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Saturday Interview | ‘Act, don’t panic, is Bengal’s message’

Derek O’Brien, Member of Parliament, Leader, All India Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party (Rajya Sabha) and Chief National Spokesperson seems to feel so. In an interview with Soma Mookherjee, the veteran leader says that TMC will win in excess of 220 seats.

Soma Mookherjee | Kolkata |

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been leading state’s battle to contain the Covid-19 outbreak from the front. This epidemic has helped the TMC supremo connect with the people at a very personal level.

Will it be a cakewalk for the TMC in 2021?

Derek O’Brien, Member of Parliament, Leader, All India Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party (Rajya Sabha) and Chief National Spokesperson seems to feel so. In an interview with Soma Mookherjee, the veteran leader says that TMC will win in excess of 220 seats.

Q: How is the Bengal government tackling the Covid-19 threat? Do you think people are overreacting?

A: Firstly, the chief minister has opened a corpus of Rs 200 crore, which is a great initiative. Another great initiative, which other states can pick up, is the insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh that the Bengal government is offering to those health professionals at high risk.

Then, about a month back, Bengal started opening isolation units in hospitals with all required equipment. The other thing is that the Epidemic Diseases Act has been implemented in Bengal. The Act will be made more contemporary. We will do this.

All these initiatives are being overseen by the Health Minister of the state, who is also the chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. Let me tell you; there’s no reason for panic. The message from Bengal is: Act but don’t panic.

Q: Mamata Banerjee has declared that in West Bengal there should be no NRC, CAA and NPR.Will this move help you regain lost ground?

A: This is not about winning an election or losing an election. This is about fighting for the Idea of India. Mamata Banerjee has been in the forefront to oppose NRC, CAA and NPR because this is divisive legislation. This is about depriving the poorest of the poor.

Those parties, like Trinamool, who are anti-CAA, NPR and NRC, are pro-poor, pro-citizen. This is a poor versus rich issue. From where are the poor going to get all these certificates and papers? The BJP is trying to divide this country; they do not realise how badly the people of Bengal will punish them in 2021.

Q: You made a statement in the Upper House that the 2018 detention camps in Assam resemble the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Where do you find the similarities?

A: In 1933, the Nazi government opened concentration camps, and in 2018, the government started the detention camps in Assam, where, by the way, 60 per cent of the people are Bengali Hindus. Why were the concentration camps opened?

Here I want to go back 85 years to two distinct laws which were passed in Nazi Germany. There is an eerie similarity between the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and those laws called the Citizenship laws. Firstly, in 1935, the Reich Citizenship Law was brought into force which protected those with “German blood”.

And what do we have today? A faulty Citizenship Act, which defines “truly Indian citizens”. Secondly, again in 1935, the Nazi government introduced something called ‘ancestor pass’, which was needed to prove your Aryan lineage.

And today, you rely on just a piece of paper to prove your Indian citizenship, forget about deemed citizens. Combining the Reich Citizenship Law and ‘ancestor pass’, the Nazi government identified citizens, and those who couldn’t pass muster were sent to the concentration camps.

Today, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and certain documents are being planned to be used to create the National Register of Citizens, and those who won’t be able to prove their citizenship can be sent to camps, as was done in Assam.

Q: Once in your speech in Rajya Sabha, you said that NRC resembles the Madagascar Plan.Please explain how?

A: The Madagascar Plan was a proposal by the Nazi German government to forcibly relocate the Jewish population of Europe to the island of Madagascar. Here they had a Maha Plan, which is also known as the NRC, under which people not deemed as citizens would be deported to camps.

Q: Would polarisation play a significant role in the 2021 Assembly Elections? If so,how does your party aim to tackle it?

A: The BJP will always play their politics of divisiveness, politics of hate and politics of bigotry, and these are all that Modi-Shah understand. So even though we are in 2020, they are still following the model of 2002 in Gujarat.

The people of Bengal trust Mamata Banerjee. The 2021 elections will be based on trust; it will prove how the people trust her to keep peace and harmony in Bengal and enable the development of the state.

I can list 50 projects by the Mamata Banerjee Government and how they have changed Bengal, and as a result, how as a state we are financially doing better on so many parameters than the rest of the country. But it will be a long list, so there will not be enough space on one page of your newspaper.

I am giving you the names of six schemes as examples: Kanyashree, Sabooj Sathi, Rupashree, Swastha Sathi, Krishak Bandhu and Gatidhara. There are more.

Q: The TMC has lost mainly in the tribal belts of Jangalmahal and has also failed miserably in north Bengal. What went wrong in these Assembly constituencies although Mamata Banerjee’s government introduced several welfare schemes?

A: Mamata Banerjee has been the chief minister of Bengal from 2011. A lot of good work has happened, and in certain pockets, at the local level, we improved from what was wrong. Humility is an integral part of Trinamool’s politics.

But to say we failed miserably is not at all correct. If elections are held today in Bengal, in the areas where we lost, the people will bless us abundantly. Trinamool will be blessed by the people of Bengal and will win 220 seats.

Q: Do you feel the new project introduced in this budget – Cha Shundari – would motivate the poor tea garden workers to come into the Trinamool fold?

A: Whether it is tea garden workers, whether it is scheduled castes, whether it is scheduled tribes, whether you are Hindu, Muslim, Christian. Sikh, Buddhist, whether it is poor, whether it is the middle class, literally from the time you are born to the time you die, Mamata Banerjee’s government is doing everything it can to touch the lives of the people. The Central Government has made many false promises to tea garden workers and has not delivered anything.

Q: What went wrong in Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri, where sitting MPs lost the 2019 Lok Sabha polls to the BJP?

A: The 2019 Lok Sabha elections are now history. Let us look ahead to the municipal polls which are coming up in a few weeks from now. Then you will see how things have all moved in our favour and how the BJP is struggling for existence in Bengal.

Q: Do you feel that Prashant Kishore’s ‘Didike Bolo’ platform has made a mark on the ordinary people? What is the feedback thus far?

A: Communication in politics is a 360-degree task. ‘Didike Bolo’ is just one campaign. There is another campaign called ‘Banglar Gorbo Mamata’. But overall, we are like good students who do not prepare only before exams.

Work is going on throughout the year under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. A large number of administrative meetings have been held. The chief minister is working tirelessly 18 hours a day, 365 days a year to bring the best development in Bengal.

Q: One of the aims of the ‘Banglar Gorbo Mamata’ programme is to motivate party workers by giving them ‘shikriti’. Do you feel a particular section of party workers has developed a lackadaisical attitude?

A: Ninety-nine per cent of workers in the Trinamool family are dedicated and committed. If one per cent is like you describe, and therefore can improve themselves, that does not mean you can brand the rest 99 per cent with the same words.

Q: In the recent past, the Chief Minister granted ‘pattas’ to refugees settled in different refugee colonies.Do you feel that scheduled caste voters could gravitate to the BJP if the different welfare schemes are not easily made available to them?

A: If you study the results of the by-polls held a few months ago in Bengal, you will realise how the situation has changed from 2019.

Q: One last question.How decisive will the 2021 mandate be for TMC? A cakewalk?

A: There is no place for arrogance in politics. There is no question of a cakewalk. We do our work with humility; we have learned from Mamata Banerjee to serve the people. We are servants of our people.

They will bless us because of the work we do. So there is no place for arrogance. We are confident that the people will bless us abundantly. We will get more than 220 seats. In fact, in 2021, we will get more than 221.