Bengal BJP MP interview: ‘Party is very weak … did not fight enough during post-poll violence, workers felt abandoned’

Bengal BJP MP interview: ‘Party is very weak … did not fight enough during post-poll violence, workers felt abandoned’

India News

Of the seven Assembly seats in your constituency, the BJP lost six in the elections last year. Are you insecure about the BJP’s performance and changing strategies before the general elections?

The BJP lost because of poor candidate selection. Those who got tickets were not even in active politics. Bengal is a state where everyone is politically well-informed and has their point of view … If I did not have mass support, I wouldn’t have won. I have 165 cases against me. Half of my family members have left the state. I am not under any kind of pressure but many of my supporters cannot afford to be in jail. If the party doesn’t fight, is it possible for Arjun Singh to fight with the government here? The party did not fight enough. Many workers felt they were abandoned, 26,000 people lost their homes in post-poll violence. We have not been able to help them. So, many lost their jobs, you also need money to fight court cases.

Will the 2024 Lok Sabha elections be tough for the BJP in West Bengal?

Organisationally, the party is very weak. It is evident from what we recently saw in Asansol, where the BJP had no agent in 900 polling booths. In Bengal, if you don’t have an agent in a polling booth, then it is a lost fight as you cannot stop rigging. That is how voting happens here whether you deploy paramilitary forces or the military. As far as I am concerned, I will win in 2024, the party does not matter. I won the election within 15 days of joining the party (BJP) last time and defeated Dinesh Trivedi, who was once the railway minister.

There is speculation that you intend to return to Trinamool.

If I want to join the TMC, no one can stop me. If I don’t want to, then no one can force me to. My fight for the jute mills is what matters, 21 active jute unions in the state have unanimously appreciated my stand.

You have softened your stance against Mamata Banerjee…

My only focus is my voters, good politicians do that. Many from my party have appreciated that I have raised a voice (for the jute mills). Barrackpore once used to get compared to the textile industry in Manchester. West Bengal had 62 jute mills. Till 2021-’22, Barrackpore alone had 20. Now, only 14 mills are functional.

Experts say that relaxing the upper price cap of raw jute will benefit a section of the stakeholders but not the cultivators.

The Rs 6,500 per quintal cap fixed by the Jute Commissioner is forcing jute mills to close as they are incurring huge losses. Market prices are around Rs 7,200 a quintal and they are forced to sell at 6,500 a quintal. There should be no price capping at all. My question is if you are in favour of farmers, why are jute cultivators not receiving subsidies? Why can’t the government buy all the jute and give it to the mills? It is a nexus that is paving the path for the plastic industry to replace jute. The government can make the Jute Corporation even stronger and let it do all the purchasing. This will save both farmers and the mills. The board is currently working like a white elephant that is of no use. The government should allow the Jute Corporation to fix the price annually. The corporation has offices everywhere, it is not as if it does not have the infrastructure.

You said the TMC should be more aggressive on this issue. Do you not endorse what Mamata Banerjee has done?

In a meeting on December 13, the Union Textile Secretary asked the Jute Commissioner of India on what basis he had fixed the Rs 6,500 per quintal cap. I insist that they release the meeting’s minutes in the public domain. A nexus is at work … is there no one to talk about jute mill workers? Why only Bengal CM, through your esteemed paper I want to ask the CMs of Assam, Bihar, and Odisha also to come together against this decision of the Jute Commissioner. They should write to the government of India about how this decision will kill the jute industry. I raised my voice against this in the Lok Sabha too. A fact-finding committee should be formed under the leadership of a retired judge to find out the intention of the Jute Commissioner.

The state government in December 2020 recommended fixing the upper cap of raw jute at Rs 6,000 per quintal, which is lower than the Rs 6,500 per quintal price fixed by the Commissioner.

It was a temporary decision because the price had shot up to Rs 9,000 per quintal in 2020 after Cyclone Amphan in which 60,000 hectares of jute fields were destroyed and half of the jute plants were damaged. I am against Mamata Banerjee, there is no doubt about that. Having said that, I was born in a jute mill area, I have lived my entire life here. My loyalty lies with them. I speak in favour of jute workers. I also appeal to Mamata Banerjee to aggressively take up this issue.

Earlier, you accused the Union Textile Ministry of trying to destroy the jute industry in the state.

I accused the Commissioner of convincing the minister, who has got no idea. Piyush Goyal is from the Rajya Sabha. How will he know what happens in jute mills and how the sector works? The Jute Commissioner is misguiding the ministry so that jute products are replaced with plastic items. Our prime minister (Narendra Modi) has called for the promotion of jute as it is eco-friendly.

A few people claim that your demand to remove the price cap is in your interest.

My core voters are from the jute mill area. I will lose them (if I don’t raise the issue). Didn’t Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoke the farm laws? So, this decision too can be revoked in public interest. My interest is limited to my voters. The Centre must revoke the Rs 6,500 price cap. Though I received no response from Piyush Goyal, a senior official has sought a report on the matter. We will send it soon.

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