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Last updated: 03 Apr, 2023  

Sushmita.9.thmb.jpg Cong must rethink on fighting polls in 7-8 states for Oppn unity to work: Sushmita Dev

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IANS | 03 Apr, 2023
Once a core member of 'Team Rahul', former All India Mahila Congress President Sushmita Dev changed the course and overnight joined the Trinamool Congress in August 2021.

Since then, she has been on the ground to lead Trinamool's campaign in two states -- Goa and Tripura. However, election results were far from satisfactory for the party in both these states.

In a detailed conversation with IANS, Dev spoke on a a range of issues, from Rahul Gandhi's disqualification from the Lok Sabha, corruption charges against Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma, Opposition unity, to the road ahead for Mamata Banerjee and her party.

Excerpts from the interview:

IANS: You had extensively campaigned in Tripura, but the Trinamool drew a blank in the recent Assembly polls. In fact, Trinamool's vote percentage was below NOTA...

Dev: First of all, we contested a limited number of seats. We put up candidates in only 28 seats (out of 60). It became a bipolar contest between the Congress-CPI(M) combine and the BJP, while the tribal votes more or less polarised towards Tipra Motha Party. We could not go on either side. The whole political journey of Mamata Banerjee has been anti-Left. Sometimes, if you stick to your ideology, you may lose an election, but it is better than landing in confusion about your ideology.

IANS: But about a year ago, Trinamool was claiming to be the principle opposition party in Tripura...

Dev: When we started working in 2021, there was no opposition party on the ground. Both CPI-M and Congress had ruled Tripura for many decades, so they had a settled base. We, as a new party, could not even open an office due to political violence. It was only in July last year that we could open a main office in Agartala. However, until the election time, we were not able to open offices in the blocks due to fear of political violence. No one was ready to offer us space for an office. No one faced the challenges which we did in Tripura. Our workers were constantly threatened.

IANS: Do you think that Trinamool missed a face in Tripura?

Dev: To win an election, you need a credible face and a narrative. The party decided to go to the polls with a son or daughter of the soil. Unfortunately, we ran into a lot of trouble in putting up a strong and credible local face.

IANS: Trinamool could not build a narrative too?

Dev: People of Tripura have a lot of respect for Mamata Banerjee's good governance and strong leadership in West Bengal. But we missed a face or a strong local leader to take things forward. I must say that despite that, our workers and leaders put up their best efforts in the elections.

IANS: But now your party workers in Tripura are complaining that no leader is taking care of them after the polls...

Dev: I have been in a national party for 30 years of my life. The time I spent in Tripura is more than any representative of any party. You see the other national parties, including the Congress, the party in-charges hardly visit the states. Actually, this has been peddled as part of a propaganda. Since I joined the Trinamool, I spent most of the last year-and-a-half in Tripura because the elections were near and we had no president for long periods. I tried my best in those circumstances.

IANS: Will Trinamool contest the Lok Sabha elections in Tripura?

Dev: I am of the opinion that we should fight, but the decision would be taken by the party.

IANS: What is the positioning of Trinamool in Assam?

Dev: We are gradually expanding our organisation in Assam. The politics of BJP is driven by fear. If you post anything on social media, you will get arrested the next day. If you criticise the government, they will try to take action against you using the administrative machineries. In these circumstances, building a new organisation is a really challenging task. But I believe that Ripun Bora is doing a fantastic job and has already made breakthroughs.

IANS: You were once a close associate of Rahul Gandhi. What is your take on his disqualification from the Lok Sabha and the BJP's stand?

Dev: This is not the first time that an MP has been disqualified from the Parliament. But what is most important here is the turn of events. The person who filed the defamation suit is a politically motivated man, and he himself put the case on hold for one year as per Congress' version. This case was suddenly revived clearly with an aim to avoid the debate in the Parliament on the Adani issue, which I think is the biggest scam in the country.

IANS: Your party supremo Mamata Banerjee stood by Rahul Gandhi...

Dev: My party leader did not stand beside one particular person, but against the entire attempt to throttle the Opposition. Since 2021, Mamata Banerjee has been constantly saying that there is no equality in the eyes of the law. If you are in the Opposition, enforcement agencies will treat you with bias, and if you are in the BJP, they just stop every investigation.

One example is that of Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. In the Central Hall of Parliament, I read out a booklet published by the BJP accusing Sarma of being involved in the Louis Berger scam. Months after that, he joined the BJP and the issue was over.

IANS: Do you think the present situation provides a chance for stronger Opposition unity?

Dev: Narendra Modi and the BJP can be defeated if there is unity among the opposition parties. But this will only prove effective if Congress can win at least 100 of about 180 Lok Sabha seats in which they are in a bipolar contest with the BJP. If they continue to perform poorly in those seats, and if Trinamool doesn't win all the 42 seats in West Bengal, the BJP cannot be ousted. So, it is not important whether Rahul Gandhi is inside the Parliament, the Congress as a party must do its organisational work and win for Opposition unity to work eventually.

IANS: Is it possible for the Congress to take on the BJP?

Dev: I am not the right person to comment on that. But from my earlier experience in the party, I can say that the Congress is a top-heavy organisation, and by the time it goes from the Pradesh Congress to the booth level, the structure dilutes. You know the reason why the BJP could not defeat Mamata Banerjee in 2021: Trinamool has a very strong organisation at the grassroots level. If the Congress wants to do well in 2024, they must focus on that. And it is not an easy task.

IANS: The Congress has accused Trinamool of dividing the Opposition votes in Meghalaya and Goa. Don't you accept that this is ultimately helping the BJP?

Dev: The Opposition unity is an exercise in which everybody has to walk the same distance, including the Congress. Today, the Congress is contesting so many seats in Bengal which only helps the BJP. In the recent Sagardighi by-election, local Congress leaders appealed for Opposition unity between the BJP, Congress, and Left. If this kind of ideological confusion exists in the grand old party, an alliance will be difficult.

Congress must rethink its position in seven-eight states, including West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, etc. where other parties are doing better than the Congress. If Congress expects Mamata Banerjee not to contest seats outside Bengal, the same applies to them as well in states where there are stronger contenders than the Congress.

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