Mr Aveek Sarkar (left) with Mamata Banerjee
On 12th and 13th April 2021, on behalf of Anandabazar Digital, Mr Aveek Sarkar, Chairman of Press Trust of India (PTI) and Vice Chairman and Editor Emeritus of ABP Group, conducted a marathon interview on Bengal, with Mr Amit Shah, Union Home Minister.
Mr Aveek Sarkar was editor-in-chief of Anandabazar Patrika and The Telegraph. He was also the Chief Editor of ABP Group of publications.
Yesterday we published the interview taken on 12th April. One of the notable features mentioned by Mr Amit Shah was Children's University in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. The Concept Note of the University reads: "It can be claimed to be divine, for no other university in the world ever aims at covering the development cycle beginning from the unborn child to 18 years of teenagers." Today we pan out with the interview of 13th April (translated from Bengali transcript into English). It is true that successive governments of Bengal have shown a penchant for populist measures including appeasement without caring for development based on Economics.
Regarding Mr Amit Shah's promise to revive the Gorkhali language (amongst others), I doubt if it is any way different from Nepali language, which is also called Gurkha, Gorkhali, Gurkhali, or Khaskura. It belongs to the Pahari subgroup of the Indo-Aryan group of the Indo-Iranian division of the Indo-European languages. Nepali is spoken by more than 17 million people, mostly in Nepal and neighbouring parts of India (mainly Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and adjacent areas including Sikkim, Siliguri and even Kolkata!). Indian Gorkhas (Bharatiya Gorkha), are Nepali language-speaking Indian citizens. The term "Indian Gorkha" is used to differentiate the citizens of India from the original Gorkhas of Nepal. Nepali language is included in the eight schedule of the Indian Constitution. I stand to be corrected. Isaac Gomes, Associate Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.
Anandabazar Digital = ABD
Amit Shah = AS
ABD: You once said that Didi is a successful public leader but a failed chief minister. Why does she seem to have failed you?
AS: Didi has failed in all sectors! Take law and order. The deterioration of law and order in Bengal during Mamata's time has probably not happened anywhere else. I can say this in front of the tape recorder that at least during the communist era, their thugs did not go so far! Somewhere there was a control over them. May be it's the control by the cadres. Even that is unconstitutional. But under Mamata's government the thugs and goons are sitting in the driver's seat! Didi also failed to stop the infiltration (from Bangladesh). She failed to reach drinking water in all homes. She failed to provide security to women. Now her government has stopped sending statistics to the National Crime Records Bureau! Because, those figures (crime records) are shameful. The education system has collapsed. A great tradition of Bengal was spiritual consciousness. No work has been done for spiritual uplift.
ABD: The people of Bengal are no longer afraid of the police. Instead they chase the police on the open roads!
AS: People should not be scared of the police. If the police do their job independently (without being under a political umbrella), bad people will be afraid of them and good people will enjoy their protection. But that is not the case in Bengal now. I'm talking of something which you will not like to hear. Many Bengalis will not like it. But I think it is my responsibility as a leader in this country to say that. Infiltration (from Bangladesh) is now a problem in North Bengal. But if it goes like this, after 10 years, infiltration will be a problem in Kolkata too. Mark my words. Can any country go this way! How many livestock (cows) have been smuggled away? What will the poor people do? The economy has deteriorated. The ecosystem has deteriorated. How much of irrigation land has Mamta didi increased? Answer me once! I am now touring the whole of Bengal by helicopter. I can see that there is no greenery in more than 20 per cent of the fields. Three crops are grown almost everywhere in Gujarat. Why is there no agricultural growth when there is no shortage of water here? The Ganges is bringing all the manure from the Himalayas, from the Gangotri and depositing it in Bengal – so fertile land! Bengal has so huge jute industry. What did the Communists and Mamata Banerjee do to revive the jute industry? Not a single jute mill has been modernized. He has repeatedly issued circulars saying that it is mandatory to buy only jute. But if there is no jute, what will happen even if buying of jute is made mandatory? There should have been modernization over a period of time. New seeds of jute should have been tested at agricultural centres. Nothing happened! Mamta didi met me once in Orissa. I asked, Didi, how many new rice have your agronomists discovered in the last 10 years? She couldn't answer. If so, what is the Agricultural University doing! That's why I say, Mamata Didi has failed as an Administrator. The government has a responsibility. New varieties of the top 10 crops of the state have to be found. Production must increase. Farmers will not be able to do that anymore.
ABD: But Bengal has surplus electricity. We sell electricity to other states!
AS: Demand is low, so Bengal has surplus electricity. Selling electricity outside may not be indicative of actual development of a state. On the contrary, high per capita demand for electricity is indicative of a good State. Per capita electricity demand, per capita income and per capita savings — these are the three criteria for development as per the indicators/norms of development accepted all over the world.
ABD: Will industry come to Bengal?
ABD: Where will industry come from? Gujarat?
AS: Yes it will definitely come Gujarat and also from Maharashtra. Those who want to send their products to East India will not send them from Gujarat, because, it is not profitable in terms of transportation. They have to build a factory here. Having a factory here would pave the way for goods to reach the whole of the North-East, the whole of Bihar, West Bengal and all the countries of the East. And now no one thinks in terms of Gujarat-Bengal, Maharashtra-Bengal. Only Didi has this mindset. Dalmias, the Birlas set up industries in Bengal. But according to Didi, they are all outsiders! Yet they made great contribution to the economy of Bengal.
ABD: When did you look at Bengal? You have been coming to Bengal since 2016. Since when do you think, nothing is happening in Bengal?
AS: It has two parts. First, I was the BJP president. As a result, it was my job to ensure that my party representatives can reach every booth in the country. That is my duty. How to reach every corner of Bengal? For this my team studied in detail. That's when these shortcomings came to light. Second, make a list of priorities to assess the states where formation of a government will be beneficial (1) in terms of security (2) in terms of development (3) in terms of education. Which state has all these possibilities? The obvious answer is: West Bengal.
ABD: The time you have invested for Bengal, you have not done so for any other state.
AS: See Aveekji, I have plenty of time on my hands. I am the most free person on earth (laughs). I am only 56 years of age. I have plenty of time.
ABD: You are claiming that you will form a government with more than 200 seats in Bengal. How will this benefit Amit Shah? Can I ask a naughty question?
AS: Do it!
ABD: Will Amit Shah take a few steps towards becoming the Prime Minister if BJP wins in Bengal?
AS: I have no personal gain if BJP conquers Bengal. The country’s benefit is my benefit. How can I separate myself from the country? And on the question of prime ministership, I can say that my party does not think that way. That is not the culture of my party. If we win in Bengal, it will be the victory of our national president and prime minister. My role is that of an employee. When I was president, others made all the effort, And I used to get the credit! Now we are all trying together. If we in Bengal, Modiji and Naddaji will get all the credit! (laughs). There is no confusion in this. Let me be clear on this (laughs again).
ABD: Five years from now, where does Amit Shah see himself?
AS: I see myself in the BJP. You see, the party charts out our role. I do not think there is any time or scope for thinking of reaching personal milestones.
ABD: If BJP wins in West Bengal election, what will be the next challenge of Amit Shah?
AS: No-no. There are lots of challenges. Orissa is left. Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala are left. There are many states left on the other side of the Vindhya mountains. Plenty of work to do.
ABD: I have taken a lot of your time ….
AS: Wait, wait! I want to say something to the people of Bengal through Anandabazar Digital. There are many issues to vote for. I would like to make a polite request to the people of Bengal that they give priority to the BJP in these matters. But I want to say a few more things to the people of Bengal. In my opinion, the biggest problem in Bengal is infiltration. Bengal is a very important frontier state of India. It is the connecting state with the Northeast. Again, the North-East is the connecting area of our country with seven countries. The way in which the Left Front government and then the Trinamool government have supported infiltration in Bengal for their political vested interests (vote bank), must be stopped on a priority basis. The growing population of Bengal is a concern not only for Bengal but for the entire country. After the next 10 years, even the citizens of Kolkata will not be able to escape from infiltration. It is said that BSF is an agency of the Government of India. But on such a large border, where there are rivers, canals, forests and hills, the infiltration cannot be stopped as long as you are building an administrative system. This means borders need to be fenced off, police stations and district magistrates need to be vigilant. Where do people stay when they cross the border? Who shelters them? The BSF monitors the border. But if someone enters, who will see? Why not stop cattle smuggling? We have implemented this system hands-on in Assam. I put the camera on the fence. I have connected the cameras with the concerned police stations. District Magistrate, BSF and Thana: All three parties have been given the responsibility to view the camera footage. That is how the infiltration has decreased to 10 per cent. This is proven information. It has to be done in West Bengal too. Communists, Congress or Trinamool – no one can do that. Because, all three parties have made infiltrators their own votebank. Only BJP can do it.
ABD: What about Refugees?
AS: Yes. Many people have come here as refugees and are living illegally. When we come to power here, we will give them the right to live with dignity through the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). This will change the way of life in Bengal. I think the law and order situation will also be better. We will run a corruption-free administration. Most importantly, we will control the infiltration with such strict hand that a clear message will go that now it is no more easy to infiltrate into Bengal. I think the people of Bengal should ask Didi what she will do in the next five years. They should ask her instead of lambasting the CRPF, abusing Amit Shah and Prime Minister and opposing the Central Government, what she will do for the constructive development of Bengal. I have been listening to her speech. The whole speech insults the CRPF!
ABD: But in the last 10-15 years, Bangladesh has seen financial development. Even then why people from there are infiltrating into West Bengal?
AS: There are two reasons for this. One, Bangladesh's development has not reached the poor and the marginalised in the border areas. When development starts in any under-developed country, it takes place first at the centre. And its benefits reach the rich first, not the poor. Now that process is going on in Bangladesh. As a result, poor people are still unable to eat. That is why the infiltration is going on. And those who are infiltrators are not just living in Bengal. They are spreading in different states of India, reaching as far as Jammu and Kashmir. Second, I think it's an administrative problem. It has to be dealt with administratively. The government of West Bengal did not do that. Finally, I would like to say to the people of Bengal, you have given the Congress a chance to rule for a long time, three decades to the Left Front, and a decade to Mamata to rule. But Bengal has been underdeveloped. Give Narendra Modi a chance. Give the BJP a chance. The changes we will bring in five years, will result in Bengal moving towards becoming 'Sonar Bangla – Golden Bengal' again. This is what I really believe. In particular, I am telling the brothers and sisters of Kolkata that if there is no change in Kolkata, there will be no change in Bengal. If Bengal is to regain its former glory in the country, the people of Kolkata must first change and make the first move to bring about change for the better.
ABD: Anything else you would like to say?
AS: Our second concern is the culture and heritage of Bengal. The communists do not accept these. Their inspiration was Russia and China. Mamata too did not pay any attention to it. As a result, the rich culture of Bengal which used to inspire the whole country and the world, has been ruined. The way Vivekananda propagated the Vedas and Vedanta all over the world with his modern outlook, the way Ramakrishna Paramahansa revived the imagination of Abhaduta (Sanyas), Chaitanya Mahaprabhu showed devotion is the path to salvation, Swami Pranabananda said – pursuit of God and one’s country are one and the same : all this tradition and deep-thinking have slowly entered an abyss. No work has been done in the last 44 years to propagate the ideology of many including Shri Aurobindo. I think the cultural glory of Bengal should be restored through their revival.
ABD: Rabindranath Tagore is there.
AS: Rabindranath Tagore's experiment at Santiniketan has almost completely collapsed. It has become just a ritual/formality.
ABD: But Visva-Bharati is under the Centre.
AS: Just under us. But the way people were taken there during the Left Front, we cannot nurture it without the attitude of cooperation of the state government. Any opinion has to change over time say after 50 years. No one thought of that change in Santiniketan. No one even looked. Relevant changes must be brought in while keeping the original ideology of Santiniketan intact. I firmly believe that only the BJP can do that.
ABD: Bengali culture ..?
AS: We have incorporated many issues in our manifesto regarding the culture of Bengal.
ABD: But …!
AS: Let me speak. Don't interrupt me like TV anchors.
ABD: And Kolkata?
AS: Without the development of Kolkata, Bengal cannot be developed. Much should have been done for the development of Kolkata. But nothing was done. For this we have created a fund of Rs. 22,000 crore. The infrastructure will be fixed. 10 multi-storey parking will be provided. A petition will be filed with UNESCO to make Kolkata a Heritage City. The majesty of Kali Mandir will be restored by reviving the Adiganga of Kalighat. In Baranagar, Bali and Howrah, Mamata Banerjee's government has thrown the 'Namami Ganga' project into the Ganges. We will revive the project. Funds have also been earmarked for flood control in Ghatal, Kandi and North Bengal. There are plans to form a board for the development of Jangalmahal, Sundarbans and North Bengal. Different languages like Santali, Rajbangshi, Gorkhali will also be revived. They will give more impetus to the culture and diversity of Bengal as a whole.
ABD: You are saying BJP will spend so much money. Will Finance Minister Nirmala sanction so much money?
AS: I said at the time of the announcement of the manifesto, I am Bania (Trader or Merchant). I have done my projections taking into consideration availability of the funds beforehand.
(End of the two-part interview on 12th and 13th April)