•Hello and welcome to Walk the Talk. I am Shekhar Gupta, on what would probably be the terrace of one of the most important buildings in India. The headquarters of the CPM at Alimuddin street in Calcutta. And my guest this week…arguably one of the most powerful men in the CPM …but also one of the least visible….Mr Biman Bose, the head of the party in West Bengal, its finest organizer, and a man with many varied tastes that we know little about. Welcome to Walk the Talk .
Biman Basu: Thank you
•Must we know you as an organizer, as a child politician.
Biman Basu: No…Actually I am a small man. Am small in my size, small in my activities. I don’t feel that am doing the job of a big man….am not like that…but even then the daily activities of our party, as well as the activities of the Left Front are being run from this office. This office is the office of the CPI (M) state headquarter as well as the office of the Left Front.
•And you are the big dada of the party in the state…
Biman Basu: That you know…Bengali culture goes like that if somebody becomes elderly, then they are called by dada. That’s Bengali culture…
•But you are not particularly elderly…you know…you entered the election campaign at the age of 14. You were underage when you applied for membership of the party, isn’t it?
Biman Basu: That is correct. But at the same time, I cannot deny the fact that I am also aging…I am…Within one year, I am going to touch the pillar of seven, zero …70….
•But that’s young in Indian politics
Biman Basu: That might be.
•And you know that, you donate your blood like a young man, defying your doctors. 80 times already?
Biman Basu: Yes, I have donated blood, voluntarily or socially, 80 times. I have never donated blood for my relatives or for any persons connected with me…
•But even at this age?
Biman Basu: Even at…Last year I donated 80 times. So now I stand 80 times donor
•So this is a revolutionary with many interesting hobbies. I believe this terrace is also in many ways your own doing
Biman Basu: That I like you know the plant…I like plant
Biman Basu: I believe, as Jagdish Chander Bose has said that plant has got life…I do believe that plant has also got life,….Nobody should cut plant, I do believe
•So you know all about these plants you have here
Biman Basu: This is the edina…they are the three edina…and this edina is the old one…about 35 years.So I do feel that these 35 years old edina is also a little bit costly now… and the other two are junior
•So this is almost older than the West Bengal Left Front government….
Biman Basu: Yes that’s correct. Correct your point is
Biman Basu: There’s some bonsa…you were talking about the bonsa…there’s some bonsa here…
•Right…So which one do you see lasting longer…your plant here or the Left Front government in West Bengal
Biman Basu: Plant will…this edina…lives long. So this has got no age limit. If we can keep this properly, this will last for many many years
•And that may apply to the Left Front government in Bengal also. If you manage it properly, it can go on forever
Biman Basu: That how can you say…because in politics nobody can say that this will last forever. This plant will also not last for ever….
•But for a long time
Biman Basu: For a long time…
•But sir tell me are you a little bit, and when you say this, is there a touch of realism in what you say? Are you for the first time seeing a threat to your power here, to your means, to the Left Front’s power here, unchallenged power?
Biman Basu: Actually no. That is being talked about in the Calcutta newspapers, in the media as a whole, that this time in panchayat election, of the 17 districts ….13 district owned by the Left Front, 4 district went to the Opposition to the Left Front government. That doesn’t mean, you know, they have own getting the support of the majority. I can give you the example…in North Dinachpur, the Left Front has got more than 52 per cent of the votes. Even then they lost in the zila parishad. So the support base of the Left Front has not gone down in that way
•But there is a problem…because in politics if numbers don’t add up, then what are numbers for
Biman Basu: No… That happened due to the disintegrity among the Left Front partners. So what we have seen, that the Left Front partners got in this panchayat election, more than 53 per cent votes…53.27 per cent votes
•So…Is disunity is cause for concern….Left disunity
Biman Basu: We are discussing among ourselves and we are sorting out the problem within Left Front partners. Because this time in panchayat election that was not a dispute with the seat sharing, there was some political differences….not that very much …but…
•Such as what…give me some examples
Biman Basu: You know about this industrialization of West Bengal. There were some divergent views of some of the Left Front partners. That has caused to really, to mobilize the entire Left Front supporters in one box
•So do you see these differences going down or do you see these growing?
Biman Basu: No this is not. This is not lasting. These differences are going to be sorted out and I do feel in the last Left Front meeting we have a discussion, we had a discussion, where we sorted out that we are to unify our entire left front partners based on common programme which we have accepted…
•But in that process, Bimandaa, will you slow down on industrialization, will you step back
Biman Basu: No…no..no..no…question has come up…we had a discussion in the left front. That in respect of setting up of industries, we are to see the pros and cons. We are to discuss with local people when we go for land acquisition. And getting the support of the majority of the population and the landowners, we are to move with the project. So that will give us dividend. But I feel already we are looking to the case of
•We are looking at the fruit of your labour..
Biman Basu: Yes…Small pot…giving lot of fruits…there was full of guava…very taste…but that plucked
•You see this is the problem. All of us in Delhi and elsewhere we look at you Left leaders as hard people, who think, talk politics, organisation, zindaabaad, murdaabaad all the time…but there is another side to all of it…
Biman Basu: This is good solace you know…if you come to the terrace in the afternoon, the evening…after the sun sets, you find that wonderful place…you can read books sitting there
•Eighty time blood donor, an avid gardener, and a lover of cats and dogs
Biman Basu: Yes.. I do… I do…I do love people also
Biman Basu: Because…people…they should also love the animals..that I do believe…they should love plant also
•The chikoo is giving lot of chikoos
Biman Basu: Yes…lot of chikoos
• I see your eyes light up when you look at your plants, much more than when you talk of politics. So tell me sir, does it mean a little bit of a slowdown. You know because at this turn we thought the West Bengal government was going to follow a very aggressive policy of industrialization
Biman Basu: No…we are to follow the policy of industrialization. There is no option. But we are to keep option in relation to the land acquisition.
•So to that extent you think Singur and Nandigram could have been handled differently or better?
Biman Basu: No…regarding singur….lots of issues are coming connected with Singur. But the land which would not be acquired, would not be sorted out….the assessment could not be done, the payment could not be made. Not because of the policy of the government, but because of some litigation, in the family, and also with the land. As a result a good chunk of the land which were not sorted out by the landowners is not because of the government, but because of the litigation within. And it’s a fact that some of the landowners did not receive their..their…
Biman Basu: They did not took their sell deeds and their compensation…so they did not take their sell deeds
•So could this have been handled better by the state government…Singur?
Biman Basu: I do feel that during that point of time, when the verdict of the people in Bengal given for industrialization. You know, the 2006 Assembly election, the entire plank of the election on the base of the agricultural growth. More diversion of agriculture is to be done, expansion of agriculture is to be done. At the same time, on the consolidating the achievements of the agricultural front….on the basis of that, we are to go for industrialization. That was the campaign plan…
Biman Basu: And based on that, when people supported enormously, there was no other alternative. So now we have realised in taking up any project we are to move in a manner which can help the landowners to realise what is what
•So was there is a little bit of arrogance or hurry with which land was acquired from Singur
Biman Basu: I don’t feel that arrogance occurred at any point of time but it was done without looking to the attitude of the villagers. That might be said, that could have been thought earlier
•Right. So how do you correct it now
Biman Basu: That we are campaigning. We are campaigning, you know, it has happened in Katua, when the thermal power plant was announced. Lot of people are enthusiastic about the thermal power plant at Katua. But there was an agitation about this setting up of thermal power station. It was evident there was a bhoomi uchchad prathirod Samiti there. Actually some of the local people, the office bearers they are saying that we are not recommending to set up thermal power plant there at Katua. Now people themselves are coming forward. They are saying the plant should be set up there at Katua. So this sort of attitude is to be inculcated in such a manner
•So do you see this happening in Singur. First of all do you see Singur staying, or do you see the Tatas getting harassed and leaving Singur
Biman Basu: No I don’t think so because their work in Singur more than 80 per cent over. Now the disputed land where the ancillary industry will come up in future days or other mode of activities will take place in those land that is not the area where the main Tata project is going to be set up. The area which was paid, the money already paid, there they have already set up the Tata project. So I don’t feel there is ….
•Inspite of Mamata’s new agitation, her gherao and…
Biman Basu: I do feel that Mamta Banerjee and her party is to sit in the round table discussion….around the table, they are to sort out the dispute which they are pointing out. That is the only way to sort out the problem. As on the other occasion, we are talking about the Kashmir where we say the government of India is to talk with the government of Pakistan to sort out the problem
Biman Basu: If the national problem, international problem, can be sort out through dialogue process why this problem cannot be sort out through dialogue process
•So are you inviting Mamta for a dialogue?
Biman Basu: Yes. She should sit with government, she should sit with Tatas, whichever she feels better for her party politics, she should do that and after that sort out the problem which is now existing
•But do you agree that she has an argument…a political argument, a moral argument…
Biman Basu: I don’t like to pass any comment on that because she is doing a political party which is quite different from us
•How is hers different from yours. Sometimes her economics sounds very similar
Biman Basu: No..not at all…not at all…now she is talking about the interest of the peasantry. But the same lot, when they were doing the Congress party all time raised a struggle against the acquisition of land from the landlords. So how can I say they are the same lot. They are not same lot. They cant be.
•But you are willing to talk to them…
Biman Basu: Definitely..definitely….we don’t feel nothing can be solved
•So you don’t present her an enemy, you don’t consider her as stupid, that you don’t ever talk to them
Biman Basu: No, no… I never thought what you were saying. She is doing a political party and she is directing her cadres…so if she has got point of difference she should spell out in discussion and through discussion sort out….
•But she is a tough cookie to take on the might of the Left Front almost single handedly
Biman Basu: That you know, I also, do not like to pass any comment about her way of move, and about her behaviour and habit. That I don’t like to pass comment. After all she is a lady.
•Right. But I said she is a tough challenger for you. Because Congress party has not been able to stand up to you, but she single-handedly is doing it. One woman party.
Biman Basu: That might be to you – one woman party. But she is mobilizing people, and she sometime befooling people also. That we are to overcome this problem through our own campaign programme. And mobilizing the basic population to our own….
•But you are not feeling threatened by her now after the panchayat elections?
Biman Basu: I don’t think so…I don’t think so…
•Because there is a wide belief that in the next Parliament elections, Left Front may suffer setbacks in West Bengal…
Biman Basu: I don’t think so now. You are to wait for some time. But I don’t think so. Because….when we are going to the people, they also are saying that we wanted to give a lesson to you…but we never though this will happen in this manner. So, they wanted to taught something but they did not want to have this sort of a result what we have
•So there might be some regrets…But are there some regrets in your party also over how Nandigram was handled. Because we in Delhi, many of us have been told it was like an ethnic cleansing by your armed cadres
Biman Basu: No. Actually that is not the fact. In singur, the MLA belongs to Trinamool Congress
•No, Nandigram am talking about
Biman Basu: Nandigram, you know, that has got long history. I don’t like to….
•Elaborate on that?
Biman Basu: Elaborate on that. It has started 3rd of January, there in Kalicharanpur gram panchayat. In the gram panchayat, you know, about, total sanitation, discussion was taking place. But Trinamool Congress they rushed to the gram panchayat office giving wrong information. Based on this information, that about the chemical hub discussion is going on….
•But didn’t your cadres go out of control?
Biman Basu: Actually our cadres did not go out of our control. But it happened that in a hurry move, sometimes some good jobs are being done, sometimes bad jobs also might take place.
•But you regret some things that happened there?
Biman Basu: We regret for the loss of life that took place there. Many people, they lost their life. Whether they belong to the Left parties, or whether they belong to the Opposition. So we regret for their valuable lives. And many properties were destroyed. Mainly the properties were destroyed by the Bhumi Uchchad Samiti
•Please forgive me for saying this. But that’s the kind of argument that Narendra Modi uses. He says “I don’t know what happened. I am not responsible. But I regret the loss of life whoever lost life…”
•But your won cadres taking to arms and driving out so many people? It did not look pretty
Biman Basu: Self defence as per 226. So….article of the Indian Constitution…
•So have you carried out introspection over what happened in Nandigram?
Biman Basu: That we are discussing. We are to sort out this episode in a different manner. But first we have to convince people why they are moving with them when it has already been declared that nothing will happen there in Nandigram.
•Sir, tell me something else. Lets switch now to national politics. I know your focus, your radar system, is on your state. Whats happened over the past couple of months in national politics….the break-up between the UPA and the Left…is that a setback…to Left and to the secular forces in India?
•So you too have no regrets over this break up with the Congress party?
•So what does it do sir? Have you seen this strengthen the BJP and the NDA?
Biman Basu: That also we are to campaign. Communalism might take the head of this issue where we are to be very serious because they are not to take any dividend, not to draw any dividend out of this movement of the Left and other democratic parties.
•So you have faith that the Third Front can become an alternative now? With Mayawati?
Biman Basu: This year our party congress took place in Coimbatore.
•And you said that was an objective?
Biman Basu: That is objective. So all on a sudden this Third Front will not come up. We are to move, first to consolidate the Left parties, then the Left and democratic parties, and then we are to move for a Third Front. Third Front will not come from the sky as a rain coming from the sky.
•Well, the rain may come any moment. But the Third Front…Mayawati seems to have come from the sky…Does she look like a worthy leader of the Third Front
Biman Basu: That we have not discussed
•Because many Left leaders, particularly Mr Bardhan, for exampled, have hailed as a future prime minister….almost like the Third Front’s prime ministerial candidate
•Well, we talked about Left unity. He is a Left leader
Biman Basu: Yes, definitely.
•But you will not today hail her as a future prime minister from the Third Front, including the Left
•No, that’s because many people who came around…You see the Front being put together by the CPM almost everyone came and hailed her as a prime ministerial candidate immediately. So, because, you are the most important constituent of this group, I am asking you. Do you see her as a prime ministerial …
•So it will take time.
Biman Basu: It will take some time
•And this issue is not closed by any means
Biman Basu: No, we have not discussed the issue. So how can I say that this is a closed chapter. It is not yet opened.
•Not yet opened….so let me persist with this. In the past, the CPM has had problems with Mayawati’s politics. You have called it casteist politics and you had problems with it. Do you see any change there, change in her politics or do those problems remain?
•But it is still caste politics?
Biman Basu: Main approach is, caste approach is there. There is no question. Caste approach is there. But we do believe that caste should not dominate politics in that way. We want to keep the SC, ST, Muslim minorities and other minorities….
•So if you see a problem with her caste politics would you like her to moderate it or come to the centre in a way or…
•But Prakash Karat went to her house and that conferred on her stature of a national leader
Biman Basu: Prakash Karat, went to her house is a fact. That Bardhan went and then it was talked that Prakash Karat had no time, only he had that time, to see her, so went there. But that does not focus any extra lever that….
•That you have anointed her as Prime Minister. You haven’t anointed her as future Prime minister?
•Sir, we have a comment from Ram Vilas Paswan with whom the Left has had cordial relationships in the past. He said that this Left behaved like somebody who got so angry that he swallowed poison. He said this in Walk the Talk
Biman Basu: Actually, you know, this is a purposeful allegation given against Prakash Karat.
Biman Basu: What we are discussing in the Politburo, what we discuss in the central committee, what we decide in the 19th Party Congress, Prakash Karat also moving in line with that party congress and discussion in the PB and CC
•So he’s carrying out the party’s agenda
Biman Basu: Yes..yes…
•As assigned to him
Biman Basu: Yes…as we discuss and sort out
•But would Surjeet have handled it differently? You know, there is so much nostalgia about Surjeet in Delhi right now.
Biman Basu: That…you know…that..is a pertinent portion. Surjeet, you know, his experience taught him in such a manner that he when talking to one person, keeping in mind how other person will take this and went to see him also. So that was the habit and attitude of Comrade Harkishen Singh Surjeet. So Harkishen Singh Surjeet’s way of handling the issue, all time, cannot be copied by others. I have seen this here in Bengal. I have seen some people, they wanted to say that, after the demise of Pramod Das Gupta, the party will go down. Because the way Pramod Das Gupta is tackling the issue, that is not the way…
•The party has become stronger actually
•But you are missing Surjeet as well
Biman Basu: We are missing Surjeet. As we missed Pramod Das Gupta, Saroj Mukherjee, Anil Biswas.
•Let me ask you a simplistic question. Because that’s a question raised by a very simplistic media all the time. Is there a Bengal view on national politics and a Kerala view, and a Delhi view or is there one view in this?
Biman Basu: There is one view in all
•But there is debate…
Biman Basu: When debate take place, you know our party is most democratic party. In the party congress resolution
•You know you were able to stop Jyoti basu from becoming Prime Minister
Biman Basu: Many thousand, many thousand amendments were placed, you know. This is the first time such number of amendments,…
•So this question this time…Withdrawing support and voting alongwith the BJP. Was it one of the most hotly debated issue or was it wasn’t so hotly debated
•So, on this was there a hot debate in the party or this was easily settled?
•Not a hot debate. And this had the approval of veterans like Jyoti Basu
•And so did the expulsion of Somnath Chatterjee. We know that you went to give him the message
•Yes. But you were the senior most Politburo member.
•But that was a sad chapter to lose an old comrade like that
•Will you miss Somnath also?
Biman Basu: That history will judge
•But do you miss him personally as a friend, as an old colleague
•But is the party a loser too because he was the party’s face in Delhi
•And do you think he did it out of….what was his motivation?
Biman Basu: That I don’t like to say his motivation…because I don’t know. I, hypothetically, I don’t like to pass any comment on this issue. Somnathdaa is Somnathdaa..
•Well…Somnathdaa is Somnathdaa, and Bimandaa is Bimandaa…See you again. We know you have a lot of politics ahead of you, within your party and the Front, within your state and also nationally