Mamata may retain power in Bengal but will have a tough opposition to deal with

BJP will be a very strong opposition in Bengal resulting in more processions and demonstrations and more young people losing their lives in clashes, says former army chief Gen Shankar Roychowdhury

Mamata  may retain power in Bengal but will have a tough opposition  to deal with

S N M Abdi

General Shankar Roychowdhury was the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) from 1994 to 1997. Post-retirement, he went to the Rajya Sabha as the consensus candidate of the Left Front and Congress Party which wanted to honour an outstanding Bengali. The 84-year-old distinguished military officer lives in Kolkata. He has a keen interest in politics and is a shrewd observer of what’s going on. In a free-wheeling interview, he reflects on the chaos of the ongoing West Bengal assembly elections.

In which direction do you think the election wind is blowing in West Bengal?

My own view is that Trinamool Congress will win in West Bengal but the strength of BJP in the state assembly will increase substantially. Trinamool will come to power even though BJP is doing its best and will certainly take over as the main opposition. I don’t think they will form the government but they will be the main opposition party and they will constitute a very strong and tough opposition. After the elections, one will witness more argumentative sessions of the Assembly. Less work will be done and more time will be spent in making a ruckus.

Trinamool will return to power because of the personality at its helm. That is Mamata Banerjee, even though her words leave a lot to be desired. I do not see, in the BJP in West Bengal, a leader of this kind. But increasingly, BJP’s cadre in Bengal is comprised of Bengali-speaking youth, which was not the case when the CPI(M) was there. But this tag of bohiragato, or outsiders, a spin given by Mamata Banerjee to criticise the BJP, I do not agree with. I do not believe that any Indian, choosing to work anywhere in India can be considered an outsider. Trinamool has built its campaign around bohiragato – that the BJP has got to find a way to counter.

At the Bengal level, I think that Mamata will give the BJP a run for its money but at the central level she will not score over the BJP. I think in Bengal the BJP will come in as a very strong opposition resulting in more processions and demonstrations, and what disturbs me is that young people will lose their lives in clashes.

Mamata  may retain power in Bengal but will have a tough opposition  to deal with
General Shankar Roychowdhury

If the BJP does win, what changes do you foresee in Bengal – a state that has so far kept Hindu right- wing forces at bay?

Well, well, well! It’s a very disturbing future to look forward to. If the BJP does win, these clashes will increase. You will see scenes of violence and destruction on TV every day. That is what will be picked up and it will be said‘ President’s Rule impose karo’…

The new thing that is coming into Bengal is this Hindu-Muslim - I won’t call it divide but confrontational attitude. I have my people who go out and they say, Hindus will vote for BJP, Muslims will vote for Trinamul. That is what some people are saying. People like my driver, for example. When he goes out and you ask him ‘kya ho raha hai?’ he says: ‘Saab, yeh toh clear hai. Joh Hindu hai who BJP ko vote dega, joh Muslim hai who Trinamool ko vote dega’.

But Mamata can’t win with Muslim votes alone…

Yes, Mamata cannot win only with Muslim votes but Mamata is a very hard driving leader. Some Hindus will vote for the Trinamul, no doubt about it. My impression is that the Trinamul will win due to the bohiragato plank.  She is telling everybody not to pay heed to non-Bengali speakers who are brought in from outside by the BJP and the central government. Bohiragato has a tremendous impact on the Bengali Hindu mind.

You are one of the very few eminent Bengalis who went to Mahajati Sadan in 2017 to listen to Amit Shah who wanted to rope in the intelligentsia which has spurned Hindutva…

Yes, I did. After retirement one is free to accept invitations.

Did the BJP approach you to join the party? You would have been such a good catch for them…

No such offer was made to me.

What are your views on army chiefs like V. K. Singh joining political parties?

My views are quite clear on this. After demitting service, a General or any Army, Navy or Air Force personnel is fully entitled to go and join any political party he feels like. Don’t do politics in service, but once you demit service you are a free citizen and you can pick whatever profession you want to, including politics.

A former deputy army chief, Subrata Saha, is the BJP candidate from the Rashbehari seat in the West Bengal assembly elections to become an MLA. What a fall!

Please ask General J J Singh. He did the same thing in Punjab. He got into Punjab politics. I don’t know what he became but he wasn’t aiming to become an MP, I think. I think he became an MLA, I don’t know for certain, you have to ask him. I don’t remember what he became but he did opt for a political career.

General J J Singh joined the Shrimoni Akali Dal and lost the assembly election from the Patiala seat to chief minister Amarinder Singh. You think Subrata Saha is following in Singh’s footsteps?

He wants to get into politics, I don’t see why that should be held against him. He should try to bean MP, as would I. But if he wants to be an MLA, he can take his chances.

Soon you will have a Major General contesting the municipal elections to become a Councillor…

I hope he has more sense than that! But the basic principle is that once you leave the Army, you are open to join any profession. That’s the basic principle, now whether you want to become an MLA or become a Municipal Councillor is up to you.

(The full text of the interview can be accessed on

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