Ballygunge MLA from the Trinamul Congress Babul Supriyo is happy that the uncertainty over his swearing-in is behind him and now wants to focus wholeheartedly on work in his constituency.
A man who prefers to weigh his words before he speaks, says he loves to work for the people. That brings challenges, but he says he is no stranger to challenges. Someone, who left his career as a banker at 21 to start afresh in Bollywood and attain fame in an ‘alien’ land, Babul took another challenge when he resigned from parliament. And yet another, when he shifted base in Kolkata to join the Trinamul Congress. He spoke to Ashok Chatterjee about politics and life in general.
Q. It is said that your resignation paved the way for a further slide in the state BJP?
A. I will not comment on this. I did what I felt was right to keep my dignity and self-respect. But I feel there is no future for the BJP in Bengal. They are like frogs in a well, they will keep pulling each other down; they need no external force to bring their downfall.
Q. There is a feeling that Bengali leaders at the Centre are not given their due importance. Even you had made a similar observation.
A. I have nothing more to add. People of Bengal and I feel I have done enough work in my constituency. My second term win is my actual report card where people voted me with three times more votes. I felt that in 2019 itself I could have been elevated in the ministry. The opposition had been riling me with the ‘half-pant minister’ moniker. I too have self-respect. BJP in Bengal never won without any coalition. I was only the second person who won on his own after Syama Prasad Mukherjee. So, why should I take the injustice? There are four ministers at the Centre from the state. Do you hear or read much about them? I doubt if these leaders will manage to win again from their constituencies. I thought that as a Bengali I deserved a little more from the BJP. But if they feel that a Bengali is not fit to be in the cabinet and only caste or sycophancy will rule, then I’m not in it.
Q. So, you are suggesting only work should speak?
A. Whatever work I did – be it E-W Metro, Farakka Barrage or the Bally bridge lift. I have also done work outside my constituency. My work has been evaluated by the people. I have worked in politics without a scar on me. That is a great achievement. I have always hankered for work. I brought out money from the heavy industries ministry for a centre for excellence at IIT-K. I myself volunteered to work for E-W Metro to the Prime Minister. This project is special as 74 per cent of it is funded by the railways and 26 per cent by urban development. I never played any dirty politics. I realized that to finish the E- W Metro, I needed the chief minis- ter’s help. So, I sat with her and discussed the topic. Central BJP leaders, without thinking of the sentiments of the local people, brought in leaders from outside. They thought they could steamroll the Bengali pride and intellect and win elections. Their dream will never come true here.
Q. BJP leader Arjun Singh recently said he was always made to feel like an ‘outsider’ within the party since he came from TMC. Comments.
A. No comments. I had resigned from the BJP with the intention of leaving politics completely as a protest against injustice. It was no posturing, it was my genuine intent and proof of it was my resignation as an MP. There are many leaders who have left the party but have not resigned from their posts, both in the parliament as well as in the assembly.
Q. So how did you join TMC?
A. I’m indebted to Didi for this and thank her for telling me that I have done enough good work as a Bengali and now I should work in Bengal. She said ‘people who loved you for your work, will keep loving you.’ That inspired me to come back to politics. I’m happy that she gave me such an important constituency to fight and people have accepted me. I have already started my people-connect exercise and am honoured to be part of the home reforms standing committee. True enough, help came from unchartered territories. The way Didi supported me and accepted me, the way I have been accepted within the party in a short span of time, I’m overwhelmed.
Q. Ballygunge or Asansol, which one is closer to your heart?
A. I’m a frequent visitor to Asansol. Both before and after the election, I have been interacting with Shatruji. I have known him for many years. He acknowledges that since I know Asansol like the back of my hand, we both should work for the people. In politics, Asansol is my first love, it will remain so forever. I will never be able to disassociate myself from it. I told the people that they may have one MP but there are not 7 but 8 MLAs (including me). I am an MLA from Ballygunge but I’m always for Asan- sol and will always stand alongside Shatruji. I had told the BJP that the people there voted for my work and not for the party. It was proved right as the party lost by 3 lakh votes.
Q. There is a feeling among the minorities from Ballygunge that you were instrumental in the Asansol riots in 2018. Even the Muslim clerics in Ballygunge objected to your candidacy here?
A. The association in the riots in Asansol was a complete lie. It was clear from the interview with the local imam there. He on his own said that I’m not at fault and I even interacted with him during the period. At that time I was with the BJP. I had to also go along with the NRC and CAA. When you are with a party, you have to go with the political thinking of the party. You cannot be an undisciplined player. In politics, there is nothing as a personal opinion. For being at the party the communal tag was put on me. I’m happy I could get over it. Come with me to Park Circus and you will see how much support I enjoy there.
Q. When you resigned from BJP, you also talked about it.
A. No. I had made it very clear that I was upset over my exclusion from the cabinet through unfair means. Less deserving people were there but deserving ones were not. My resignation was a protest against Bengali pride. Now, I can say with conviction that a chief minister can- not talk of an ‘80-20 fight’ or that the slew of court over reviews of religious places can fuel riots in the country. I surely do not support such a mentality. You can’t change history like this. I have never liked the tone and tenor of VHP leaders like Pravin Togadia and Ashok Singhal. Babri Masjid’s fiasco should not be repeated by doing such surveys.
Q. Within a span of a few months, you had different political results. You lost from Tollygunge as a BJP candidate and then won in Ballygunge as a TMC leader.
A. In my previous party, before the vote, I had told the party that I want to fight in a tough seat, where others will not dare or cannot win. Was I a fool? Didn’t I have the data that said that it was impossible to defeat Arup Biswas? But when the party told me to fight from there I took up the fight and showed my loyalty to the party. In politics sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. It was my ‘vafadari’ or ‘gaddari’, it is for the people to say.
Q. Do you sing anymore?
A. My friends from the industry tell me that I’m singing much better than before. I’m mentally in a much better shape than before. People on the streets still love me. My family is also happy, which helps me sing with a relaxed mind.
Q. Any role model in politics?
A. It is difficult to find one in the political arena now. But one man we all agree on as an idol is former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.