?Trinamool appeal is on the wane?

Updated on Apr 25, 2004 05:58 PM IST

Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee hopes to raise the tally this time.

HT Image
HT Image

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee  says competition is something he looks forward to. A bit of it, he adds, would help his government to do better and wean away some of the ugly elements that have no place to go to but the CPI(M). He spoke to Debasish Roy Chowdhury on various topical issues. Excerpts:

What kind of a competition do you see for your party in the state this time?
Not much. We are going to increase our tally. The Trinamool’s appeal is waning. If anything, the Congress will do significantly better than last time, not Trinamool. But while the Congress is likely to recover lost ground in rural areas, the Trinamool retains some strength in and around Kolkata.

What’s your election plank? Decades of incumbency means there’s nothing new you can promise. So what are you going to tell the voters? Why should they vote for you?
Two things. First, we will appeal to them to protect secularism. This is the most dangerous government the country has ever seen. If it returns to power, they will destroy the secular fabric of the country. Voters will have to decide if they will allow the entire country to be turned into Gujarat. This is our main plank. Two, we will attack the government on the feel-good nonsense.

So you think there is no feel-good? How about the impressive growth figures that the government is projecting?
What feel-good? If the country is doing so well on the economic front, why did 25 women have to die in a stampede for saris? Millions of people out there still can’t buy a dress to cover their shame. That’s the Indian reality, and that has not changed under this regime. I have campaigned in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. You won’t believe the and was shocked to see the condition of the people there. Hyderabad is shining all right, definitely shining more than Kolkata. Nasik is shining. But go to Nalgonda and you will see semi-naked, emaciated people, the kind we saw in famine films when we were young, and don’t get to see here anymore.

The contrast between the cities and the villages is appalling. Actually they made a blunder with this India Shining hype. They in fact realised this early enough. If people are indeed feeling so good, why on earth would you need to spend crores to trumpet it? In the course of my campaigning, I have found that the people are very receptive when I blast feel-good. They, more than anybody else, know there is nothing to feel good about. After the Lucknow incident, the Prime Minister himself revised his party’s position, saying India is shining, but not all parts of it. I have gone on record saying I don’t know if it is just another election gimmick or Mr Vajpayee is saying this from the core of the heart. Mr Vajpayee must be furious with me, but nothing doing.

Keeping Mr Vajpayee happy is anyway not part of your job profile.

But hasn’t the NDA government been particularly receptive of your demands? Whenever Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has gone to Delhi with his demands, they have gone out of their way to accommodate to meet them.
True. But you see, by doing that they are not doing me any favours. This is not about individuals, its systemic. As I see it, as long as you are on firm grounds, making legitimate demands, they are bound to fulfil them.

Why does the Left keep saying “outside support” when there is such a great opportunity to participate in the Centre in a more active manner? Even when opportunity knocks, why don’t Left leaders want to take charge at the Centre?
You want to send us to the Centre, but you must realise that without the numbers, we won’t be able to make any difference.

In a hung-Parliament scenario, isn’t 50-odd seats strength enough? Look what TDP has managed to do with less than that, the kind of bargaining power he enjoys and the concessions he has extracted from the Centre in the process. Why can’t Left do the same?
Possibly. But then, let’s take the example of Indrajitda (Gupta). He was a great leader, but what could he do in the Deve Gowda government? Nothing. That was the whole point of the ’96 debate? Jyoti Basu is a great leader. The country would gain immensely with someone like him at the helm. But this isn’t about personalities. We were worried that we didn’t have the requisite numbers that would give us a decisive say in the government. Without that, what’s the point?

This election is supposedly fought on the development plank. We have seen some frantic development work in this state as well. Will you try to make this one of your selling points as well?
We have certainly covered a lot of ground in the past few years. In the city, several flyovers have come up. We are also moving very fast on the rapid mass transit system.

How long will it take to turn around Kolkata?
Frankly, we cannot have buses and trams anymore. There’s only 6 per cent road space. There’s no way but to shift passenger and cargo transit upwards. The city is in a mess, true. But once we have these plans in place, it will be a lot different.

But aren’t trams making a comeback worldwide? Why do away with such an environment-friendly mode of transport?
Trams will be there, but not within the city. In Salt Lake or Joka maybe, but not in the city centre. Only pension-holders travel by trams these days.

And the industry?
We are now emerging as one of the major players in the IT sector, with IBM, Wipro, Reliance, Satyam and ITC approaching us. The HongKong Bank CEO was in town on Thursday. He wants to make an outsourcing hub here. The last time I went to Hyderabad, I dropped in at Mr Chandrababu Naidu’s office.

I congratulated him on his excellent performance on the IT front. But also told him that we may be late starters, but we will overtake them in two years. We will, I know we will. Our growth in this sector is now 120 per cent. So many people want to come here now that we now actually have a space crunch. There’s a turnaround in other sectors too, like steel, tea, plastics.

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