“You should ask Mamata Didi, Congress and the communists about the culture of violence”: Union Home Minister Amit Shah

News Desk: Large sections of West Bengal’s residents, who feel they are “second-grade citizens” due to the “politics of appeasement”, find hope in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Union home minister Amit Shah said in an interview.

Many such people have been “suppressed” and met with “injustice”, Shah said, red-flagging “vote bank politics, election violence and infiltration” in chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s rule.

“Their hopes are tied to the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi…It’s also the BJP’s responsibility to perform well here,” he said, reiterating that his party will win 200 of Bengal’s 294 assembly seats.

Responding to a question on what could lead to Banerjee’s downfall in Nandigram — the BJP maintains the CM will lose the seat she is contesting against her former colleague Suvendu Adhikari — Shah said it would be the TMC’s “politics of polarisation”, more than any other talking point such as cut money (corruption) or anti-incumbency.

This factor has made people feel that “we are second-grade citizens” who did not get “priority”, Shah said. He also accused the TMC of opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, because of this “appeasement politics”.

The BJP has promised to implement CAA if it comes to power in Bengal; the law fast-tracks citizenship of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis who have arrived in India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh before 2015. The move will help Matuas, a sect of Hindu Dalit refugees from Bangladesh, among others. A large section of Matuas is believed to be backing the BJP in the ongoing assembly polls.

Shah’s BJP has set its eyes on ending the decade-long rule of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which calls the BJP a party of outsiders and rejects the rival’s charge of Muslim appeasement.

In the interview, Shah also alleged that the TMC failed to deliver in all key areas — from roads to electricity to education to health to drinking water. “Everyone wants to break free of this injustice,” Shah said. He added that the state government even halted the Centre’s PM-Kisan scheme for farmers that pays Rs 6,000 a year to them by direct transfers, and the Ayushman Bharat health insurance scheme for the poor.

On the TMC’s claim that women, considered a core support base of the CM, were solidly backing ruling party, Shah said: “I think women will be one of the biggest reasons behind the BJP’s win.”

Whenever there is violence or there is poverty, it is the women who are affected the most, Shah said. He stressed that the central government led by the BJP gave them gas cylinders, electricity and toilets through its flagship schemes.

Shah also recounted the BJP’s journey from 2017 to 2021, and how he (as the party president back then) launched a membership drive in Naxalbari area of the state four years ago with an aim to strengthen the BJP organisation. “Today I am happy that the party is in a strong position…This is because of the tireless efforts of our party workers,” he said, while also underscoring that PM Modi was hugely popular in Bengal.

People chose Banerjee’s government in 2011 to turn things around after 34 years of the Left rule, but that did not happen, Shah said. “Even in 2016, people were unhappy with the TMC, but we did not have the infrastructure…a pan-Bengal presence…that is needed to spread the work, the ideology of a party,” he added.

He put emphasis on the BJP’s success in the 2019 national elections —it won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state — and said this showing helped clear many doubts over the party’s prospects in the eastern state. Shah exuded confidence that the BJP would register a thumping win in the 2021 elections and that its seat-specific victory margins will be huge.

On the political violence that is rampant in Bengal, Shah said: “You should ask Mamata Didi, Congress and the communists about the culture of violence. We were never in power here.” What did they “want to hide” behind the violence? Shah asked.

While the TMC has accused paramilitary forces of following the instructions of the home ministry, especially over the Sitalkuchi incident in Cooch Behar where four people died on a polling day after central forces fired at a mob, Shah reminded Banerjee that paramilitary forces work under the Election Commission during elections. “I feel sorry that they don’t know such a basic thing,” he said.

At a time when several TMC leaders, including heavyweights such as Adhikari and Rajib Banerjee, have switched over to the BJP in Bengal, Shah said: “Many people join BJP from other parties across the country…but that does not change the BJP, or our ideology, our culture, our working style.”