister. He wanted that security at TMC and we couldn’t give it to him. Seduction too. The BJP is capable of offering financial attractions and Suvendu has some trouble with cases of erectile dysfunction. So all in all, BJP pushed him a bit and offered him something. But ultimately, it will not be fulfilled. The BJP will not make anyone other than the RSS Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh background prime minister or senior deputy minister. In Assam, they did not name Himanta Biswa Sarma as chief minister. In Tripura, they brought Biplab Deb, a non-entity, because she had experience in RSS.
What happened at your meeting with Suvendu Adhikari on December 1?
Suvendu was playing. He had several rounds of conversations with me, then we had a final meeting where Abhishek (Banerjee), Sudip (Bandhopadhyay) and Prashant Kishor were also present … then we spoke with Mamata. We made Suvendu talk to her. Mamata told him: “Suvendu, you work in the party, what is the problem?” He said, “No, Didi, I’ll be with you.” So I told that to the press. Suvendu had said that he would say it all on December 6. .. Then the next day he sent me a WhatsApp message saying “since you leaked it to the press, we can’t work with you.” But his deal with BJP was already closed. We knew that. He took it as an excuse. Then he went out himself trying to gather MLA, but couldn’t get that many.
One of the accusations he and the BJP have made is that they see dynastic politics in TMC. That much attention has been paid to Abhishek Banerjee Mamata Banerjee’s nephew?
No, no, how can Suvendu speak of dynastic politics? His father and brother are deputies. He was MLA and minister. His younger brother is the president of a municipality. It is not convenient for him to speak of dynastic politics. And Mamata or anyone else at TMC has not said that Abhishek will be the prime minister. He is not the CM candidate. So he is building a mythical opposition to Abhishek.
Is there resentment among party members against Prashant Kishor and his working style?
Prashant Kishor decides nothing, advises strategy. You are doing a good job and suggesting good programs to the party.
BJP has gone from a handful of seats to 18 in Bengal’s Lok Sabha and now Prashant Kishor says he will not cross double figures. Isn’t that in itself a huge leap and how is TMC countering it?
Being active. TMC is not idle and we have reached out to people. I will have a meeting in Suvendu’s hometown tomorrow Wednesday and Mamata is traveling and drawing crowds. We cannot sit idly by in our offices and pontificate, we have to go to the people.