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'There is no election in West Bengal'

By Sumit Bhattacharya in Kolkata
Last updated on: April 11, 2006 13:41 IST
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Tathagata Ray, president of West Bengal's Bharatiya Janata Party, minces no words.

A lawyer and an engineer -- and the former chief of Calcutta Metro Railways -- he is the author of a book called My People Uprooted: A Saga of the Hindus of East Bengal, about Bengalis who suffered during Partition in 1947.

Assembly Election 2006

As West Bengal revs up to the five-phase assembly polls beginning Monday, Ray underlines to Sumit Bhattacharya the Opposition's argument: That the Communist Party of India Marxist-led Left Front government has systematically murdered the electoral process to remain in power for 29 years.

What, in your opinion, are the main issues in the West Bengal assembly elections?

The main issue is whether the Left Front government will stay in power or not. It sounds very surprising; normal elections have a plank -- something like unemployment, something like power, infrastructure. It is not that these are not there, but the overwhelming desire of the people is to throw out this government -- which has been in power for the last 29 years through a gigantic fraud. This would not have been the main issue, in fact it would not have been an issue, if this fraud had not been there.

What is the 'fraud' and how has it been perpetuated?

The fraud is so gigantic that it is difficult for a person who is not initiated to conceive it.

The CPI-M -- which is basically a Communist party, and therefore not only does not but cannot believe in our kind of democracy -- has corrupted the system in their favour, principally by politicising the bureaucracy.

According to our Constitution, the bureaucracy is supposed to be politically neutral. But they [the Left Front] have politicised it. As a result of that, the entire electoral process has been skewed, increasingly skewed in their favour. With the result that until the 2001 assembly elections, it was a foregone conclusion that they would win because nobody but they can win -- the bureaucracy would ensure that.

It was from 2004 actually that outsiders started getting wise about it. We know, the inhabitants of this state know, but this is so outlandish, so far-fetched that that people outside did not know.

Now that people are getting to know about it, the Election Commission in 2004 sent some observers from outside. The reports they gave were astounding, particularly one special observer Afzal Amanulla, who was a senior IAS officer of the Bihar cadre.

He had said that the whole election is a farce, that there is no election in West Bengal, the whole business is a farce. 

Aniruddha Mukherjee, an IAS officer of Madhya Pradesh cadre, whose report we could access, had directly accused the superintendent of police of the Nadia district to have been directly instrumental in influencing the election and using force, using goons in favour of the CPI-M candidate.

The third such significant observer was one Miss Swarnamala Rawala who had ordered prosecution against one of the civil services officers. As far as we know, nothing has happened to him. He is fine.

These had given the Election Commission some idea of what was going on here and subsequently in this election the Election Commission has taken some positive steps. After what their experience in Bihar was, they have taken some positive steps to ensure a level playing field, in ensuring a proper election – like they are having elections in five steps, and in each step they are trying to reduce the role of the state police and the state bureaucracy to the extent possible.

We do not think it is adequate. We think this is a step in the right direction.

West Bengal has also not had a credible alternative to the Left Front.

It is not like that. Until 1986, the polity in West Bengal was completely polarised between the Congress and the CPI-M. Somewhere along the way, the Congress completely lost interest in the state. And the people in the Congress had decided that since the central Congress has reconciled to the CPI-M being in power we might as well play along and take favours from the CPI-M. That is what they did.

People got disgusted. But they did not have an alternative.

That is why in 1991 the BJP emerged as a possible alternative and got 11 per cent votes. But the party could not develop in this small time, as a result of which it could not maintain its vote share and the Congress remained as the principle Opposition party.

'Vote for me, accused of only murder'

In 1997, the Congress split -- as was bound to be because of the total subservient nature of the leadership -- and the Trinamool Congress became the principal Opposition party. Then the Trinamool Congress and the BJP joined hands and this alliance is right now the most viable alternative to the CPI-M.

Why could the BJP not translate the support it had to seats? Why did it get weaker?

It is not like that. The people did not know anything about the BJP. They were clutching at any straw to save themselves from the CPI-M. That is why they gave them 11 per cent votes in 1991.

But the party had just emerged from a state of practically zero votes. Before 1989 if you asked people about the BJP they would not know what you were talking about. So when they emerged with this 11 per cent votes, the party could not keep pace with the expectations of the people.

A party takes some time to develop. After all the Communists started working in this state in 1925 and they came to power only in 1967. The BJP has not got that time. Right now the vote share is around 8.3 per cent. We expect that the vote share will rise substantially in the future.

Who is your chief ministerial candidate?

Mamata Banerjee, of course.

So there are no differences between the Trinamool and the BJP?

There are differences, we will put them in the backburner; we will work on the basis of a common minimum programme.

How big an issue is infiltration?

Infiltration is a very major issue. It is not that the Trinamool does not accept infiltration. The difference between Trinamool and us is that we make a distinction between the people who have entered this state illegally. We feel that people who have been subjected to Islamic persecution…


Hindus, and there are a handful of Buddhists and Christians also, who have entered this state as a matter of compulsion -- as a result of Islamic persecution -- are refugees. It agrees with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' definition also. By that definition Hindus and Christians are refugees. Muslims in this case are not subjected to any persecution and hence the Muslims are infiltrators.

The Trinamool does not agree with us on that score.

What makes you so confident you can get over that difference?

We will keep it on the backburner. We won't act upon it.

How do you plan to conquer the leviathan of the CPI-M at the grassroots?

The CPI-M has created a very large number of unemployed in the state. There are 7.2 million unemployed youth in this state. So it is very easy for the CPI-M to get cadres. And they have got government largesse. With that they have created an organisation into which they have siphoned government funds.

With that organisation they have penetrated into the countryside and they have people practically watching every household all over the state.

My point is that it is a great, wonderful organisation. But that should not be the reason why people should vote for a party! People should vote for a party that can give them good governance -- which is the opposite of what the CPI-M has so far given.

When you find that the organisation is a thing which determines the outcome of an election by itself then democracy is being prostituted.

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Sumit Bhattacharya in Kolkata