'Stand by Comment to Shoot Protesters Down': Bengal BJP Chief Dilip Ghosh Speaks to The Wire

From declaring Matuas non-citizens to asserting that illegal immigrants have all voted for Mamata Banerjee, the former RSS worker makes a chain of charged claims in this exclusive interview.

Dilip Ghosh is at the centre of controversy almost every day. Which did not stop him from saying that anti-CAA protesters “were shot like dogs” by the government in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and Karnataka. His words earned him flak not only from opposition parties but also a large section of civil society.

However, lines like these and much more have now made the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bengal chief a tough challenger to West Bengal’s ruling dispensation.

Although the Centre has proposed a National Register of Citizens (NRC) to drive out infiltrators from India, Ghosh’s chief concern has remained Muslim illegal immigrants. In a recent speech, he claimed that the would win the state’s assembly elections for the BJP by driving out 50 lakh Muslim immigrants from the state.

Fuelling confusion among a large section of the Indian population, he said that their names will be cut off from the voter’s list first and if necessary they will be deported out of the country.

On January 16, the 55-year-old RSS worker-turned-BJP MP was reappointed as the party’s state president for the second time. After he returned from his week-long north Bengal tour, The Wire sat down with Dilip Ghosh at his Salt Lake residence to discuss issues ranging from his controversial statements on the impending National Register of Citizen (NRC), the CAA to the party’s strategy for the state assembly elections coming up next year.

The following are edited excerpts from the interview:

The civic body elections are around the corner, the state assembly election is next year and you have just been reappointed the Bengal chief. Does this mean the party believes only you are capable of taking such responsibilities?

That’s not the case. When I was made the state president, I was new. I didn’t know what politics was. The party organisation hardly existed then. We worked hard and the people of Bengal believed in our fights and our struggles. Now people think that we can bring the original ‘poriborton‘ (change) in Bengal. This is the reason BJP’s vote share increased in the just completed elections. At one point, our party’s vote share was 4%, so people had no faith in us. Now, our vote share is close to 40%. When faith increases, both responsibility and pressure increase.

There was always pressure on me and with the party doing well in elections, it is increasing. But keeping aside all these, today I can say that our party in Bengal is on a solid footing. I, along with our party workers, have gained experience over the years. There has been a huge change in the BJP party now from what it was four years ago.

You joined BJP in 2014. Before that people hardly knew anything about you…

I come from Jhargram’s Gopiballavpur village. I studied in an ordinary government school and a college.

I was associated with the RSS from a very young age. I believe in bringing changes in society following the RSS ideology. That means total surrender without any condition.

In 1984, I left my house and started working for the Sangh. Initially, I worked as a pracharak in various districts of Bengal. A few years later, I was asked to work in the Andaman. I stayed and worked there for eight and a half years. After Andaman, I returned to Kolkata.

Also read: Can Dilip Ghosh’s Foul Rhetoric Make Inroads With Bengal’s Bhadralok Gentry?

Following that, I was tasked to start the Hindu Jagaran Manch in Bengal as the Hindu community was being attacked. Saraswati Pujos were being stopped and so were the Durga Pujo bisharjans (immersion). Bengal was turning into Bangladesh. Hindus were scared in Bengal.

The current scenario is similar to 1946-47 when the country was divided. And I firmly believe that to save the Hindu community, the show of strength of Hindus is an absolute necessity. So we have taken all these actions and now we have the results. After working for four years in Bengal, I was asked to join politics. So in 2014, I joined BJP. The party might have felt some work has been done in Bengal, might have felt that I can take this forward, so I was given a second chance.

BJP national president Amit Shah flashes the victory sign as West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh looks on, during a public rally in Kolkata in August 2018. Photo: PTI

With civic elections, how prepared is the BJP?

Till the recent past, we (BJP) won elections in Bengal based on waves. There were no workers, no organisational strength. But now things have changed.

Out of 79,000 booths in Bengal, we have a booth committee in around 70,000 booths, currently. We won 18 seats in the 2019 general election even without booth workers, because people voted for Modi’s name and for Modi’s image. Without booth workers, no party can win local body elections. In the last three years, we worked and strengthened our organisation by inducting local leaders from villages across the state.

Three years of hardship will give returns in the upcoming civic body election. We don’t know when the election will take place. Whenever it happens, BJP will emerge as the strongest party.

You recently said BJP governments in Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Karnataka have “shot these people like dogs”. This created controversy. Do you regret the statement?

No regrets at all. I stand by my comment.

As a citizen, I believe no one has the right to vandalise, burn, destroy any public property. Who gives them (protesters) the right to loot taxpayers’ money? The onus is on the government to stop these activities, and if needed, shoot them down. Many governments have done this earlier. There is no state government in India that has not fired at protesters.

When there are no options left to control protesters, the police have to and should open fire. I am reiterating that if someone is destroying public property, he should be shot.

During the Emergency in 1975, students were on the streets and oppositions were protesting. And in many instances, things turned extremely violent and public property was destroyed. So would you be okay if Indira Gandhi had ordered to shoot protesters then?

Protesters burning tyres doesn’t amount to the destruction of public properties. But when they are burning buses and trains, that’s what is called looting of taxpayers’ money.

We are an independent country and we have a democratically-elected government in power. So why are these protesters burning our properties? I commented in context to West Bengal because for over the last three days, goons had vandalised public properties, burned trains, and railway stations. Are they (protesters) Indians?

Also read: How Extreme Student Protests Launched Narendra Modi’s Career

If they are Indians, how can they destroy their properties? And why didn’t the state government take any action against them? I don’t know what protesters have done during the Emergency period. I was a young man then, wasn’t aware of the facts. But none of our people (RSS and Jan Sangh workers) destroyed any national property.

Some BJP leaders from Bengal are unhappy with your comments and actions. Frictions in the party are out in the open as they are giving public statements against you. What are your thoughts on this?

The differences between me and other leaders pertain to certain issues. These differences are not at a policy or an ideological level. There are no differences in issues like CAA, reading down of Article 370, or the triple talaq.

But there can be differences on some issues as our perspectives are different. And I see nothing wrong in that.

Babul Supriyo is an artist. He can’t do tough-talking like me. But I can and I am proud of it.

Almost every week, I have to garland the mortal remains of our workers because I am the state president. Other leaders don’t have to do this. More than 94 of our men were killed in the past years. Even after witnessing all this, if somebody thinks I will talk sweetly, then I don’t agree with that view.

Mukul Roy was sidelined after the by-election results were out. There is a perception that there is a power friction between you and Supriyo. What are your comments on this?

Mukul Roy is not solely responsible for the by-election results. It is the responsibility of the whole party and moreover, it’s my responsibility as I am the state president. Roy is our national leader and a member of the party’s national committee. He was never a member of any state committee.

Also read: During Modi’s Kolkata Visit, a Glimpse of Bengal’s Triangular Political Dynamics

We have used his experience in the past elections. We made him the chairman of the state election committee in all the elections since he joined.

Maybe in the future, we will make him the chairman of the election committee again. I don’t know why some people feel he has been sidelined. Babul Supriyo is an MP from the state and a Union minister. I don’t know who will be the chief minister face in the 2021 election.

All I can say is Dilip Ghosh is not running any race.

Minister of State for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises Babul Supriyo. Credit: PTI

Union minister Babul Supriyo. Photo: PTI

So you don’t have the ambition to become BJP’s CM face in Bengal?

I don’t want to become the CM face. I never even wanted to become a member of a political party. I never wished to become MLA or MP, but when my party gave me the responsibility, I obliged. The day I joined BJP, I decided I will bring a change in West Bengal. Amit Shah ji told me ‘Rajniti kar nah hain toh, chunao ladna hain’ (‘if you want to be in politics, you must contest elections’).

Whatever the party asks me to do, I will do that.

Trinamool is setting the narrative regarding who will stand against Mamata Banerjee. In this situation, will the BJP project any CM face for the Bengal assembly election?

The problem of the regional party is that they have only one leader. Without Mamata Banerjee, the TMC party won’t even exist. Same way, without Arvind Kejriwal, AAP won’t exist.

Parties like these have only one face and that’s why they repeatedly use the same person again and again. BJP has never won in West Bengal, so it doesn’t have a face. The day we will win, we will have a face. In our party, individuals are not important, ideology is the core.

Also read: ‘Land Bought in Blood’: Why Anti-CAA Protests at the Kolkata Derby Hold Meaning

In the past state elections, BJP has projected Modi as its face over local leaders. When your party is also selling brand Modi, how is this different from Mamata’s tactic?

Yes, we have projected Modi for every election because we have such a good brand. Why won’t we make use of the brand?

How many knew Yogi Adityanath before he became the CM? How many knew Raghubar Das? I didn’t know. There are a lot of BJP leaders who are not popular, but they are running governments successfully. Everyone cannot be as charismatic and popular as Modi ji.

Will BJP project a CM face or not for the 2021 assembly election?

Right now, the party is not projecting anyone. Modi will be our face. Delhi mein Modi raj, Bengal mein bhi Modi raj (‘Modi’s reign in Delhi, and Modi’s reign in Bengal’).

Some reports suggest Swapan Dasgupta will be inducted into the Central cabinet. Is this move a stepping stone for making him the CM candidate in Bengal?

Swapan da (Dasgupta) is in politics for too long, he is also a Rajya Sabha MP. He is highly educated and known for his intellect.

If the party thinks, by making him the face would benefit the party, then he should be made the face. He was not nominated from Bengal and never did politics in Bengal. Now, if the centre is thinking of giving more responsibility to him, then I happily welcome this decision.

Good to see that people have already believed that in 2021 BJP will form the government in West Bengal. Hence, such questions are popping up.

While addressing a rally at North 24 Parganas, you have said there are 50 lakh illegal infiltrators. Earlier you said your party will drive out one crore illegal infiltrators from Bengal. What is the correct figure?

They (newspaper) misquoted me. There are two crore, illegal infiltrators, of which one crore reside in West Bengal and the rest are spread across India. Of the one crore infiltrators living in Bengal, around 70 lakhs were voters.

Mamata Banerjee’s TMC gets around 50 lakh votes from these infiltrators. If these voters are struck off the list, Mamata Banerjee will never win an election.

I have never said, one crore infiltrators will be chased out of the country; I said they will be identified. But I believe, they should be driven out of the country. No country in the world allows illegal people to stay in their country. Why will we keep these foreigners who will bomb our country? Our country already has a huge population, then why should we take more?

Also read: Twitter Milks BJP Leader Dilip Ghosh’s Golden Comment on Indian Cows

You said, “Our country already has a huge population, why will we take more?” But your government will be taking more people from other countries and that’s why it amended the citizenship law. Why are BJP leaders changing their stance on CAA?

No one is saying anything different. Why won’t we take those (minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh), people?  We must take people who are being persecuted in those countries. If we don’t take it, where will they go? Refugees are those who left their countries after facing persecution based on religion, politics, and caste.

We call them “saranarthis” and we enacted this (CAA) law to give them citizenship. This is our tradition; we take people who are tortured in their country. Earlier we have given citizenship to Yehudis, Parsis, and Tibetans.

The Matua community is at the eye of the NRC-CAA debate in Bengal. Are Matuas not Indian citizens now?

No. If you follow the rule of law, they are not Indian citizens.

Whoever came before 1971, Indira Gandhi’s government has given them citizenship. Those who came to India from Bangladesh after 1971 are not Indian citizens according to the law.

West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh. Photo: @DilipGhoshBJP/Twitter

Matuas are getting benefits of the schemes designed for them. Their leader is now an MP from your party. If they are not citizens, how are they contesting the election?

Yes, they are getting everything. But according to the country’s law, they are not citizens. So many people live in other countries with green cards and enjoy various benefits. To become an MP, there is no need to show a proof of citizenship; one just needs to give voter card numbers. And voter card is not the proof of anyone’s citizenship.

You recently said your party workers will go door-to-door and do a form fill-up for CAA. How is it that work which should be done by government officials is being conducted by party workers? Are you calling for a parallel government?

This (state) government is saying it won’t implement CAA. Can this government stop any policy decision taken by the centre? Can they stop GST, Article 370? They can’t stop CAA implementation either.

It’s a simple process, very basic questions will be asked in the form and no proof of documents will be required.

The way we help people enrol in the voter list, the same way we will help them in filling up this form. Where is the question of running a parallel government in this? If anyone tries to hamper or stop the implementation of CAA, only then this will be our course of action.

Also read: In Bengal, Will the CAB-NRC Project Boost the BJP’s Ambitions?

Mukul Roy recently said NRC will not take place…

Time will tell when NRC will happen and how it will happen. Nobody has said that NRC won’t take place in Bengal. He said NRC will not happen now. Most of the illegal migrants reside in Bengal.

If there is a demand for NRC in society, it will definitely happen. I feel the first NRC should start from Bengal. We are suffering the most because of the infiltrators. All the anti-social and anti-national activities are carried out by them which in turn is hampering the demographic.

After Prashant Kishor joined hands with the TMC, the BJP lost all three by-elections. Will Kishore impact the poll in West Bengal?

Prashant Kishore is no factor. Prashant Kishor and his team come up with different kinds of strategies. They spread fake news like anything. In the recent by-election in Kharagpur, they distributed four different kinds of pamphlets against me.

One of the pamphlets read, “Amar Telugu vote dorkar nei: Dilip Ghosh.” (‘I don’t need Telugu votes: Dilip Ghosh’).

Whatever Prashant Kishor does now, he learned from us (BJP). Prashant Kishor is nobody, he was never successful and he will never be successful in Bengal.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, 23% of the Left votes moved to BJP. Do you think the erstwhile cadres of the Left will give BJP the same support as in Lok Sabha?

Before the 2019 election, the same thing happened in the 2018 panchayat election. That time the swing was not as significant as it was in 2019. People who are tired of the TMC government have nowhere to go other than BJP.

They know very well CPI(M), Congress can’t help them. Anti-TMC votes are moving towards the BJP because we are the only opposition party in Bengal. I am sure, in 2021 the same trend will happen, vote percentage might also increase.

West Bengal CM and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee. Photo: Reuters

Is there a tacit understanding between BJP and Left parties in Bengal?

There is no understanding with any political party. People of Bengal have witnessed which parties are in understanding when the anti-CAA resolution was passed in the assembly.

All three parties (TMC, Left and Congress) voted together and the next moment we see them fighting against each other. BJP doesn’t need anyone; hence, the party is fighting alone. People believed this, that’s how we won 18 seats in the last election.

Also read: Three Factors That Led to the BJP’s Impressive Gains in West Bengal

BJP’s 2019 manifesto promised a ‘permanent solution’ for Gorkhaland. What is this permanent solution? And what is your stand on the same?

Around fifteen lakh Gorkhas are residing in the Gorkhaland region while there are 1.25 crore Gorkhas spread across the country. We are trying to find a permanent solution for the entire Gorkha community. They have no restrictions on entering and residing in India. We respect the community as they work in the army and many of them sacrifice their lives for the nation. The Gorkhaland issue was harboured by a very small regional party (GJM).

Today, the party is facing an existential crisis. Neither have they had leaders nor any ideology. I admit they are our election partners and in the last assembly election, they contested with BJP symbol. They have placed their demands and we are currently working on it.

We don’t believe in the idea of a separate state for Gorkhaland. We are looking for a permanent solution for the Gorkhas, their language, tradition, social-economic status and the like.

Himadri Ghosh is a Kolkata-based journalist.