Mamata Banerjee’s lieutenant-turned-rival, Suvendu Adhikari, is the giant slayer of West Bengal politics, having defeated the Chief Minister from the Nandigram seat in the recently held assembly elections. He speaks to News18 in his first detailed interview after being rewarded by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with the Leader of the Opposition post in the assembly.
CM Mamata Banerjee may contest from her old seat of Bhabanipur now that Sovandeb Chhattopadhyay has resigned as MLA…
The fact is she should have not accepted the post of the Chief Minister on ethical grounds. Her party may have won, but she was rejected in Nandigram. In Kerala in 1996, when the LDF (Left Democratic Front) won the elections, their Chief Ministerial face, VS Achuthanandan, lost his seat and did not take up the post of the Chief Minister.
PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme is finally operational in Bengal, but just seven lakh farmers got the money this time…
In West Bengal…over 70 lakh farmers should get the benefit of PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme, as per figures of the 2011 Census, but (they) were not getting the money. The Prime Minister and the BJP made this a big issue. And finally, the agriculture department of West Bengal inaugurated a portal last year and 40 lakh farmers registered there. But just seven lakh, out of the 40 lakh farmers, have got the benefit this time. The ground reality is that the state government has only sent names to the Centre of TMC (ruling Trinamool Congress) leaders and TMC cadre, and especially of those from a community which has been used as a vote bank by the TMC. The names of those farmers who are BJP supporters and who do not support the TMC have not been sent, though they fit the criteria for this scheme. Even for the seven lakh farmers who got the benefit, the CM got a leaflet distributed from every BDO office that claimed she had fought and got them this money. This is totally an opportunist behaviour to grab credit for a central government scheme. Right now, there is no election in the near future in Bengal, but Mamata Banerjee is still playing politics. Politics should be left for near the elections. But in West Bengal, this is what happens all the time and 365 days.
How will BJP act as a strong opposition in West Bengal? You are now Leader of the Opposition (LoP).
Compared to the other states, in West Bengal, the constitutional scope to work, and respect and recognition are not there for the LoP. I saw it when I was part of the government in the last 10 years, when the Leader of the Opposition got no respect from the TMC. But, as the LoP now, I will perform my duty with all energy and enthusiasm in order to be a constructive opposition, and raise issues strongly while respecting the dignity of the assembly. We had won 77 seats in the recent elections, and later two of our MPs who contested resigned. So we have 75 MLAs now. It is a good strength for the Opposition.
What is your analysis on why the BJP could not win the West Bengal elections?
I will go to New Delhi and meet our party president JP Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. I will share my practical experience of these elections inside our party forums, and not in the media.
CBI arrested TMC ministers such as Firhad Hakim in the Narada case soon after the elections. TMC has questioned the timing of the action and asked why CBI has not got sanction so far to act against you.
I will not speak on this matter. The matter is sub-judice and before the Lok Sabha Speaker. Regarding the timing, that is a non-issue…questions could have been raised if this action had happened during the elections, as some might have said this brought advantage to one party. Law is taking its own course.
The BJP has made post-poll violence in West Bengal a big issue, but the TMC has termed it an exaggeration.
Over 30 of our cadres were killed in post-poll violence by TMC cadres, and daily extortion and violence are still going on. Ten thousand to twelve thousand complaints have been lodged by us with the police regarding this, but there are some areas where there is no scope of even lodging a complaint. The judiciary should look at this — lots of representations have also gone to the President of India, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. The central government and the judiciary should look into this and do something. People of West Bengal had to flee due to the violence and become refugees in Assam and Jharkhand and Odisha. There is no scope of doing a movement in West Bengal as a lockdown is on, and the state government can use the law around the pandemic against us. But this law is not invoked when TMC does a big protest in Kolkata or outside the CBI office. The Chief Minister is herself staging a dharna at the CBI office. But (when) three BJP MLAs sat on a protest in Siliguri over rising Covid deaths, they were taken away by police within 30 minutes.