Re-elected to the 17th Lok Sabha for a fourth term, All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) Lok Sabha member from Dum Dum, Prof. Sougata Roy is among a rare breed of politicians-cum-academicians, epitomizing continuity in the national polity. The 74-year-old leader began his over a five-decade-long political career in 1968 as General Secretary of Chhatra Parishad, students’ wing of the Congress party. He got elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1977.
There has been no looking back for him. He served as Union Petroleum and Chemical minister in 1979 and Urban Development Minister from 2009 to 2012. Roy has served for five terms as a member of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly from 1987-2009. He is currently a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Undertakings, Standing Committee on Finance and the Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Defence.
In an interview with Dipankar Chakraborty, Roy claims the BJP is a much weaker party now after its defeat in the West Bengal assembly polls.
According to him, it is very much possible to defeat the BJP at the national level too. Excerpts:
Q. You recently said that the Trinamool Congress had to pay a heavy price in 2019 Lok Sabha polls because of the Panchayati polls violence in 2018. What made you think like that?
A: That’s because we did not do well in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Before that in Panchayat elections many of the seats were one-man contests. So obviously, and from my experience, I have learnt that many people were unhappy that they were unable to vote. That’s why I said that.
Q. You said people were unhappy because they were unable to vote. Electorally what type of loss did you see in the Lok Sabha polls due to this factor?
A: Electorally we lost 18 seats. BJP got 18 seats due to that reason.
Q. The Trinamool Congress has taken a conscious decision to discourage all acts of violence and display of muscle power during polls. How confident are you that it is going to work?
A: It will take time to make things work. But I think it will ultimately work.
Q. Your political opponents, BJP and Congress, have charged that your comment the TMC had to pay a heavy price in 2019 Lok Sabha polls because of Panchayat poll violence in 2018 showed how elections are being held during the TMC rule in West Bengal.
A: I don’t know. But I acknowledge that there was some violence during Panchayat elections. That’s all.
Q. From being a party working to fulfill regional aspirations to seeking to explore new opportunities at the national level, how would you describe the TMC’s growth story as a party of significance?
A: Growth story, now?
Q. Yes, now that you are trying to move out of West Bengal and expand your presence in other states of the country.
A: We have taken a conscious decision to spread our party outside Bengal. We are already advancing in that direction. We have made footprints in Meghalaya, Tripura and Goa and also in Haryana. So we are advancing.
Q. How are you going to move ahead to expand outside West Bengal and consolidate your expansion plan in concrete terms?
A: We are slowly going into states, doing preliminary work, getting important people to join us.
Q. What is TMC’s game plan to expand its sphere of influence in states like Tripura and even in Goa?
A: No party reveals its game plan to the media. We are trying to work hard among the people. Take up issues. That’s it.
Q. Your party has already made gains in Meghalaya, according to reports.
A: Yes, everybody knows it.
Q. So, are you expecting similar results in other states as well, particularly in Tripura where you have to contend with a strong BJP backlash?
A: In Tripura we have made some advances. Our vote share has gone up. Let’s see.
Q. Don’t you think Goa is too far from West Bengal?
A: So what? I mean it is part of India. Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi Chief Minister) is trying to reach Goa from Delhi. We are trying to reach Goa from West Bengal.
Q. Do you find the BJP a much stronger opponent to face than before?
A: No. BJP is weaker. The way they withdrew the farmers’ laws proves that they are weaker. They lost in West Bengal which proves that they can be defeated.
Q. What factors do you attribute to the BJP’s gains in West Bengal?
A: No, that’s because the Left vacated the space. BJP is trying to get the opposition space. That’s all.
Q. How do you rate the nearly 7-year old Narendra Modi government’s performance at the Centre?
A: Bad. They have taken certain decisions which are very much against the people’s interests. They have no significant achievements to show.
Q. There are just a few months left for the crucial Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. Do you think the opposition is ready for the litmus test?
A: I don’t know. But I hear that Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party head and former UP Chief Minister) is making good progress. I had a talk with RLD (Rashtriya Lok Dal) leader Jayant Chaudhary also. He has teamed up with Akhilesh who is trying to get other smaller parties to join. So they are making progress. Let’s see what happens.
Q. Mamata Banerjee has been trying to rally round opposition parties for some time in a bid to scotch BJP’s march to power in the 2022 UP polls and the 2024 Lok Sabha polls?
A: In Uttar Pradesh, the main role is being played by Akhilesh Yadav. So he would be able to tell you.
Q. Will TMC leaders and ‘Didi’ in the particular campaign for the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh for the ensuing assembly polls?
A: Akhilesh has said he would invite Mamata Banerjee to campaign in Uttar Pradesh.
Q. So ‘Didi’ will be there in Uttar Pradesh to take part in the election campaign?
A: Hopefully, Mamata Banerjee will take part in the poll campaign for the ensuing Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
Q. What are your objections to the Elections Law (Amendment) Bill 2021 that seeks to link electoral rolls to Aadhaar?
A: We are against linking electoral rolls to Aadhaar. It goes against the judgment in the Puttaswamy case. It may be misused by the ruling party or even by the Election Commission. We do not like this.