Ashok Bhattacharya, a veteran Marxist leader from Siliguri is the mastermind behind the CPM-Congress jote aka Siliguri model. Bhattacharya played a pivotal role in the local body elections victory in Siliguri Municipality. He is the Mayor of Siliguri municipality. Excerpts from his interview to Narada News.
The idea of CPM-Congress alliance was introduced by you. It was successful in Siliguri. Do you think it will be the same all over the state?
I would like to call it a political adjustment rather than an alliance. It is formed to save Bengal and to restore democracy here. Situation which is prevailing in Bengal is extraordinary. Democracy is in peril here, in such a way that the common people are not in a situation to cast their votes fairly and fearlessly. This scenario compelled us to make an adjustment with the Congress party to ensure that the Trinamool Congress will be ousted and democracy will be restored.
CPI(M) is known for its ideological rigidity and political stands. Your party refused an offer when Jyoti Basu was offered Prime ministership. Bengal CPM had come into power, after a long fight with Siddharth Shankar Roy of Congress. Won’t it affect your party’s lower structures?
No, it is the perception of the common people in Bengal to oust Trinamool Congress and to bring back democracy. When the question of democracy comes, all the other priorities get changed.
You are saying that Democracy is in peril under TMC rule. But Mamata also came into power pointing finger at CPM’s undemocratic policies during your tenure. So you are supposed to be specific on your accusations of lack of democracy. Why do you think, it is necessary to oust the TMC government?
Mamata is curtailing democratic rights by oppressing everyone who demurs. Initially we were the main target. But now, everyone including students, journalists, college professors, university Vice Chancellors are under attack from the government. Freedom of expression is under threat under Mamata’s rule. Atrocities against women and crime rate are high. Government is also trying to snatch the land of poor peasants.
Since you mentioned land acquisition issues, let me ask you about Singur. What is happening there now?
We wanted to build the factory to create employment for the unemployed youth. We did not have any hidden agenda or any understanding with Tata. We had invited Tata to build the factory and to provide employment for five to ten thousand people. About ninety per cent of these land owners had taken the compensation and cooperated with us. We still think that our stand was correct. But this government neither gave their land back nor provided employment opportunity.
What about Nandigram?
Nandigram is a different case. We did not go there for any land acquisition. Our then CM openly said that we would not acquire any land in Nandigram. I do not want to make more comments on that issue as it is subjudice.
Let us come to Narada sting videos. Do you think it has percolated down to the lower middle class and lower class people? How is it likely to affect the outcome of the polls?
It will affect the polling very much, because the poor people were affected by the Saradha Chit Fund scam. Usually lower class people depend on chit funds rather than bank accounts for savings. They had been cheated by this scam. Trinamool Congress leaders were directly involved in this scam. But the people were not ready to accept that fact. They were confused about the certainty. But the Narada videos exposed these Trinamool leaders as as corrupt after they were seen accepting money in the sting video. People started believing that these people accept bribes and may be involved in corruptions too. Corruption has become the main campaigning factor in Bengal elections after the Narada sting videos were released. It never happened before.
After the Vivekananda Flyover crash, Mamata Banerjee alleged that you were responsible as the former minister who approved the tender?
I said Mamata was responsible for the collapse. This project was started in 2008. But we barely started and could construct only a part of it. Recently Mamata inaugurated a flyover which connects Parama Island to Park Circus. That project was also started during my tenure. She pressed the officials to finish the Vivekananda flyover, before the election. This led a lot of sub contractors being engaged for the work. It includes a company owned by the relative of TMC MLA Smita Bakshi. This is how corruption led to the flyover disaster. We demand an independent probe on this matter.
What about the death toll in the flyover crash?
I firmly believe that the death toll is much higher than the government figures. Mamata Banerjee is hiding the actual number of casualties.
What are your offers for the people of Bengal?
Our main agenda is to restore democracy in Bengal. We will bring industries to provide employment for the youth. In the last year of our tenure we could make an investment of fifty thousand crores in the private sector. But in the last year of Trinamool tenure, they could make only an investment of one thousand crore. About fifty thousand workers became jobless. Number of starvation deaths is up to 400. Thirty thousand workers in jute industries lost their job. Farmers are committing suicide. No such incidents happened during our tenure.
In Kerala, your opponent is Congress party. You can win the Kerala assembly elections only by using the anti-incumbency factor against the ruling Congress. Your cadres will have a tough time accepting this?
I do not think this political understanding in Bengal would affect our party votes in the Kerala elections. We have no other choice here in Bengal in this extraordinary situation. In Kerala there is no extraordinary situation. I think people in Kerala would realize it.