Kolkata: For the past 34 years, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee has been fighting to oust the Left Front from power in West Bengal. She was forecast by psephologists to have almost seized the state from the Left Front’s control in the assembly election 10 years ago, but West Bengal’s voters proved them wrong.
It has taken her another decade and two more assembly elections to realize her dream.
In her first interview to a newspaper after it became evident that her party was going to form the next government in West Bengal, Banerjee talked about the revival of industry, land acquisition and her plan to visit West Midnapore district, which has been hit by Maoist violence. Edited excerpts:
This must be the biggest moment in your life. How does it feel?
My belief about humanitarianism is because of my father’s outlook. I have always dreamt of doing something which would make my father proud. Every individual has a specific goal and direction in life. I too have one. In my childhood, I never thought that I would enter such a large arena of politics. Now I work for the people 365 days. As long as I have their blessings, all is okay.
You have always said the people of West Bengal wanted change. Why did it take so long to oust the Left Front?
Oppression of the people is the reason. The CPI(M) (Communist Party of India, Marxist) has kept the people in darkness for a long time. But we have exposed their agenda of loot, greed and violence. The voters have learnt the truth. In past elections, the CPI(M) has manipulated the system. People wanted change, but their hopes were not reflected in the election verdict. The CPI(M) did not allow it. But they could no longer suppress the aspirations of the people. West Bengal has had enough.
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After what happened in Singur and Nandigram, what will you be doing to regain the confidence of industry?
We are perhaps the first political party since Independence to have come up with a time-bound manifesto. We have outlined what our government will do in the first 200 days, and then in the next 1,000 days. We do not have a short-term vision.
The CPI(M) said “we are pro-farmer,” but look at what they did in Singur. They betrayed their own people. Our land policy has been consistent. We are pro-farmer — no question of forcing people to give up their land. But this does not mean we will not (have) progress.
There is a natural balance between agriculture and development. This balance cannot be upset. With the blessings of our guiding light — maa, mati, manush (literally mother, motherland, people) — we will go forward. We are open to industry. And we will make the process scientific. Land banks will be created, and we will clearly determine what is agricultural land and what is industrial land. Bengal needs development, a long-term vision. We are committed to it.
What are your immediate priorities?
We have many plans for the state. These are outlined in our vision document. I will tell you about some of them.
Trinamool Congress supremo MamataBanerjee addressing her party workers and supporters at her Kalighat residence in Kolkata on Friday. Trinamool Congress is heading for a thumping win West Bengal assembly elections. Ashok Bhaumik/PTI
Industrial revival and employment generation is very important. The micro, small, and medium enterprises will be rejuvenated through financial support, technology upgrades, and training. There will be a cluster development drive to turn certain districts into manufacturing centres of excellence. Pilgrimage, coastal and eco-tourism will be actively promoted.
Infrastructure also badly needs improvement. We will design a plan with Airports Authority of India for the development of Kolkata airport. There will also be a blueprint for the power sector. It will focus on natural gas, wind energy, solar power and other non-conventional sources.
In the education sector, there will be a concrete plan for vocational education. Teacher training will be scaled up. We want to open more medical colleges, universities and schools in towns and districts where there are gaps.
Healthcare will have a four-tier infrastructure and policies to attract private sector investment. In agriculture, our aim is to lead an agro-processing revolution, which will help in rural development. I will also travel to troubled areas like Junglemahal (the forests in West Midnapore district) within 100 days. Our goal will be to bring peace to every corner of West Bengal.
The state is going through an acute financial crisis. How would you tackle the situation? Has the Centre agreed to help?
The public finances are in ruins. We will have to take a close look to understand the extent of the damage. It will take time.
What if the opposition turns out to be disruptive?
Law and order will be ensured. There will be peace and calm because people are with us.
My message to the people of West Bengal is simple: There is a lot of work ahead. It will not be easy. We have seen massacre, beatings, and rape for more than 30 years. But we must not lose hope. We are not afraid anymore. Our goal is change. We will restore the glory of our state together with our people. In our lives, we must find strength. And then, no one can stop us.