SENIOR journalist and two-time Rajya Sabha MP Chandan Mitra, who was one of the trusted spokespersons for the BJP, has left the party and joined the Trinamool Congress. He says there was no real tipping point for his exit from the BJP, though he had been disturbed by the recent lynching incidents. About his new leader, Mamata Banerjee, he says: “She has all the capability of being a national leader.”
What was the tipping point for your exit from the BJP?
No real tipping point. For some time I have been feeling that [in] the remaining years of my active political life I should do something for my home state. I contested the last Lok Sabha elections from West Bengal. I performed reasonably well. But, Trinamool was way ahead. And, I realised the Trinamool’s popularity in the state, and the towering personality of Mamata Banerjee is such that it is impossible to do politics in West Bengal by being with another party.
So, you should not be seen as a Narendra Modi dissident.
No. I have no complaints or grievances against the BJP. But, some of their policies have been disturbing, of late.
These lynchings, which of course is not part of the BJP’s policies.
Whose policy is it then?
It is [that of] these fringe groups. They have become very active. They have not been controlled effectively.
Can you call them fringe when you actually have Union Minister Jayant Sinha garlanding those who were convicted for lynching. You have Giriraj Singh [BJP MP] defending [RSS leader] Indresh Kumar’s comments that Muslims should stop eating beef if they want to be safe and so on. If you had felt a disquiet, why didn’t you express it earlier?
No, I am not going into individuals. But, yes, I was surprised with the action of Jayant Sinha to go and garland these people. And, certainly, no minister or anybody in the government should be seen associating with them. Because, they are criminals. So, these are disturbing things I cannot associate with.
Did you ever raise this internally within the BJP?
Do you feel that you as a journalist, should have been a little more outspoken?
If you are in a party, your identity is that of party worker, party activist, and not that of a journalist. So, I must say that I did not ever raise this issue.
Even as a party man, why not?
It is not the culture in any party. I don’t think the BJP should be singled out. In the Congress, in the CPI(M), in any of the major parties—there is no culture of being critical. If you are actually critical or disturbed by the party’s policies, you should gracefully leave, which is what I have done now.
Did you leave because you were upset with the latest avatar of certain BJP policies, or because the party did not give you enough to do?
I have come here because I think I need to do something for West Bengal, [about which] I have been thinking for the past four to five years. That is my primary reason. The rest are additional factors, but not deciding factors.
So, you don’t want to be clubbed as you were initially with Yashwant Sinha or L.K. Advani.
I have been close to Advani, and I will always have very high regard for him. But, no, I am not a dissident. I do not know who clubbed me with the others. I have not been in touch with any of them.
Your old tweets and comments on Mamata Banerjee have been pulled out. You said the Trinamool was unveiling a reign of terror, you have accused Mamata Banerjee of rigging the elections, you have gone as a Bengal BJP leader to complain about the Trinamool before bodies like the Election Commission. How do you reconcile those comments with your joining the Trinamool now?
I was at that time a spokesperson for the BJP. I was also the BJP’s observer for Bengal. So I was expected to take forward the party’s line. And, I did that as a loyal BJP worker.
But, does it not bother you that people are taking out your old words and using them to embarrass you?
I don’t think they are serious. I think the public is not so naive.
In West Bengal, the BJP is on the path of becoming the main opposition. How have the contours of politics in your state changed?
The BJP has progressed in the last two years, I think, because of Narendra Modi’s popularity. They may be second, but a very distant second. And, they will not be in a kind of winning position for many years from now.
Your new leader Mamata Banerjee seems to be somebody who has displayed or hinted at national ambitions. Do you see that, or do you see Banerjee focusing essentially on West Bengal?
She has all the capabilities to be a national leader.
National leader or prime ministerial contender?
She has won two consecutive elections, and administered West Bengal very well. After many years, you see people are happy. You see them happy because the CPI(M) reign of terror has been combated and development work is going on, particularly in villages. So, with all these achievements that she has, I think she is very well-placed to be a contender for the prime minister post. But, who will ultimately be the prime ministerial choice in a non-Congress, non-BJP alliance, will depend on the results of the elections and on the visions of individual leaders. There are many contenders for this position. Mamata Banerjee, I would say, is a leading contender.
But, is it still a favourable situation for Modi?
The BJP is the largest party in the country. They have overtaken the Congress even in terms of membership.
And, resources, money? It is a rich party.
Yes. So, on these grounds, they are in a good position. No doubt. But, there is a dissonance about the economic policies in particular, and some social policies also. How they will play out in the elections, we do not know. The BJP is well-placed to be a serious contender. But, things can change from now and the day of polling.
You say you are disturbed by lynchings. Do you hold the prime minister responsible for not stopping lynchings? Do you believe that the prime minister must take the responsibility for the fact that there are people in his council of ministers and party who are actually defending these acts?
Well, I don’t think the prime minister can be held personally responsible. But, yes, he could have been more effective in containing those leaders who are spreading hate. I think that is something which is a mistake. And, in any case, beef politics has gone too far. I am a liberal at heart. So, I cannot take any kind of diktat on what to eat, what to do and what to wear and what language to speak. But, the prime minister did not initiate these. The prime minister has spoken more than once against it. But, he could have been more forceful in stopping those who were defending it.