Trinamool Congress chief and railway minister Mamata Banerjee took time out of her hectic campaign schedule to answer an emailed questionnaire from Hindustan Times. Excerpts:
In 2004, the Trinamool 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 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 or minor force is not the reason for my existence. My 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 spent 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.
If you are elected chief minister, and the Tata Group or the Salem Group want to invest in the state, how will you react?
We are not going to discuss any individual names or corporate houses. Our guiding policy will be Maa Mati Manush and our actions will be to fulfil these objectives. We have an open mind. A proper industrial policy for Bengal is what is needed right now. We will bring in clarity, which is absent in the present set up.
How do you plan to tackle the Maoist problem in Bengal?
I will visit Jangalmahal 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. 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 tough times. My mother and I still live in the same house in Kalighat. Even now, whenever I go out, I take her blessings.
Can you talk us through your early years in politics?
College was where I got involved in politics. I learnt the basics there - that you need to be loved and maintain good relationships with people. Back in college, I was elected unopposed twice. It was a great learning experience.
Some people say that your image - crumpled sari, 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.
You have repeatedly said: "Left is not bad; the CPI (M) is." So, are you really offering old wine in a new bottle?
I think the difference is basic. We have always said, "Yes, yes, yes. We can." All that the Left has said is "No. No. No," to anything positive. They have followed a policy of violence, a policy of hatred, a policy of loot. Our party's work speaks for itself. In the last one and a half years, the Railways have done a lot of good work. We will continue our good work there. We are committed to working for the development of Bengal.
If you win these elections, how long will you take to deliver on your promise of a new Bengal?
The CPI(M) is leaving the state in a mess. We will need some time to study the situation to see how big a mess it is. After that, we will rejuvenate Bengal.