Interview: Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury

‘Some psychological barriers remain’

Print edition : April 15, 2016

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. Photo: PTI

Interview with Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, West Bengal Congress president.

ADHIR RANJAN CHOWDHURY, Lok Sabha member and president of the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee, is known for his no-nonsense approach in politics. In this exclusive interview with Frontline, he speaks of the necessity of the Left-Congress understanding in the coming elections and its prospects. Excerpts:

Both the Congress and the Left claim that the Congress-Left understanding was something that was thrust on them by the people of the State. How difficult was it for you to overlook 34 years of bitter political rivalry during Left rule?

In West Bengal, political atrocities committed by the Trinamool regime have affected the workers and supporters of both the Congress and the Left. Such has been the severity of the persecution—the democratic space for doing opposition politics has been squeezed in such a ruthless manner—that we have been practically gasping for life. Out of desperation the workers of both parties decided to forge an alliance in order to get rid of the source of these atrocities. A common refrain was sounded that by whatever means the present regime has to be dislodged; otherwise the opposition will be obliterated from the soil of Bengal.

Are you satisfied with the understanding you have reached with the Left?

It is sheer desperation that has brought both parties into the same frame. The workers of both parties want it. But for 34 years we have belonged to diametrically opposite poles. So, naturally, some psychological barriers still remain which need to be sorted out. Through the electoral process these psychological barriers will be diffused. Chances of success depend on diffusing these obstacles. But I must admit we are still in the process of doing so. I cannot say everything has been sorted out. There is still a gap between the lip and the cup.

You are yet to come to a consensus on all seats. Do you not think that a friendly fight will ultimately hamper the prospects of victory?

There is a high chance of coming to an understanding in 95 per cent of the seats. But in some of the places, the CPI(M) is not being able to convince its allies. The problem lies not with the CPI(M) but with its allies. The CPI(M) has not been able to accommodate its allies, and so these allies want to encroach upon Congress turf, and are giving their candidates those constituencies that are our strongholds. We have managed to come to an understanding with our particular allies, the JD(U) [Janata Dal (United)] and the RJD [Rashtriya Janata Dal]. The CPI(M) has not been able to accommodate its allies, and that is their problem. That problem is now spilling over to our side. So I have said there will be friendly fights in some places, because if we do not put up our candidate, the Trinamool will stand to gain. As I said, some psychological barriers still remain, and in such a short time it will be difficult to convince Congress supporters in those places to vote for the Left. You see, Congress supporters are traditional and emotional. But we are trying to minimise such problems.

How far do you think the Narada News sting will improve the prospects of the opposition?

Certainly this improves the prospects of the opposition. The articulate section of society will be convinced that the Trinamool, which once advocated politics of transparency, is steeped in corruption. This is a blow to the Trinamool as far as that section of society is concerned. But the whole of the electorate does not comprise that articulate society. This is one of the issues that will give us the advantage. But it is not one that will sweep the Trinamool out of the soil of Bengal. There are a number of other factors like political atrocities, violence, anarchy, the politics of muscle power and money. For the past five years, the State has not seen any kind of industrial rejuvenation. Thousands of industries have shut down, and unemployment is a major issue. The government has taken no tangible measures to address this problem. A few months ago everyone thought that it would be a cakewalk for the Trinamool. But slowly things are getting difficult for them. A lot depends now on the opposition gaining momentum. The sting operation has given fuel for picking up momentum.

Have you been able to stem the erosion of your support base and worker strength?

We certainly have. If you look at the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress won four seats. The CPI(M) won two seats, and that too from Congress areas. We have managed to maintain our strongholds, and our vote share will increase. It is the Left’s vote share that has plummeted. We still have organisational strength. Suppose there was no alliance this time, the Congress would have been able to tell you the 20-25-30 seats that we would have won and from where. It is not possible for the CPI(M) to do so. There has certainly been poaching by the Trinamool. Our strength of 42 MLAs has been reduced to 32. But since talks of the Left-Congress alliance began, the erosion has been stemmed.

The TMC was already deep into campaigning while the Congress and the Left were trying to reach an understanding. Do you think you are a little behind?

You are correct. Theirs is a monolithic structure, so they have an advantage there. We had to go through the complex process of coming to an understanding over seats; so obviously we are a little behind. This is a new experience for us all.

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