Mahua Moitra’s feisty maiden speech in the Lok Sabha has earned her plaudits for speaking harsh truths about India’s political realities but the first-term Trinamool Congress MP from Bengal’s Krishnanagar has also been accused of double standards for not speaking against the alleged excesses of her party’s state government led by Mamata Banerjee. In an interview to Puneet Nicholas Yadav, Moitra insists her speech wasn’t “antagonistic or militant” but about “issues that people even within the BJP need to think about”. Edited excerpts:
Your critics say that nearly all your accusations against the Modi government also hold true for Mamata Banerjee’s government in Bengal.
I think they need to go through the list I put out. See the first point, which talks about xenophobic nationalism. In Bengal there is nothing like that; there is nothing like you have to be a Hindu or that you have to follow one slogan. Not even Mamata Banerjee’s worst critic can say that she follows a xenophobic nationalism. In Bengal, religion and government is not one. There is no one symbol or slogan that you have to show your allegiance to. When you walk into Parliament and the Speaker comes in, everyone from the Treasury benches stands up and chants one slogan, but in the West Bengal assembly, there is no one slogan that we chant, and certainly not one religious in nature.
It was always believed that the BJP’s absence in Bengal was because the state was immune to religious polarisation. What changed in the polls?
“In Bengal religion and government is not one...no one slogan is sacrosanct. Treasury benches here in Parliament chant one slogan. Not so there.”
This was not an election that was fought on real issues; it was not fought on rural or farmer distress, demonetisation or unemployment and it wasn’t like we didn’t bring up these issues. But, all of them paled in front of the carpet bombing of fake news and WhatsApp that the BJP used to appeal to the people’s basest instincts. So if you are telling people that there is this nameless, faceless enemy and if you don’t vote for us they are going to come in, people aren’t even sure who these are but they think that this other ‘them’ is coming for us and unless you vote for the BJP, nothing will happen. The BJP tapped into that fear very successfully.
Mamata Banerjee has been accused of Muslim appeasement. Is the rise of the BJP a direct fallout of her brand of politics?
The BJP follows the Goebbels Doctrine very well. They have got hold of this thing on Muslim appeasement. Now how are you appeasing—if you are giving away cycles, you are giving them to all children, not just to Muslims, whatever other welfare schemes we are giving are all based on poverty lines not on religion. We have the second-largest Muslim population in the world and 30 per cent of them are in Bengal. These people are a part of us--what appeasement are you talking about? Taking the weak and dispossessed along is the duty of every government.
But isn’t your government’s crackdown on those who chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ or criticise Mamata Banerjee also a case of muzzling dissent?
I don’t want to answer questions on individual incidents. I am a Hindu and nor have I, nor anyone in my family, ever felt it necessary to tattoo the fact on our foreheads. The fact that we need this jingoistic, assertive aggression to tell people that we are Hindu and terorrise others is not something that this religion is about…. When I talk about subjugation of mass media—today the richest Indian indirectly controls five media houses, which make up 70-80 per cent of all viewership in India and the government ads spent towards them are disproportionate. They just want to deflect attention by talking about one professor somewhere or some individual case, but I am talking about much larger issues. You can’t compare two events with what is happening 365 days.