PM Modi, Amit Shah Mentioning Me in Their Rallies A Blessing: TMC Leader Abhishek Banerjee

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Trinamool Congress (TMC) parliamentarian Abhishek Banerjee said on Thursday that he considered criticisms by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah as “blessings”, even as he launched a broadside against former party colleague Suvendu Adhikari, who the TMC describes as a “traitor”.

In an exclusive interview with News18 Bangla, Banerjee dared his critics levelling corruption allegations against him to bring all evidence in public domain, accused the Centre’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of running a “misinformation” campaign in Bengal, rejected allegations of appeasement politics, stressed that the TMC will comfortably win the ongoing assembly polls, and said he did not harbour ambitions to become the deputy chief minister in the “next 20 years”.

Banerjee, the 33-year-old nephew of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, has been under the spotlight this election season with the BJP launching a relentless attack on him. The Diamond Harbour MP has been called “tolabaaz bhaipo” (extortionist nephew), while turncoats such as Adhikari have accused him of neglecting others and running the TMC as a “private limited company”.

“It’s an ashirwad (blessing) for me that the PM of this country and the home minister begin their speeches by targeting me (without naming him),” Banerjee said. He made light of the BJP’s “bhaipo” taunt, saying as a human being he is someone’s nephew, someone’s husband, someone’s father and someone’s son.

In the hour-long interview, Banerjee sharpened his criticism of leaders who quit the TMC to join the BJP, especially Adhikari and Mukul Roy. On those who jumped ship after being denied tickets, he said deserving candidates were rewarded this time around.

Banerjee asked why Adhikari, who is contesting against the CM from the high-profile Nandigram constituency, didn’t shout his “extortionist bhaipo” slogan while he was in the TMC.

“He is saying what the BJP wants him to say,” Banerjee said. He added that “some leaders” got hurt during an organisational revamp of the TMC that aimed to end their all-pervasive clout and sought to recognise those with potential, denying that the there was an old vs young rift in the party.

“Who is running a private limited company? He was a minister and incharge of eight districts. His father is an MP (Sisir Adhikari, too, has joined the BJP). So is one of his brothers (Dibyendu Adhikari is still officially with the TMC)…,” Banerjee asked, targeting East Medinipur’s influential Adhikari family.

On the charge that Adhikari and Roy quit the party because of him, Banerjee accused them of being involved in corruption and asked why people should take their words seriously. “They don’t appear to have any principle or ideal,” he said.

Banerjee rejected the charge that he and the TMC’s election strategist, Prashant Kishor, had “outsourced” the party, stressing that people who have deserted the party were making such allegations.

He also touched upon the recent leaked audio — part of a Clubhouse chat between Kishor and a group of journalists — where Kishor purportedly said PM Modi’s appeal, anti-incumbency against the TMC, “Muslim appeasement” of political parties in Bengal over the years, the Dalit vote and “Hindi-speaking people” would likely benefit the BJP. Banerjee repeated Prashant’s clarification that the leak was selectively made to project a distorted picture, and dared the BJP to release the full conversation.

He said the Election Commission (EC), which is in charge of polling processes, should answer why there is political violence during elections in Bengal. He repeated the party line that central forces were working under the central government’s command, referring to the Sitalkuchi incident in Cooch Behar, where four people died in firing by forces during the fourth phase of polling on April 10. Officials said the forces had to fire at a mob in self-defence. Banerjee also added that, “at a personal level”, he would not have objected if EC opted for a single-phase polling in the state, instead of the staggered eight phases in the backdrop of the Covid-19 situation.

Banerjee also rejected critics who accuse the CM and her party of minority appeasement, asking to “name one flagship state scheme” benefitting only one community. “Minority and majority should live together in harmony,” he said. Banerjee accused BJP leaders of not talking on their development agenda for Bengal, as he sounded confident of his party’s victory in the fiercely fought election. “We will come back to power with two-thirds majority (Bengal has 294 assembly seats)…People are uniting against the BJP…they are uniting for communal harmony,” he said.

Banerjee said the BJP, who the TMC calls a party of outsiders, was trying to impose “north Indian culture” on Bengal.

Asked if he will become the deputy CM if the TMC wins the elections, he said he wanted to work towards the strengthening of the party organisation and might refuse such an offer, given that it is made in the first place.

“I am not into the business of fortune-telling. I live one day at a time,” Banerjee said.

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