The choice of five-term Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury as party leader on the floor of the Lok Sabha had surprised many. But his combative and hard-hitting speeches in the House have already drawn attention to the MP from Baharampur. He may have a problem communicating in other languages but while speaking in Bangla, he doesn’t mince his words. Excerpts from a conversation that Tathagata Bhattacharya of National Herald had with him:
You have immense responsibility on your shoulders as the leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, specially when the party’s electoral performance has been pretty poor. How do you think you will accomplish this?
It is not just my responsibility. It’s the collective responsibility of all Congress MPs. The party has thought to placeme at the forefront but it is collective work. There are so many issues to raise. You do not always need the strength of numbers to raise people’s issues.We will continue to fight and better our electoral performance in the future.
So, have you identified some of these issues?
There are so many but we will concentrate mainly on economic and social issues. There are so many big problems like lack of jobs, slow industrial growth, acute water shortage, a bruised and battered farm sector. Then, healthcare is in a shambles. So, we will make it a point to prove on the floor of the House that what the government has been claiming does not tally with the reality on the ground.
The BJP, which had always been a fringe player in West Bengal politics, has suddenly bagged 18 Lok Sabha seats from the state. How did it grow so much in such a short time?
See West Bengal is not immune from the communal polarisation that has gripped the country as a whole. Another added factor is the terror unleashed by sections of the All India Trinamool Congress party across the state. Rampant corruption and injustice, I believe, forced people to look for an alternative and they opted for the BJP. Also, about 80 per cent of Left Front votes in the state moved to the BJP. They want to live,they want to survive. That’s why they voted for the BJP.
The Congress in West Bengal lost its bastions of Malda North and Jangipur too. They won only Baharampur and Malda South. Why did this happen?
You have to understand that to counter the BJP’s religious polarisation, sections of the ruling party resorted to a different kind of communal politics which saw the Muslim votes gravitate towards Trinamool and Hindu votes towards the BJP. This has been a double whammy for the Congress which lost a substantial number of votes of both the communities.It is the same for the Left parties.
The Congress ran a pretty vigorous and energetic campaign in the run-up to the polls but somehow it did not produce the intended results. Why did this happen?
This time, a strange kind of muscular nationalism relegated all the other issues to the backroom. After the Balakot air strikes in response to the Pulwama terror attack, BJP could effectively communicate to the electorate that Narendra Modi was the macho man who can look after the country. The massive propaganda and money helped in getting this communication through to every nook and corner of the country.
The Congress as a party failed to counter this narrative and on the top of that, when Rahul Gandhi was quoted by the media as saying that he would support whoever opposed Narendra Modi, be it Mamata Banerjee or Mayawati, it sent out a wrong signal to the people. ‘What is the use of voting for the Congress when the party itself is thinking of supporting regional forces, is what many of the voters asked. Congress would have still done better had all these parties and the Congress worked in tandem in various states to present a united opposition. But that did not happen.
You are a five-term MP and have seen Parliament function for decades. How has that changed over the last five years?
There has been a sea change. Earlier, there used to be discussions and quality debates. All the standing committees which used to scrutinise each and every important bill before a law was passed do not have work now. Whatever the government feels like is being bulldozed through. Ordinances and money bills were very rare before. Now, they are the new normal.
But this was expected from this government. This government is hell bent on destroying every institution that has been painstakingly built over the decades. So, why should Parliament be an exception?
After two successive drubbings in the Lok Sabha polls, how will the Congress party find its mojo back?
That will happen. If Pulwama and Balakot did not happen, the BJP’s electoral results would have been radically different. Also, the opposition was not united. The UPA was also in power for ten years before Narendra Modi came to power. Let their ten years come to an end. There will be change. That is inevitable.