Swapan Dasgupta is the quintessential Bengali Bhadralok with his background at SOAS and Oxford University and his journalistic stints in various national dailies and a leading magazine.
Having steadfastly championed the cause of the Hindu right for decades, Dasgupta recently resigned from Rajya Sabha and joined the heat and dust of electoral politics as the BJP candidate from Tarakeshwar, a temple town 70 km south -West of Kolkata in the West underway. Polls in Bengal.
In an exclusive interview with Activity area, Dasupta reveals that his foray into state politics came at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and downplays the hype around him as 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 different backgrounds and their different issues. I also saw how politics works differently at the grassroots and at the highest level, of which I was mainly a part. Trying to reconcile the two has been a challenge and a learning process, can also be a bit of an adaptation.
So when you say, you have to reconcile politics at the grassroots level and at the top; is it possible to give some examples?
If you see, here at the village level the politics takes a very strong form and often results in close blood feuds. At the same time, many marginalized communities living on the outskirts of villages are excluded from decision-making processes or from the benefits of social protection programs. They are the ones who are heard the least. Then there is the other side, where welfare policy is very important.
In West Bengal, for example, the politicization of welfare has been a major feature. Social protection schemes here reverberate entirely on the basis of political affiliations (of beneficiaries).
Of course, a question arises, you are not exactly the rural leader who arouses the populace in Bengal. How do you deal with this perception?
First, it is a little condescending that rural ridings stir up scum. I don’t think people expect me to be a revival of the mob. I’ll be a misfit if I try to put on this hat (of a mob rioter). I do not deviate from my image at all. I need to connect with people and their aspirations, identify the threads and put them in a political perspective. The results so far have been encouraging. Despite the summer, people show up and log into the development program.
The speech is that you are PM Modis man and BJPs CM-face. Your comments?
It is extremely flattering to know them and also that I have the confidence of the Prime Minister. The point is, I got into state politics because the Prime Minister told me. This is also why I dispute. My goal is to generously win this seat 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 CM?
I’m glad that question arose. This means that people believe that we are winning in Nandigram, as well as in Bengal. Regarding CM-ship, I think the results will be published, and a call will be taken at the appropriate time. I don’t think such discussions should take place or take place in public.
You contest from a place known as the TMC Citadel. How confident are you?
The fact that I was sent to a rural constituency and where the BJP was lagging behind by 4,000 votes in Lok Sabha, reiterates that I did not have a soft landing. But as you can see, we have supporters and people are coming to support us.
We did very well in 2019, and it was a vote without much organization. This time, we have an important place in villages after villages and in kiosks after kiosks. Hopefully we reap the benefits as well. I am optimistic about winning the seat.
Some people say Trinamool’s khela hobe slogan is a little intimidating, how about you?
It is a veiled threat because in rural areas our people have been victimized, threatened and victimized by violence because they were BJP workers or party members. The slogan can have different connotations, but when you actually translate it on the pitch, it has a sinister meaning. It is nothing more than a threat. It is a type of threat that is actually happening around.
Your application has aroused some dissatisfaction. How was this taken care of?
I am as Bengali as you can be. I also move from one place to another without facing any resistance or obstacles. This so-called debate between the local and the outside makes no sense. If that was the case, Mamata Banerjee should have fought only from the city and not changed constituencies.
Do you think it’s more of a Modi vs 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 kind of Bengal do people want? Do you want to continue with the policy of hatred and violence that has governed the state for 50 years now? or do you want to go out for a new West Bengal.
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