Mahua Moitra is one of the most well-known national figures from the Trinamool Congress. Known for her outstanding speeches in the Lok Sabha, Mahua Moitra has been a most vocal critic of the policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre. Apart from being a Member of Parliament, she is also the party president of Nadia district, which has 17 Assembly seats. In this interview to Frontline , Mahua Moitra talks about the electoral battle ahead and the Trinamool’s chances of coming back to power for a third consecutive term. “I truly believe this is a fight of good against evil and that we are fighting a battle for India,” she said. Excerpts:
What are the chances of the Trinamool Congress returning to power?
We are definitely coming back to power. There is no doubt about that. The BJP at the Centre, with all its money and might and with all its control over the media obviously gets far more hype than what is justly due to them based on their strength on the ground. In Bengal, what we have been able to do on the ground, which the BJP and the national media seem to miss, is the huge development work. Bengal is still an agrarian economy; 70 to 80 per cent of Bengal still lives in villages. Every village and rural area has got an enormous amount of development in the past 10 years. Every single family has got something or the other delivered to them. By something or the other we do not mean lollipops, but the very basic things such as health care and education, particularly for the girl child. We have had no starvation deaths in Bengal, our public distribution system has been able to distribute food. This is what is going to pay dividends, this is what people will vote for. I have a constituency and I am the party president of a district [Nadia], which has 17 Assembly seats, and let me tell you, on the ground there is none of the hype that the BJP is trying to stir up from Delhi. This is an election we are winning simply because of the work we have done.
Do you think this is going to be Trinamool versus BJP or will other factors such as the Left-Congress combine, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Abbas Siddiqui and the newly formed Indian Secular Front play a role in determining the winner?
If you look at the 2016 election, the Left and the Congress had tied up and it was an unholy nexus. A lot of Trinamool members, including Didi [Mamata Banerjee] had come out of the Congress family. The DNA of the Congress in Bengal was anti-Left, and we [Trinamool] were here to remove the Left. Today when the Congress tells whatever is left of its grass-roots workers that they must ally with the very people who were responsible for all the violence and who burned their homes, the few hard-core Congress supporters who are left are finding it difficult to accept. I think this unholy nexus between the Congress and the CPI (M) was doomed to fail even in 2016. So, when you have a formula that has already failed in 2016, at a time when there was no BJP, why would you again try that formula unless you have a deal with the BJP? So, I strongly suspect that Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury is going ahead with this in order to eat into what he considers the Trinamool vote share. That is the only reason we can think of, otherwise it makes no sense.
Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM is a party of predominantly Urdu-speaking Muslims. They have a base in Maharashtra, Bihar, Hyderabad and other places, but in Bengal his brand of politics will never appeal to Bengali Muslims. You must not forget that the AIMIM has been around in Bengal. As far as Abbas Siddiqui’s challenge is concerned, it is a joke. His influence is in one little area, Jangipara—a single Assembly constituency in Hooghly district.
What is most important is to understand what Muslims in Bengal feel. After the Bihar Assembly election, Muslims have realised that they are in threat everywhere from the fascist right-wing government at the Centre, which believes that Muslims have no right to live in India. Muslims have realised that if the secular fabric of which they are a part is to be protected, it cannot be left to one or two marginal characters from here and there who pop up. I think this is another thing that is getting a lot of hype and it also something that the BJP loves to do, and they are playing this up.
So, it is going to be a one-on-one fight.
So the challenge from the BJP is real and not a perceived one?
I am on the ground, and, of course, there is challenge from the BJP. After 10 years of being in a government it is natural to face some anti-incumbency; but that is not something unique to Bengal, it is there all over the world. In a democracy there will always be an opposition and we welcome it. A strong opposition goads the government to better performance. But that is not the issue. The issue is that the same factors that worked for them in the Lok Sabha—which is you had one strong face in Narendra Modi, and an opposition that did not have a face, and you do not have organisational strength—these same factors will work against them in the Assembly election. The BJP does not have a face against Mamata Banerjee who is a tried-and-tested messiah. Organisationally, they may have RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] pracharaks and people coming in and going out from other States, as is their model of working, but that model does not work in Bengal. Here, the local leaders have worked for the people and have been one with them. But if one imports an organisational structure during the time of the election, it does not give them the same sense of security, that a grassroots organisation like ours provides.
You mentioned that an anti-incumbency sentiment is natural after staying in power for 10 years. What is the Trinamool doing to overcome this sentiment?
It is a two-fold campaign. On the one hand, we have a situation where everything else has fallen and only Tamil Nadu and Bengal are left standing opposed to the BJP. We are the only ones who have shown the courage to stand up to Delhi. With only 22 MPs, look at the way we are fighting with our back to the wall. We have never entered into any deal with the BJP. It is important to get this message across. We are fighting to save the fabric of India. I truly believe this is a fight of good against evil, and that we are fighting a battle for India. I have never felt more committed to the cause than now.
We are going ahead with not only new outreach programmes such as ‘Duare Sarkar’ [government at the doorstep], but also reminding the people of the benefits we have extended in the past 10 years. We are showing them what it was like before and how it is now—the improvement in every aspect of their lives.
The Trinamool’s strategy of labelling the BJP an “outsider” has been criticised as being divisive and parochial. Your comments.
We are not saying that at all. It is the BJP that is trying to twist what we are saying and claiming that Mamata Banerjee is trying to target non-Bengalis. It is the BJP and Hindutva wallas who indulge in such politics as we have seen in Maharashtra and Assam. Bengal has one of the highest populations of Biharis. Outside Rajasthan, the largest trading Marwari population in the country is in Bengal. Nobody in their right mind will think we are targeting non-Bengalis. We are talking about the people the BJP is importing, the hired mercenaries such as Kailash Vijayvargiya [BJP national general secretary] and RSS pracharaks, who come, try and implement the same hate model they do everywhere else, and leave. These are the people we are calling outsiders. Nobody is talking about the electorate.