The stakes have never been higher in poll-bound Bengal. The BJP stands in the way of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee’s bid for a hat-trick of wins. Union Jal Shakti minister and senior BJP leader GAJENDRA SINGH SHEKHAWAT in a recent visit to the state talks about the party’s chances of upsetting TMC’s applecart with Soumyadip Mullick.

Q. With the state slated to go for Assembly polls soon, do you feel it is lagging behind in some parameters?
A. It is appalling that Bengal due to inefficiency of the incumbent state government has still not been able to provide drinking water to the taps of a large number of its citizens. Bengal has around 1.62 crore rural households and the state has been able to provide only 4,860 connections till date despite the Narendra Modi government providing the state with Rs.1,000 crore under Jal Jeevan Mission in 2019-20 for providing more water connections. The state was promised a second instalment of funds on utilizing the first one. However, the state government quite apparently failed to utilize the initial funds thus missing out on the second instalment. The state government couldn’t even submit the utilization certificate for the first instalment. Around Rs, 572 crore remains unutilized thus depriving the people of Bengal of their right to access drinking water in their household taps.

Q. Do you think the state government as you said “did not utilize the Central funds” due to a Centre-state ideological conflict?
A. I don’t understand what chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s problem is. Tripura, comparatively a smaller state, had only 0.24 per cent water connections and today, that has risen to 38 per cent utilizing the Jal Jeevan Mission funds. In the next three months, it will provide one lakh more water connections. Mamata Didi also did not allow the people of Bengal to be part of the Ayushman Bharat health insurance scheme which would have immensely benefited the people of this state who are quite apparently losing faith in her government.

Q. Could the ongoing farmers’ agitation against Centre, demanding repeal of three new farm laws, give TMC an edge by hollowing out BJP’s political ambitions in the state before the Assembly polls?
A. Firstly, I have not heard yet that any farmer from Bengal is agitating against the farm laws. It is only two states where a section of farmers are agitating due to certain political motivations. In fact, the Mamata Banerjee government has been constantly depriving the farmers of Bengal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that every farmer would receive Rs 6,000 per annum under the PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi but till date West Bengal government has not even sent the list of the poor farmer families who can avail the scheme. Why does Didi want to deprive the poor while she and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee are growing richer every day?

Q. You have earlier served as the Central minister of state for agriculture. Do you feel the three laws actually help the farmers when Bengal government is raising its voice against what it terms as ‘corporatisation of farmers’?
A. As I mentioned, it is not that farmers from all states are protesting but just from two states where the agitation is politically driven by Opposition political parties. These three laws were not devised at random and cannot be viewed or considered separately. They are based on the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee Report of 2006 which covered several areas such as farmer insurance, land reforms, food security etc. There were about 102 recommendations aimed at alleviating the woes of farmers. It is only under the leadership of Narendra Modi that these are being implemented now. The laws will only benefit the farmers.

Q. Prior to Assembly polls, Trinamul Congress was witnessing a flood of defections by its leaders and workers to the BJP. The TMC and its supremo claimed that the ones defecting to the saffron brigade are doing this to throw the central investigating agencies off their back. How do you respond to that?
A. In saying that, Mamata Didi admits that there is enough reason for the central investigating agencies to probe the persons concerned. Why is her government not following Calcutta High Court’s order to allow CAG to audit the Cyclone Amphan utilization funds? What is it she is hiding and has to challenge the order in Supreme Court? This Amphan scam must be probed. People of Bengal who once believed in Mamata Banerjee to end the tyranny of the Left-Front rule have now understood that her government has only one objective which is corruption. The TMC government is now just living its constitutional life till the polls. It has otherwise become hollow from inside and can collapse any moment. None can save a government which institutionalized corruption. The Bengal government would have fallen long back had our leaders Narendra Modi and Amit Shah shut the doors of assistance and negotiation on Didi.

Q. Do you feel that some Trinamul leaders who joined BJP and whose names had earlier surfaced in connection with the Saradha and Narada scams could tarnish the image of the saffron brigade in the eye of the voters before polls?
A. Under the leadership of Narendra Modi, we believe in hard work and expect everyone who joins our party to do the same. It doesn’t affect our image in any way. The River Ganges flows through various places where it gets polluted but that doesn’t make the river unholy for us. We have the Ganga Rejuvenation Plan for cleaning the stretches of river which have become polluted.

Q. How would you respond to the TMC’s political campaign that terms the BJP as outsiders wanting to capture Bengal?
A. This is hilarious. Are we not Indians? Have we come from Pakistan? Our heart bleeds for people of Bengal who are being cheated by the TMC government. We cry for the people of Bengal. We are shaken each time our party workers in West Bengal are murdered, slaughtered or lockedup and tortured by police without any valid reason but at the instructions of the ruling party. The criminalisation of government institutions will ultimately result in the ouster of the Mamata government.

Q. Vaccination against coronavirus has begun amidst criticism directed at the Centre’s decision to approve Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin without the efficacy report of the third phase of the trial which is presently ongoing. Do you find these criticisms legitimate?
A. I must highlight the pace and efficiency with which India, under the leadership of our Prime Minister, has handled the coronavirus outbreak – a situation of which the country had no past experience. I feel confident in saying that India will soon become the largest exporter of vaccines. The claim that it shouldn’t have been approved without the efficacy report of the third phase of human trials doesn’t cut much ice. Long term impacts of vaccines can also be assessed under laboratory conditions otherwise countries such as the UK, USA, China would have also failed in giving approvals to their vaccines. Opposition political parties should not try to politicize a thing such as this since the vaccine will save the lives of millions of people from a deadly pandemic.