Trinamool Congress chief and Union railway minister Mamataa Banerjee took time out of her hectic campaign schedule to answer an emailed questionnaire from HT. Excerpts:
In 2004, the TMC had reached the rock bottom (it won just one Lok Sabha seat in the general elections). What was the turning point?
Singur. It exposed the Left’s thinking on land acquisition. They wanted to snatch land using guns, bullets and force. We are against the forcible acquisition of land. We are pro-industry. Agriculture and industry can co-exist peacefully.
Since the low of 2004, you have emerged as a major political force. How do you view this change in fortune?
Being a major force or minor force is not the reason for my existence. My whole focus is to be with the people — to share their sorrows and to fight for their cause. It is always by the people, for the people, of the people.
Your critics say you don’t spend enough time in Delhi despite being a minister. Your comments…
In this day of technology, especially with telephones and video conferencing, I do much of my work as railway minister by putting technology to use.
You have promised industrial clusters across the state. How will you implement this, given your commitment not to forcibly acquire farmland?
We will scientifically create a land map for every district and clearly identify agricultural land and industrial land.
How do you plan to tackle the Maoist problem in Bengal?
I will visit Junglemahal (the three Maoist-affected districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia) in my first 100 days in office. In the longer term, I believe the answer is development, which was sadly absent for the many years of CPI (M) misrule.
Tell us something about your younger days…
I studied at Jogamaya Debi College (in Kolkata). The most important influence of my life is my late father Promileswar Banerjee. He inspired me to retain a humanitarian outlook. He passed away at an early stage in my life. My mother supported the family through the tough times.
My mother and I still live together in our house in Kalighat. Even now, whenever I go out, I take her blessings.
Some people say that your image – crumpled saree, chappals, jhola and saying no to many ministerial perks – is a carefully crafted PR exercise. Your comments…
Abraham Lincoln said ‘You can fool some people all of the time, all people for some of the time, but you can't fool all the people all of the time‘. People know who I am.
Why did you change your name to Mamataa?
It’s a small matter. Casual. (Laughs heartily).