Asenior Trinamul leader, PROF SAUGATA ROYis one of the country’s leading parliamentarians and is known and respected for his intellect, erudition and eloquence. A veteran politician, Roy has been active in public life for the past several decades.
He was a physics teacher in Kolkata’s Ashutosh College from 1974 to 2007. He has been a Trinamul MP from the Dum Dum parliamentary constituency near Kolkata since 2009. Before joining the Mamata Banerjeeled Trinamul, Roy was a West Bengal Congress stalwart. He was elected from the Barrackpore parliamentary constituency in 1977.
He had also been a five-time MLA. He was Union minister of state for petroleum in the Charan Singh ministry in the late 1970s. He became a minister in the Congress-led UPA government too. In an interview with APARAJIT CHAKRABORTY, Ray spoke on a wide range of political issues.
Q. What is your assessment of the outcome of the recent Bengal Assembly polls?
A. The result was on our expected lines. It is a repetition of what happened in 2016. This time BJP led a high-voltage campaign. It became a fight between Bengali inclusiveness and outside influence. Ultimately Bengali sentiment went in favour of Trinamul Congress.
The overall result was excellent, especially in areas in and around Kolkata, North and South 24 Parganas and some districts like East Burdwan and Birbhum, where we captured almost all the seats. There are some pockets where we could not do well. These are small losses compared to the gains made in several other districts where Mamata Banerjee’s appeal and Bengali sentiment won. So the overall result is impressive.
Q. Do you think the Bengal election results could impact national politics in the coming days?
A. It is too early to say. But the myth of invincibility of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has been broken and shattered. Despite the aggressive campaign done by Modi and Shah, BJP has been defeated in Bengal. It is a personal defeat of Modi and Shah.
Q. Do you think Mamata Banerjee could emerge as the face of a combined Opposition against a PM Modi-led BJP in the 2024 general elections?
A. That is too early to say. Mamata Banerjee has not decided her future course of action. In this Covid situation she is trying her best to set everything in order.
Q. What are your thoughts on the state of affairs prevailing in the country’s principal Opposition party,Indian National Congress?
A. I should not comment on any other parties. But Congress is in bad shape. They have performed badly throughout the country. In Kerala and Assam, where they had expected to make a comeback, they could not utilise the anti-incumbency factor there.
In Tamil Nadu they played a minor role as part of a coalition. In Bengal, they have been wiped out — they could not win a single seat. They received a huge setback. They should set their house in order. They must act together.
Q. The BJP has blamed the Trinamul for the post-poll violence and killings in Bengal.Your response?
A. There is no major post-poll violence. Of course, some stray incidents have taken place. Some people have died. This happens in any state after any major election. Even in Uttar Pradesh after the panchayat polls, some violence has taken place. But in West Bengal everything was put under control after Mamata Banerjee was sworn in as chief minister. All this happened as BJP is frustrated with the seats they got.
Q. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has drawn fire from various quarters including the higher judiciary for conducting the recent round of Assembly polls in the midst of the second wave of coronavirus. Your comments?
A. The ECI has worked totally in a partisan manner. It seems that sometimes it was acting at the behest of the central BJP leadership. Holding of West Bengal election in eight phases can’t be justified under any condition and election in eight phases along with the deployment of central paramilitary force from all over the country led to the spread of Corona in this state.
Elections could be held in three or four phases in Bengal. Corona would not have spread. Just to have a favourable situation for BJP in this Assembly poll, all this was done without any reason. Officers were changed frequently. EC started behaving as a super government but they could not control the situation.
Q. The raging,ferocious Covid storm has devastated the entire country, overwhelming its health facilities, crematoriums and cemeteries amid a deadly shortage of oxygen,hospital beds and essential medicines. This remains the big story across the globe.What is your take?
A. Failure to tackle the second Covid wave of pandemic is the failure of the Central government led by Narendra Modi. They did not anticipate the second wave, they don’t have enough vaccines, oxygen, not enough hospital beds and not enough antiCovid medicine to contain the spread of the virus. On every count it is a major failure of the Central government.
Modi should be squarely blamed for this failure. The Supreme Court and the High Court commented on the failures of ECI and Central government in this regard.
Q. What is your response to West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar’s criticism of the Mamata Banerjee government on various issues including post-poll violence?
A. West Bengal Governor’s role is pathetic. He has made many political comments. He has lost all respect due to his political partisanship. There is no language to criticise him. He is the object of ridicule, what else can I say.