When he starts to speak, people listen. Whether at street-corner meetings or as Opposition leader in the West Bengal legislative assembly, veteran Trinamool Congress leader Sougata Roy has made his mark as an orator. An academician, his cultured yet down to earth demeanour has made him popular among the urban electorate. Having stood by the Trinamool Congress and its leader Mamata Banerjee when both were in troubled waters, he promises to continue being a pillar of strength for his party. In a brief interview to rediff.com's Indrani Roy Mitra, one of West Bengal's most vocal Opposition leaders outlines the future of his party in the state.
Complete Coverage: Assembly Elections 2006
What significance does this election hold for you?
Every election gives the electorate an opportunity to put their faith in some government. Election 2006 is no exception to this rule. Our party has a huge responsibility as it has to fight against a government that has been in power for 29 years. We have put our hearts and souls into the campaign and we hope people vote for change. It goes without saying that a change is the order of the day.
Are you happy with the measures taken by the Election Commission?
Of course I am. We could not have asked for more. It gives me enormous pleasure to declare that West Bengal is going to witness free and fair polls for the first time in its history. I salute the EC and its officials for doing the impossible. They brought about a revolution in the state by scanning voter lists, making voters' identity cards mandatory and not allowing any foreign party within 200 metres of a polling booth. These measures, along with the decision to organise a central police patrol during elections, will go a long way in countering the organised rigging machinery so efficiently operated by the Communist Party of India-Marxist all these years.
How is your party placed now in West Bengal?
There is no doubt that Trinamool Congress has a gigantic task ahead. Ideally, we should have formed a stable alliance comprising different opposition parties. That would have thrown a proper challenge to the CPI-M. Honestly, I feel only a 'mahajot' (big alliance) could have provided a suitable alternative to the electorate vis-à-vis the ruling party.
How many seats will you win?
An election is a game of numbers and chance. Yet it has nothing to do with numerology, let alone astrology. For the time being, we should concentrate solely on campaigning hard and winning the people's confidence. The more seats we win this time, the better for us but it will be stupid to make any tall claims before the results are out.
Recently, there was a great hue and cry over Mamata Banerjee using a helicopter for her campaign. What is your opinion on the issue?
This so-called controversy is the most ridiculous thing I have heard in my life. It was a creation of Ananda Bazaar Patrika (a leading Bengali daily), perhaps intended to boost its circulation with elections round the corner.
The fact of the matter was:
The helicopter that Mamata Banerjee used was offered to her by Bharatiya janata party leader Arun Jaitley.
It (the helicopter) seemed to be the best and most convenient mode of campaigning.
Given the dynamism of the age in which we live, it ought to have seemed strange that this was Mamata Banerjee's first ever helicopter campaign this year. Instead of giving her credit for that, it is really sad that people are making fun of her.
What are the things that the Trinamool Congress wants to do should it come to power?
The first and the foremost task would be to depoliticise the administration. The law and order of the state is in a shambles. Justice has ceased to exist in the 29 years of Communist rule. West Bengal has been ruined by a group of regimented Stalinists. Once law and order is taken care of, the state is sure to tread the path to improvement.
Of late, Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee has gained enormous popularity because of his neo-Communism. His way of attracting Foreign Direct Investment to the state has struck the right chord or so it seems.
I find this whole concept baseless. The chief minister is neither practising Communism nor propagating Capitalism. I am quite sure that the FDI we talk about all the time is not going to improve the condition of West Bengal in any possible way. The chief minister is playing this card of neo-Communism simply to gain cheap publicity. The concept will do more harm to his party than good.
If Trinamool fails to make an impact in Elections 2006, what will be your next move?
Again, no astrology please! However, should it so happen, we will restructure the party and work hard to achieve a big joint alliance, so that even if we fail to win this election, we can reap the seeds of a plan to oust the Left Front in future.
With inputs from Yajnaseni Chakrabarty