TMC leader Saugata Roy.(PTI)
TMC leader Saugata Roy.(PTI)

In Bengal, if you are with BJP, you lose: Saugata Roy

HT spoke to former union minister and MP Saugata Roy about what impact he expects Suvendu Adhikari’s exit to have on TMC
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Sunetra Choudhary
UPDATED ON DEC 23, 2020 10:50 AM IST

Home 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 legislators from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). The BJP is expecting major gains in the upcoming assembly elections, buoyed 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 to former union minister and MP Saugata Roy about what impact he expects Adhikari’s exit to have on TMC. Roy told HT’s Sunetra Choudhury that Adhikari was pressured by cases filed by the Enforcement Directorate, but the Muslim vote will be an insurmountable factor for the BJP.

We just saw Amit Shah concluding what seems to be a successful trip to Bengal, Would you agree that BJP’s influence in Bengal is growing?

Not at all. I do not think that the BJP’s influence is growing. There is no proof on the ground of the same. Amit Shah has gone, they spent crores of rupees and in one of these programmes, they got lots of people but they are all outsiders. I do not think that a large number of people will join the BJP. They said so but only six TMC MLAs joined, no deluge, no nothing. So what is it? Amit Shah had two rallies; Mamata, if she goes, will hold a rally double the size. So how does it prove that BJP’s influence is growing?

One of the instances that is being cited is that Suvendu Adhikari was one of Mamata Banerjee’s key people who led the whole Nandigram protest.

No, no, he didn’t lead. Suvendu was a youngster at the time. He had just become an MLA. He played a role, his father also played a role. He didn’t lead the Nandigram protest, he is not a Nandigram local. He is from a place which is about 100 km away from Nandigram. But Suvendu had some relevance as a popular leader. Having gone to BJP, he will lose the Muslim support base. Nandigram itself is 40% Muslim.

But isn’t this talk about the Muslim base what the BJP is banking on? What will they use to polarise the vote?

In Bengal, 30% people are Muslim. Any leader who doesn’t command any support, they don’t realise that without the Muslims, they will be hard-pressed. BJP can’t get that percentage of votes and will be at a disadvantage.

So you’re saying that BJP’s usual strategy won’t work in Bengal because of simple arithmetic?

No, it doesn’t work. Apart from other political factors, if you are with BJP, you lose volume.

But we saw seven people joining and they said by the time elections are here, we will see many other people crossing over. Isn’t that a matter of concern?

Not yet. We have 218 MLAs and I don’t think that the number defecting from Trinamool will be large. Some of the people that have gone with Suvendu, they are such non-entities that they would not have a got a nomination this time. Even if they got, they would lose.

Why did Suvendu Adhikari really leave?

Suvendu is very ambitious He wants to be chief minister or at least deputy chief minister. He wanted that assurance in TMC and we couldn’t give him that. Allurement too. The BJP is capable of offering financial allurements and Suvendu has some problem with ED cases. So all these taken together, BJP put some pressure on him and offered him something. But ultimately, it will not be fulfilled. BJP will not make anybody who is not from RSS {Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh} background chief minister or deputy chief minister. In Assam, they didn’t make Himanta Biswa Sarma the chief minister. In Tripura, they brought in Biplab Deb, a non-entity, because he had an RSS background.

What happened at your meeting with Suvendu Adhikari on December 1?

Suvendu was playing a game. He had several rounds of talks with me, then we had a final meeting in which Abhishek (Banerjee), Sudip (Bandhopadhyay) and Prashant Kishor were also present....{then} we spoke to Mamata. We made Suvendu speak to her. Mamata told him “Suvendu, you work in the party, what’s the problem?’’ He said “No, Didi, I will be with you.’’ So, I said that to the press. Suvendu had said that he’ll say everything on the 6th of December. ..Then next day, he sent me a WhatsApp {message} that said “since you have leaked it to the press, we can’t work with you.’’ But his deal with BJP was already finalised. We knew that. He took that as an excuse. Then he went out himself trying to gather MLAs, but he couldn’t get that many.

One of the charges that he and the BJP have made is that they see dynastic politics in TMC. That there has been a lot of attention paid to Abhishek Banerjee {Mamata Banerjee’s nephew}?

No, no, how can Suvendu talk of dynastic politics?. His father and brother are MPs. He was MLA and minister. His younger brother is the chairman of a municipality. it does not suit him to talk of dynastic politics. And Mamata or anybody else from TMC has not said that Abhishek will be chief minister. He is not the CM candidate. So you are building up a mythical opposition to Abhishek.

Is there resentment among party insiders against Prashant Kishor and his style of working?

Prashant Kishor doesn’t decide anything, he advises strategy. He is doing a good job and suggesting good programmes to the party.

BJP has gone from a handful of seats to 18 in the Lok Sabha from Bengal and now Prashant Kishor says that it won’t cross double figures. Isn’t that by itself a huge jump and how is TMC countering that?

By being active. TMC is not sitting idle and we have reached out to people. I will hold a meeting in Suvendu’s hometown tomorrow {Wednesday} and Mamata is travelling and attracting huge crowds. We can’t sit idle in our offices and pontificate, we have to go to the people.

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