The Trinamool Congress (TMC)’s MP and Goa in-chargespeaks to ahead of the 14 February Goa Assembly elections.
You have said earlier that it would have been better if TMC had started its Goa campaign earlier. So, realistically, is it possible for the TMC to take on well-entrenched parties likeand Congress in the state?
I never said TMC was late in entering Goa. I had said given the historical circumstances, we could not have entered it earlier, because we were very busy fighting the 2021 Assembly polls (in West Bengal), defeating the BJP. At that point, we could not have been distracted. But there is a great necessity for us to have come here now. Because had the Congress done its job in defeating the BJP, there would not have been any need for us to be here. Because the goal is not to remove the Congress, but the BJP. Under the circumstances, I think we have done the right thing.
The TMC’s victory in Bengal was described by many as a resounding defeat of Hindutva politics. But in Goa, the party has tied up with the MGP which has in the past defended the Sanatan Sanstha, which has alleged links with the accused in murders of rationalists. How would you explain this?
The BJP’s politics is about hate, it is not about religion. Hinduism does not teach hate. I dislike it when BJP appropriates a religion as great as Hinduism and thinks that their definition and actions define Hinduism. It does not. The BJP’s brand of religion does not mean that it is actual Hinduism. So I think what Bengal rejected and what TMC stood against was bigotry, hate and divisiveness.
What about the MGP’s ties with the Sanatan Sanstha?
When we came to Goa we said outright that anyone who wants to defeat the BJP is welcome to join us. And the MGP has allied with us because they too want to defeat the BJP. If the BJP was the only upholder of Hindutva then I am sure that any party that believes in that kind of politics would not reject them. MGP is a party that is rooted in Goan soil. They have come to us and said that they are interested in defeating the BJP. They too had an alliance with the BJP and they have realised how bad the BJP is for Goa.
Your tweet suggests that you have reached out to the Congress or at least there is an attempt to forge a coalition to take on the BJP. When did this reach out happen?
Two weeks ago there was a definitive offer made. The question is that we have to defeat the BJP. The Congress alone could not do it. It is very simple. If anyone believed that the Congress on its own could get 25 seats in Goa today then there is no problem. There would not have been any need for us to be here. Please understand we are dealing with the BJP. This idea of a simple majority has gone out of the window. With the BJP’s politics of money and stick, either they give you money or they give you ED and CBI. You must understand for anyone fighting the BJP, it is not enough to get a simple majority. You need a simple majority plus a large buffer. Two weeks ago, the principals have both spoken and we put it out that in the interest of defeating the BJP, it is good if we go into an understanding in Goa. They have asked for more time at the principal level and we are waiting for them to revert.
For clarity, by principals you mean West Bengal Chief Ministerhas spoken to the Congress president?
Is Mr Chidambaram the principal of his party? No. By principal, you mean the absolute top leadership of the party. It does not mean the poll in-charge, does not mean the state in-charge, does not mean general secretary or a vice president. It means the person who is the main decision-maker of the party.
What has changed in the last 3-4 months after the TMC entered the Goa battle? You had seemed ready to take on the BJP very aggressively. So what has changed that you have to pick up the phone and speak to Mrs Gandhi?
We don’t have to. TMC has won in Bengal, we have won the last three polls in Bengal inspite of everything thrown at us. Suppose TMC comes to Goa and we fight, and today we win two seats, three, five seats, what happens? What do we have to lose? We have come from zero. Who has got something to lose? It is the Congress. I find it amusing that Congressmen are saying Trinamool is desperate. What are we desperate for? Even if we win three seats in four months and get more than 10 per cent of the vote, by any stretch of the imagination that is a fabulous result. Whereas the Congress has lost 90 per cent of polls it has contested in the last 10 years. The Congress is fighting in five states today. Tell me where it has a 100 per cent chance of forming a government? We are not desperate, we are rational and logical, something that the Congress should be. We have said all the time that the Congress cannot alone defeat the BJP because if they could do it they could have done it.
Before entering Goa in a very big way, would it not have been prudent for Ms Banerjee to speak to Mrs Gandhi and say it is not possible for the Congress to take on the BJP alone, we are interested, let us have an alliance?
That is an extremely naive way of looking at it. Mamata Banerjee is a three-time CM, and we will seek permission in a state you (Congress) have not been able to defend for the last 10 years. When we were fighting Bengal you tied with the Left and ISF and fought us in every seat and now we are going to enter Goa and please give us your permission. If we had not shown in such a short period of time that we mean business and we have got a substantial vote share and buzz on the ground (in Goa), where is the question of us reaching out and speaking?
Some Congress leaders are saying where is this realisation in TMC coming from considering they did not even attend the Opposition camp’s floor coordination meetings convened by the Congress during Parliament’s winter session. They also accuse the TMC of aggressively poaching Congress leaders. Virtually the entire Meghalaya Congress unit joined the TMC.
Who said we have not attended floor coordination meetings? It cannot be that Mrcalls a meeting at 9 am and at 8.55 am they give a piece of paper and we are all supposed to sign. That is not how it happens. As far as floor coordination is concerned, I am an MP, whether it was farm laws or opposing , we were absolutely on the same side. But we are different political parties. We cannot dance to each other’s tunes based on each other’s schedule. As far as the broad anti-BJP coalition is concerned, that is absolutely okay. On the question of poaching, in India, the Congress is the mother party. Either you have come from the Left or the Jan Sangh or the Congress. Whether it is YSR Congress, NCP or us, we have all come from Congress. So that means Sushmita Dev is a defector? Mamata Banerjee is a defector? Jagan Mohan Reddy is a defector? Sharad Pawar is a defector? Three days ago they took Michael Lobo, who is a BJP MLA, and they have taken Carlos Almeida. So when it is the Congress it is as if people have seen the light and they are in love with Congress and its ideals and if people come to us they are defectors.
What is the proposal that is on the table now?
That is obviously something the principals have spoken about.
Mr Chidambaram has claimed that neither have you given any clarity on whether TMC will be the lead party in an alliance, nor have you specified the number of seats you plan to contest?
As I have said the principals have spoken and that is the situation now. If the Congress as the grand old party believes that one should come to them, ask them for seats, as opposed to let us ally, I do not think this is mature politics. I think if the principals have spoken it is with a broad-based understanding to defeat the BJP. It is not about whether I have asked for seats or whether I have said please enter into an equal alliance. I think those are things when you have an in-principle understanding to defeat the BJP, you sit down and discuss.
Is the proposal for understanding only about Goa or will it extend beyond the state?
Right now Goa is the only state that is in common between us and the Congress. We are not fighting in Punjab, Manipur, UP, so it is obviously about Goa now. But based on Goa, of course coming towards 2024 (general elections), this will define what will happen next.
You have said AAP is also a major player in the Opposition camp. Are you reaching out to them?
There is nothing like that on the table. Like I said, we are open to talk to any non-BJP. But as of now the principals of Trinamool and the Congress have spoken. Now we will wait (for them to revert), but we cannot forever. There is a fixed timeline to everything after which we will make a decision. We have no ego, we are telling the Congress to come to the table. Let us move forward and defeat the BJP. This is not a sign of desperation, this is a sign of political maturity. We are not begging for anything, the Congress has everything to lose.
The AAP seems to be very dismissive about the TMC’s prospects.
If they think we are a nobody, we respect that, not a problem.
What is the best and worst-case scenario for the TMC without any alliance?
I am not a psephologist. All I can tell you is that we will definitely make a mark. Even in the worst-case scenario we will open our account and that is great news and we will have substantial vote share.