I am contesting because PM Modi wanted me to: Swapan Dasgupta
The senior politician is making his electoral début by contesting in Tarakeshwar, a TMC stronghold
Swapan Dasgupta is the quintessential ‘Bengali bhadralok’ with his SOAS and Oxford University background and journalistic stints in different national dailies and a prominent magazine.
Having strongly advocated the cause of the Hindu right-wing for decades, Dasgupta recently resigned from the Rajya Sabha and joined the heat and dust of electoral politics as a BJP candidate from the Tarakeshwar – a temple town 70 km south west of Kolkata – in the ongoing West Bengal polls.
In an exclusive interview to BusinessLine, Dasupta reveals that his foray into state politics happened at the instance of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and plays down the hype around him being the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in Bengal. Excerpts from the interview:
This is your first foray into electoral politics. What have been the takeaways so far?
It has been a learning experience for me: meeting so many people from varied backgrounds and their different issues. I have also seen how differently politics works at the grassroots and at the top-level, of which I was mostly a part of. Trying to reconcile the two has been a challenge and a process learning, also may be a bit of an adaptation.
So when you say, you need to reconcile the politics at the grassroots level and at the top; is it possible to give some instances?
If you see, here at the village level, politics takes a very strong form and often results in near blood feuds. At the same time, there are a lot of marginalised communities who live on the edge of villages that are left out of decision-making processes or from benefits of welfare schemes. They are the ones who are least heard. Then there is the other side, where politics of welfare is very prominent.
In West Bengal, for instance, politicisation of welfare has been a major feature. Welfare schemes here trickle down completely on the basis of the political affiliations (of the beneficiaries).
Naturally, a question comes, you are not exactly the rabble rousing rural leader in Bengal. How are you handling this perception?
Firstly, it is a bit patronising that rural constituencies are about rabble rousing. I don’t think people expect me to be a rabble rouse. I will be a misfit if I try to don that hat (of a rabble rouser). I am not deviating one bit from my image. I need to connect with people and their aspirations, pick-out the threads and put them into a policy perspective. So far, the results have been encouraging. Despite the summer, people are showing up and connecting with the development agenda.
The talk is that you are PM Modi’s man and BJP’s CM-face. Your comments?
It is extremely flattering to know these and also the fact that I enjoy the confidence of the Prime Minister. The fact is I got into state politics because the Prime Minister told me to. That’s also why I am contesting. My point is to win this seat handsomely for the BJP.
But, if Suvendu Adhikari wins against CM Mamata Banerjee in Nadigram, don’t you think he will have the legitimate right to become the CM?
I’m glad that this question has come up. That means people believe we are winning in Nandigram, as well as in Bengal. With regard to CM-ship, I believe let the results come out, and a call will be taken at the appropriate time. I do not think such discussions need to come up or take place in public.
You are contesting from a place that’s known as a TMC-citadel. How confident are you?
The fact that I was fielded from a rural constituency and one where BJP trailed by 4,000 votes in the Lok Sabha, reiterates that I did not have a soft landing. But as you can see, we have got party workers around, and people are coming out to support us.
We did do very well in 2019, and it was a vote without much organisation. This time we have got prominence in village after village and in booth-after-booth. Let’s hope we reap the benefits of that too. I’m optimistic about winning the seat.
Some people say that Trinamool's ‘khela hobe’ slogan is a bit intimidating, what would you say?
It is a veiled threat because in rural areas our people have been victimised, threatened and faced violence for being BJP workers or party members. The slogan can have different connotations, but when you actually translate it on ground, it has one sinister meaning. It is nothing but a threat. This is a type of threat that is actually happening around.
There was some discontent over your candidature. How was it taken care of?
I am as Bengali as you can get. I am also moving from one place to another without facing resistance or hindrances. This so-called ‘local-versus-outsider’ debate makes no sense. If that was the case then Mamata Banerjee should have contested only from the city and not changed constituencies.
Do you think this is more of a Modi versus Mamata fight in Bengal now?
It’s a fight between two different visions for Bengal. Modi and Mamata are symbols of a larger process. What sort of Bengal do people want? Do you want to continue with the politics of hate and violence that has governed the state for 50 years now; or do you want to step-out for a new West Bengal.