The Centre allocates additional 293 MWs to meet winter crisis
A narrow by-lane off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass leads to the new Trinamool Bhavan, one of the Kolkata offices of West Bengal’s ruling party. Even on a rain-lashed Sunday morning, a queue of visitors wait in front the tiny cubicle of Rajya Sabha member Dola Sen, who was elected to the upper house of Parliament three times in a row this July. There are people who come from the districts and around the city with a variety of problems ranging from the personal to the professional and political.
Dola is known to give patient hearings to all and has a system of jotting down on handwritten sheets of paper the names and phone numbers of each person to ensure that even if she is unable to meet them on that particular day if time runs out, she will have them contacted on the next available date.
Just back from the Special Session of Parliament which was held late last month when the much-awaited Women’s Reservation Bill was finally passed, one of Trinamool’s most fiery woman MPs, Sen says “As far as reservation of one-thirds of the seats in the Parliament and the Assembly is concerned, we fully support it. However, implementation is the most important aspect of it otherwise it will just remain a legislature.” In fact, Trinamool leaders, including Sen, pointed out how in Mamata Banerjee’s party women already represent more than thirty-three percent in Parliament with nine of its 23 MPs being women.
Commenting on her third term as Rajya Sabha member, Dola tells The Statesman, “I feel honored that our leader, Mamata Banerjee and my party has chosen me for the third time. I am committed to working for the people who have put their trust in Trinamool and I try to do my job as a member of the Rajya Sabha to bring to the notice of the Central government the issues of concern.” The Special Session of Parliament was of course preceded by the acrimonious Monsoon Session which witnessed several rounds of walk-outs by the Opposition parties, including Trinamool, and even a no-confidence motion against the Centre for what Sen refers to as “its failure to adequately address the Manipur issue”.
She says, “The discussion on Manipur which was in the grips of an ethnic conflict since May this year was the Oppositions’ main demand in the Parliament during the Monsoon Session. What was happening in Manipur was unbelievable. That state was in a complete mess. I have witnessed it with my own eyes. Mamata Banerjee had sent a team of us to not just see what is going on but also to talk to the suffering people and hear their problems. There has been shortage of food with even babies going hungry. Drinking-water was also not readily available. Because the roads were blocked off and curfew imposed in different places, supplies of medicine and other essentials too were not reaching the people in need. There was no Internet connection or network and so communication suddenly ceased for the ordinary people of the state.
The lack of hygiene and sanitation in the relief camps of the refugees who fled violence from both sides was unthinkable. Hundreds have died. Thousands of families have been destroyed. Laks of people have been rendered homeless and are still living in shelters. The violence was not the only grave concern. These issues were making day-to-day life unbearable for the common citizen. The Opposition wanted to discuss these issues with the Central government throughout the Monsoon Session in order to try to arrive at a solution.”
She said that the “no-confidence” motion was brought in order to “force the discussion on Manipur.” Sen says that the only solution to the lingering problem of ethnic conflict between the two communities in Manipur is “dialogue”.
She says, “Hold dialogue between the different parties. Both the Meiteis and the Kuki communities should be called and engaged in a discussion. Discussion can solve each and every problem. The current government has an advantage. They are a double-engine machine because both the Centre and the state of Manipur are ruled by the same party, BJP. All we want is peace and harmony and normalcy to be restored in Manipur. Not just Trinamool, but our unity partners of the INDIA alliance all want peace and harmony and normalcy to return to Manipur.”
Speaking of the “INDIA” alliance (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance which was formed in July by India’s leading Opposition parties to take on the BJP in the Parliamentary elections next year) and replying to The Statesman’s questions on how twenty-six different political parties which don’t necessarily see eye to eye on many issues is expected to work hand-in-hand that to without a common minimum program, Sen shot back, “We DO have a common minimum program. It is to try to defeat the BJP politically in the Parliamentary elections of 2024.
Sen is also confident that her party chief is the most qualified to lead the alliance. Speaking to The Statesman, she said, “First, it must be clarified that Mamata Banerjee herself has never expressed any such agenda. She has no agenda other than to defeat the BJP government at the Centre. However, having said that, Mamata Banerjee is extremely qualified to lead the nation if not more so than others – with all due respect to them – if you consider her experience and expertise. How many other political leaders have the kind of trajectory that Mamata Banerjee has?
She has been a Member of Parliament seven times, serving as a minister six times with five different portfolios (twice as Railways Minister, once as Union Minister of State for Human Resources Development, once as Coal and Mines Minister, once as Women and Child Development Minister and once as Youth Affairs and Sports Minister). She has been elected Chief Minister three consecutive times and her party’s strength in the Assembly has risen significantly each time, going from 186 seats in 2011 to 211 seats in 2016 to 217 seats in 2021.”
On the question of how many seats Trinamool is expected to win in the Parliamentary elections of 2024, Sen quips, “I cannot predict because I am not an astrologer. But there is no denying that the people of Bengal are with Mamata Banerjee. This is evident from all the previous elections in the past decade. This time too Didi will win.”
Rain gives way to sunshine and golden light streams in through green foliage beyond the large open window of Dola Sen’s tiny office room.