Interview: Sovandeb Chattopadhyay

‘There is peace in West Bengal’

Print edition : April 15, 2016
Interview with Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, senior Trinamool Congress leader and Chief Whip of the Trinamool in the Assembly.

SOVANDEB CHATTOPADHYAY is one of the senior-most leaders of the Trinamool Congress and the Chief Whip of the party in the West Bengal Assembly. He has been with the party right from its inception in January 1998 and has the distinction of being the first elected MLA of the Trinamool, having won a byelection the same year. In an exclusive interview with Frontline, he talks about the electoral prospects of his party. He also believes that someone from inside the party has a hand in the Narada sting operation. Excerpts:

After the Saradha scam and the Narada sting, and with the opposition coming together to take on the Trinamool, are you still expecting a huge victory?

Yes, I think we will certainly win with a great majority. In the last five years, the amount of work that Mamata Banerjee has done has been seen by the people. She has worked with absolute transparency and has increased the State revenue by 3.5 times and has increased the planned budget 6.5 times. Planned budget is an index of development. The people of West Bengal can virtually feel and touch the fruits of development.

Apart from bringing peace to the Darjeeling hills and ridding the State of Maoist threat, what else would you say are the main achievements of the Mamata Banerjee government?

First and foremost, she has been able to provide food to the poorest of the poor people. The Government of India’s National Food Security Act ensures food for 3.5 crore people of the State. Mamata Banerjee has decided to extend this benefit to eight crore people out of a total population of 9.1 crore. As of date, she has reached 6.5 crore.

Under Mamata Banerjee, there has been massive infrastructure development, including roadways, hospitals, schools, colleges, ITIs, polytechnics, etc.; on top of these there has been the beautification of Kolkata and the district towns. We have managed to take electricity to 90 per cent of the households. Today there is peace in West Bengal, there is power and developed infrastructure. In fact, we can very well claim that this is a destination for industries.

Let us talk of education. Since assuming power, in just four and a half years Mamata Banerjee has added 15 new universities in the State and 46 colleges.

One of her biggest achievements is in the health sector, particularly in the rural region. She has set up 41 super-speciality hospitals. Generic medicines are now available at low cost everywhere.

She has set up a pipeline from Malda to Digha to provide pure water to the people of the State. As you know, West Bengal has a problem of arsenic presence in groundwater in many places.

We have spent the maximum money in the country in extending 100 days’ work, and have been number one in India in the creation of man-days of employment. We have been awarded the first prize for our work in The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, or PMGSY, and the Swachh Bharat Mission, which we have named here Nirmal Bangla Mission.

In fact, our election slogan is “See the development and give us votes”.

Are you not nervous regarding the Left-Congress understanding?

No. Let me tell you, this tie-up will not be successful. To date the tie-up has not been 100 per cent. Those who are still working for the Congress are orthodox Congress supporters, otherwise they would have joined the Trinamool; the Congress’ politics for the last 50 years has been anti-communist. They will not be giving their votes to the CPI(M). As for the CPI(M), apart from a few, most are very orthodox, to the point of being fundamentalist in their politics. From their perspective too there will not be a proper alliance. In fact, we will gain from such an attempt. In my opinion we will get around 220 seats.

How far will the violent inner-party conflicts affect the Trinamool’s prospects this time?

No, it’s not like that. There is greater democracy within our party than most other parties, and greater independence to express one’s opinions. Still, Mamata Banerjee has been able to bring discipline. But it will take more time. Her focus has been more on the development of the State. After all, she has to show the people all that has been accomplished by her government. If we did not perform, how would we face the people of the State? After this election she will give more attention to bringing more discipline within the party. It is not as though the party does not take disciplinary action against erring members. People have been suspended, even expelled, and reprimanded from time to time.

How far will the Narada sting hurt the party’s electoral performance?

There is no doubt that it has come as a jolt to the people. But let me also tell you that people are also suspecting that this is part of a conspiracy. Somehow these leaders have been influenced by some people inside the party, and the fact that these leaders have trusted these people is what has led to this development. It took place just before the elections [2014 Lok Sabha elections], at a time when money is most needed. This sting operation was carried out through someone who is our partyman, someone whom these leaders trusted.

So the betrayal is from someone within the party?

I am not sure, but I think so. Common sense tells me so.

Another allegation against the present government is that there is lack of industries and job opportunities in the State and that the government has done nothing about it.

The rate of industrial growth in the State is higher than that in the country. We are concentrating on small and middle enterprises, where there is a lot of scope for employment generation. Already there has been considerable employment generation in this sector.

Your land policy is believed to be a deterrent for investors in the manufacturing sector. Your comments.

The fight that Mamata Banerjee is waging for land is something that will happen in the whole country. There is a population explosion, and in this situation if an investor comes and asks for 400 acres when 100 acres will suffice, it is not fair. This is Mamata Banerjee’s point. In the years to come that will be the question in India—how much land to give to industry and how much to agriculture.

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