Politics

Interview | TMC List Was Not Made by Mamata, Doubt if She Was Even Consulted: Dinesh Trivedi

In conversation with former TMC and now BJP leader Dinesh Trivedi about how liberal Hinduism is at the BJP's core, the apparent politics of appeasement in Bengal and why the state needs synergy with the Centre.

Kolkata: The searing heat of election season overshadows the lazy resplendence of spring on the streets of south Kolkata as Dinesh Trivedi sits in the drawing room of his sprawling eighth floor apartment scribbling something on a piece of paper. In front of him, a mobile phone plays out Mamata Banerjee’s speech at a Nandigram rally. She paces up and down the stage and is rattling off Hindu mantras one after another like a woman in a divine frenzy.

On the paper, Trivedi makes a list. Agriculture tops. Then comes tourism, healthcare, education, IT and ITES opportunities, and manufacturing and MSMEs. “I don’t know whether the party will ever ask for it. But I have to be prepared. These are areas I feel one should work on. Bengal has vast opportunities in these fields but hardly any planning or infrastructure,” he says, looking at the hazy Kolkata skyline across the large glass panes.

No, he doesn’t blink or twitch an eyebrow while uttering the word ‘the party’. For so long, ‘the party’ for him has been the Trinamool Congress of which he was the founding general secretary. Twenty-one years, five stints in the parliament and a series of acrimony and accusations later, he is now a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) functionary.

“Look, how she is unnerved. Why does she need to prove that she is a Hindu? If you are making an effort to prove something like your religion, you are already making a statement to the contrary,” he says, switching off the video.

Also read: What’s Determining the BJP’s Prospects in West Bengal?

Hindutva and Hinduism

It’s no surprise that the H-word makes an early entry in the chat. Trivedi talks at length about how liberal Hinduism is at its core. Many years ago, while working in Chicago, Trivedi had gone to the R.K. Mission branch in that city to join the monastic order. “Swami Bhasyananda, the monk-in-charge, asked me to serve people by being in public life. Later, I became a disciple of Swami Chinmayanand, who was instrumental in the foundation of the Viswa Hindu Parishad. So my association with them is nothing new,” says Trivedi.

“If you interact with RSS people, Mohan Bhagwat ji for example, you see how simple yet profound their lifestyles are. Even as a Trinamool MP, I have kept in touch with them. People who criticise them do so on the basis of some half-baked knowledge.”

How does incidents like Dadri lynching or the vilification of Tablighi Jamaat fit into his ideas about Hinduism? Trivedi says these are stray incidents — often law and order issues — which should be dealt with as that. “These incidents are not happening in every nook and corner of the country. Hinduism believes in inclusion. There is no scope for imposing anything on anybody. A Hindu cannot be intolerant,” he asserts. What about beef ban, then? Trivedi says, “In democracy, you have to respect the choice of the majority. That is how democracy works. If 80 people in this building decide you can eat only vegetarian food, the rest 20 will have to oblige.”

Representative image. Credit: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

“And whatever is happening today is a reaction. You have to see it as an antidote to Congress’s policy of  using minority religious sentiments in its favour in the 70s and 80s. On the eve of  elections, the Congress party would go to an Imam, who would give a fatwa that Muslims should vote for the Congress. This is not secularism either,” he says.

Trivedi strongly asserts that he sees nothing wrong in the prime minister taking part in the foundation stone laying of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya or performing rituals at the site of the new parliament building, because “this is a country where we are proud to be Hindus and he is endorsing the majority’s religious sentiments.”

Also read: How Secular Is the Secularism of the Secular Parties?

‘Mamata lost control of the party; it’s over to the consultant’

Trivedi says it is not his job to defend every action or every policy of the BJP. “I am a politician from Bengal and my first priority is to set my own house in order. It is with that intention that we started the party. But this is not the same Mamata who had inspired me two decades back with her grit and courage. The party that you see today has gone beyond her control. It is totally run by the consultant. I don’t even take his name.” No points for guessing, he means Prashant Kishore.

“I have known Mamata for decades. She has an encyclopaedic memory. When she was announcing the candidates, she could not answer the journalists without consulting the list, it struck me as impossible. I can guarantee, the list was prepared by the consultant and given to her. I doubt whether Mamata was even consulted,” Trivedi says.

“However, I have a feeling that Mamata does not like the consultant. It is the idea of the second-in-command and she cannot help it. The way the power centre of the party has shifted is not acceptable. And that has already cost the Trinamool dearly.”

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee addresses a rally at Rashmela Ground in Cooch Behar district, December 16, 2020. Photo: PTI

“Some of the decisions have been shocking. Dumping Sonali Guha for example. No leader in the party was closer to Mamata than Sonali. If Mamata asked her to chop off her head, she would do that without batting an eyelid. And to go with it, her track record at Satgachia. When you drop a person like that, it shows that you have lost connection with the ground reality. It is a decision taken by the new leadership,” Trivedi says.

Also read: Laughter, Tears and Flared Tempers: Reactions to the TMC Candidate List

“The whole party is being run by the consultant. I don’t have an iota of doubt that he decided who’s going to stand from where. Sonali did not break down because she was not given a ticket. I know them too well. She broke down because this is not the treatment she deserved. She came to know from TV that the consultant had decided she was not good enough. Same with the respected Mastermoshai (Rabindranath Bhattacharya) from Singur.”

“Mamata keeps saying that hers is a poor man’s party. And I hear that the consultant is being paid in hundreds of crores. It is public money. When she fought the might of the CPM, the party had no consultant and no money. What it had was the power of the people. Today it has money, but it does not have the power of the people,” he says.

‘Felt helpless in a party corrupt to the very core’

Trivedi says the first major jolt that he faced was back in December, 2020. “A young woman from Bhatpara, whose late father was known to me, came to me with her problems. She was trying to start a small commercial project but had ran into Trinamool-backed extortionists.”

“I called up the principal home secretary of the government of West Bengal and put the lady in touch with him. He sent her to the anti-rowdy squad (ARS) of police. When she went to the ARS, there again the question of cut-money came in. The officer told her there was no point going to higher authorities because everyone had their share. She sent me a message on December 11 saying she was giving up.”

“My blood boiled. At the same time I felt so helpless. Here I was, the founder member of the ruling party and enjoying all the perks of being an MP, but I could not do anything to help a woman trying to start a new venture. Even the top bureaucrats were helpless in the face of corrupt local leaders. I called up the home secretary, but I feared if I gave him the details, and the information got out, the lady would be murdered,” Trivedi says. He looks exasperated.

“People are angry because the party is corrupt to its very core. Even at the time of the Narada sting, I became the bad guy inside the party because I said that whoever has taken the money should own up that yes, we took the money for election. Our fault is that we did not inform the EC or the I-T department,” he adds.

“What did Mamata do? She banned me from campaigning in 2016 because I told the truth! And today, the party is hijacked by lust for power and money. Mamata, I believe, knows everything but it has gone beyond her control.”

Culture of abuse and backbiting

Trivedi says the party wanted him to abuse the prime minister and the home minister all the time, which he saw was pointless and uncalled for. “It is not in me to abuse anybody. But every time I rose to speak in the parliament, the party would want me to abuse the senior leaders of the country.”

“When J.P. Nadda’s car was attacked in Bengal, I condemned it on a television channel. The party saw it as an offence. A senior Rajya Sabha leader sent messages to everyone saying Dinesh da is not obeying the party,” Trivedi says.

“Bratya Basu called me up to know what was what. I asked him, do we celebrate violence or condemn it? If I condemn violence on another party leader it puts the TMC on a high moral ground.”

“When I spoke against the privatisation of Air India, I began by thanking the aviation minister for ferrying so many ordinary citizens back to the country during COVID times. Again, the same sent a cropped clipping of only those first few seconds to Mamata. As if to say, this is how Dinesh da is warming up to the BJP. And Mamata sent it back to me seeking an explanation. I felt so insulted that day. This was the second jolt. Couldn’t Mamata trust me? I am one of the oldest leaders of the party!” Trivedi asks. “And this leader was nowhere in politics when we were struggling to form a new party,” he adds.

“I had not planned my resignation the day I took the call. I attended the morning session, I had Question No 3 on Railways. I asked the question, came home for my shower and my puja, went back, and then it happened all of a sudden. It was building up inside me, but I had not planned it. But I had no doubt in my mind that I was doing the right thing,” he adds.

Also read: How the BJP Keeps Its Opponents Fragmented With Its ‘Carpet Bombing’ Strategies

‘Mamata no longer represents Bengal’s culture’

“The politics of appeasement has to stop in Bengal. The law of the land has to be the same for everyone. This is something the prime minister also pointed out in his Brigade speech. This is what the BJP promises,” he says.

“If there is any party which can bring back the glory of Bengal, it’s the BJP. There is no other party in the horizon. And I am honoured that the party president himself was present to induct me. At the moment, there are only two parties which do not serve a family, they serve the country: the Left and the BJP.”

Did it take him 30 years of public life to realise this? Trivedi says it’s a process. “Everything in life is about a process or an opportunity at the right time. And the platform of the BJP that we have today, was not there yesterday, in terms of their political presence. At the same time, the Trinamool was not a family oriented party in its heyday,” he says.

On November 27, 2020, 44 days prior to resigning from the TMC, Trivedi re-tweeted Abhishek Banerjee’s tweet saying the prime minister must take governance lessons from Mamata. Asked about if he still believes so, Trivedi makes a bewildering claim. “It was not me. It was somebody else who tweeted it from my account. We were made to share our Twitter handles with the IPAC team. They tweeted on behalf of us,” he says.

“At times they would tweet in Hindi. And I never do that. As soon as I resigned on February 12, I found that my Twitter account was disabled,” he adds.

“The people of Bengal are not appreciating the chief minister’s antics. Her body language is so full of violence. She no longer represents the culture of Bengal. Look at our former chief ministers. They represented the Bengali bhodrolok (gentry). Look at Mamata’s language and gestures. There are better things to talk about in politics,” he says.

‘Bengal needs synergy with the Centre’

“Bengal has so much potential. But there is no infrastructure, from agriculture to tourism to education, everywhere. You go to any good institution anywhere in the world, you will see Bengalis working there. Why can’t we stop this brain drain? Why can’t we have a micro-processor hub in Bengal?” Trivedi asks.

“Bengal needs industry. Bengal needs infrastructure. And Bengal needs some kind of synergy between the state and the Centre. I would be happy if I can play a small role to strengthen that coordination or synergy,” he says.

“But sadly nobody in the present ruling party is bothered with all these. If there is at all any concept of an outsider, it is this person who has hijacked the party. And on behalf of all the disgruntled leaders I can say, it is not us that have left the party. It is the party that has left itself. It is no longer that value-based party that we had started.”

As evening sets in across the Kolkata skyline, Trivedi utters these words with as much nostalgia as disgust. He is confident that he has taken a step in the right direction. But he cringes because he has just spoken against his former colleagues. Trivedi says he’s never comfortable doing that, and Trivedi is an honourable man.