‘The decision to call for the Army in Darjeeling was taken after considering the ground situation there, says Derek O’Brien.’
As the crisis in Darjeeling continues, and in the wake of the recent communal flareup in West Bengal, Rajib Chowdhuri and Soumitra Nandi spoke to Derek O’Brien, MP, Rajya Sabha leader and national secretary of the Trinamul Congress
From the hills to plains, West Bengal is burning. A period of crisis and instability looms large. What is the Trinamul Congress government doing? How is it going to tackle the violence in the state and restore peace?
West Bengal is not burning. Do not create unnecessary panic. Violence has been rejected by the people of Bengal, and peace has been restored. Our chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said she is open to talks with everyone. She has visited the hills of Darjeeling dozens of times. No chief minister of Bengal had ever set foot into these areas for decades. A historic Cabinet meeting was also held in Darjeeling for the first time in 45 years. The West Bengal government is offering peace and real development. Those opposing this only want disruption. Sabotaging the development process pains the common people of the area who rely on this peak tourist season.
When the violence broke out in Darjeeling, the Trinamul Congress government called for Indian Army troops’ deployment, but in Baduria of North 24 Parganas, it preferred Central paramilitary forces. Why is the difference in choice?
The decision to call for the Army in Darjeeling was taken after considering the ground situation there. In Baduria, some fake pictures were being put up on Facebook, which had no relation with what has actually happened. The police arrested the man who did this. Logically, the situation should have been under control. But soon the situation turned into a communal issue. Baduria is now peaceful, and so is Basirhat.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee leaves no stone unturned for peace and communal harmony, yet trouble erupts in various forms in different places of the state. Who are the troublemakers?
We stand for peace and development. We stand for inclusivity. We stand for unity and diversity. Bengal and her districts are as diverse as a nation altogether. Every district in the state is culturally and linguistically distinct. What does Jalpaiguri have in common with Kolkata or Cooch Behar or Purulia? But we are together and will be forever. No one can break this spirit. Bengal will never be divided. It is a game of vested interests. The BJP needs to answer hard questions on farmer distress, shrinking jobs, economic uncertainty and communal disharmony. If a certain Facebook post can set up a riot, then there cannot be a worse situation for the country.
The Opposition often accuses the Trinamul Congress government of following the politics of appeasement. Are they correct?
No one understands the Bengal psyche like Mamata Banerjee. We don’t blow our trumpet. If anybody has a problem with her appeasing the people of Bengal, go take a walk. We don’t do Hindu-Muslim politics. We aim at development. The BJP is just the opposite. They have painted a civil war-like scenario and described the situation as a big riot, which is all fictional. The BJP is intent on instigating riots. But if it leads to tension anywhere, Trinamul would not hold back in taking action. As long as Trinamul is in power, all are equal. We respect all communities. We do not set one community against another. Some leaders are destroying the country and then going abroad and talking about unity. They are setting fire to the amity between communities and religions and then indulging in sweet talk on religious unity in foreign lands.
What is the Trinamul Congress’ observations about the BJP’s role in the Opposition? Can the BJP challenge the Trinamul in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election?
We have increased our strength in the West Bengal Assembly from 184 in 2011 to over 215 in 2016. The BJP came fourth in the 2016 Assembly elections and would do well to retain the two seats it has in the Lok Sabha.
In 2014, the BJP invested heavily in an expensive campaign in the state but came away with only two seats out of 42. Subsequently, it made a lot of noise before byelections and then the 2016 Assembly election. It got hammered in both. What it couldn’t achieve through the front door, without popular support, it now seeks to do through a deep-rooted conspiracy. It wants to manufacture a communal conflagration and draw votes in blood.
We condemn the biased attitude of a couple of BJP mouthpieces masquerading as “national TV channels”. They should stop spreading propaganda and check facts. The BJP should cut out the big talk, instead address and resolve issues like Kashmir, farmer distress and job losses. BJP ministers and senior functionaries are openly spreading provocative messages on the social media, which is a crime. Sanghi journalists get into the Twitter war every other day. Assorted bhakts and the entire Sangh Parivar troll army — “digital yoddhas”, as they have been called by the BJP top leadership — spew venom on the Internet. When it cannot defeat the Trinamul on social, economic or development indices, what does the BJP do? It goes back to a tried and tested dirty trick of polarisation. The BJP dirty tricks department is also active in Darjeeling. What was the local MP doing supplying uniforms? We have proof, which in time we will share. BJP leaders are making hollow speeches abroad about unity and harmony, but back home they sell the nation’s assets and oversee killing fields. Is the BJP running the nation or burning the nation? Except Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamul Congress, no one is protesting. The reason is that the Trinamul has to answer to the people. Till the last drop of our blood, we will raise questions on behalf of the people and fight for them in Delhi.
BJP’s affiliate organisations are spreading their wings across West Bengal. Does the Trinamul Congress see their rise here as a threat? What is the Trinamul Congress’ strategy to counter them?
The recent incident in North 24 Parganas is a case study on how a religious controversy is manufactured and promoted by the Rumour Spreading Society (RSS). The Central government is oppressing the country and pushing it towards darkness. The more people try to scare the Trinamul, the stronger it becomes. The CBI and the ED can’t scare the Trinamul to submission. Our chief minister has conducted more than 150 administrative review meetings.
Why has West Bengal governor Keshari Nath Tripathi come under Trinamul Congress’ attack repeatedly in recent times? What are the differences of opinions and in which areas?
The governor has used unacceptable language in his telephone call to the chief minister. It is very unfortunate that Raj Bhavan in West Bengal has been converted into a RSS shakha. It’s almost like all the bedsheets and towels and everything in Raj Bhavan now bear the BJP logo. Mamata Banerjee is a democratically-elected chief minister. Ten crore people of Bengal have sent her here. The governor, I’m sorry to say, gets his brief on a BJP letterhead delivered to him by the BJP minions, and he reads out those briefs diligently. The kind of development that has happened in Bengal, and the overall work which Mamata Banerjee is doing, have not only been recognised at the state and national level but also at the international level. This kind of thing is unacceptable from the governor.
Central agencies have started calling accused Trinamul Congress leaders one after another for questioning in the Narada sting operation case. Do you think it’s going to affect the party’s poll prospects if they face arrest?
The Narada issue was all over in 2016. Do not go by perception — see the ground reality. Bengal will always be ahead in development and harmony.