‘We are not desperate in Goa…we are open to an alliance with the Congress just to defeat the BJP’: Mahua Moitra
You said it would have been better if TMC had started their Goa campaign earlier. So, realistically, is it possible for the TMC to take on entrenched parties like the BJP and Congress in the state?
I never said TMC was late to enter Goa. I had said that given the historical circumstances, we could not have entered it sooner, as we were very busy fighting against the Assembly polls of 2021 (in West Bengal), defeating the BJP. At that time, we could not have been distracted. But there is a great need for us to have come here now. Because if Congress had done its job in defeating the BJP, we wouldn’t have needed to be here. Because the goal is not to suppress the Congress, but the BJP. Under the circumstances, I think we did the right thing.
The TMC victory in Bengal was described by many as a resounding defeat of Hindutva politics. But in Goa, the party has linked up with the MGP which has in the past championed the Sanatan Sanstha, which is believed to have alleged links to defendants in rationalist murders. How would you explain that?
BJP policy is about hate, not religion. Hinduism does not teach hatred. I don’t like it when the BJP appropriates a religion as big as Hinduism and thinks its definition and actions define Hinduism. It’s not. The BJP’s brand of religion does not mean that it is genuine Hinduism. So I think what Bengal rejected and what TMC stood against is bigotry, hatred and division.
What about MGP’s ties to Sanatan Sanstha?
When we arrived in Goa, we said emphatically that anyone who wants to defeat the BJP is welcome. And the MGP has allied with us because they too want to defeat the BJP. If the BJP were the only defender of Hindutva, I’m sure any party that believes in this kind of politics would not reject it. The MGP is a party rooted in the soil of Goa. They came to us and told us that they wanted to defeat the BJP. They too had an alliance with the BJP and they realized how bad the BJP is for Goa.
Your tweet suggests that you have contacted Congress or at least there is an attempt to forge a coalition to confront the BJP. When did this contact occur?
Two weeks ago, a final offer was made. The question is that we have to defeat the BJP. Congress alone could not do it. It’s very simple. If anyone believed that Congress alone could get 25 seats in Goa today, then there is no problem. It wouldn’t have been necessary for us to be here. Please understand that we are dealing with the BJP. This idea of a simple majority has gone out the window. With BJP’s money and stick policy, they either give you money or they give you ED and CBI. You have to understand that for anyone fighting the BJP, it is not enough to get a simple majority. You need a simple majority plus a large buffer. Two weeks ago, the directors both spoke and we said that in the interest of defeating the BJP, it is good that we enter into an agreement in Goa. They asked for more time on the main level and we are waiting for them to come back.
For clarity, by directors, do you mean that the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, spoke to the President of Congress?
Is Mr. Chidambaram the leader of his party? No. By principal, you mean the absolute leadership of the party. It does not mean the returning officer, does not mean the responsible state, does not mean the general secretary or a vice president. It means the person who is the main decision maker in the party.
What has changed in the last 3-4 months after TMC entered the battle for Goa? You seemed ready to take on the BJP very aggressively. So what changed that you had to pick up the phone and talk to Mrs. Gandhi?
We don’t have to. TMC won in Bengal, we won the last three polls in Bengal despite everything thrown at us. Suppose TMC comes to Goa and we fight, and today we win two seats, three, five seats, what happens? What do we have to lose? We come from zero. Who has something to lose? It’s Congress. I find it amusing that members of Congress say that Trinamool is desperate. What are we desperate for? Even if we win three seats in four months and get more than 10%. 100 of the votes, by any stretch of the imagination, is a fabulous result. While Congress has lost 90% of the polls it has contested over the past 10 years. Congress is fighting today in five states. Tell me where he has a 100% chance of forming a government? We are not desperate, we are rational and logical, which is what Congress should be. We have been saying all the time that Congress alone cannot defeat the BJP because if it could have done it, it could have done it.
Before entering Goa in a big way, wouldn’t it have been prudent for Mrs Banerjee to speak to Mrs Gandhi and say that it is not possible for the Congress to tackle the BJP alone, we are interested, do covenant?
This is an extremely naive way of looking at things. Mamata Banerjee is CM three times, and we will seek permission in a state that you (Congress) have been unable to defend for the past 10 years. When we were fighting Bengal you were tied with the left and ISF and you fought us in every seat and now we are going to enter Goa and please give us your permission. If we hadn’t shown in such a short time that we were serious and had a substantial vote share and buzz on the ground (in Goa), where is the point of reaching out and talking?
Some congressional leaders say where this realization came from within the TMC, given that they did not even attend the coordination meetings of the opposition camp called by Congress during the winter session of the Parliament. They also accuse the TMC of aggressively poaching congressional leaders. Almost the entire Meghalaya Congress unit joined the TMC.
Who said we didn’t attend floor coordination meetings? There is no way that Mr. Rahul Gandhi calls a meeting at 9 am and at 8.55 they give a paper and we are all supposed to sign. That’s not how it happens. When it comes to coordination on the ground, I’m an MP, whether it was the farm bills or the opposition to Pegasus, we were absolutely on the same side. But we are different political parties. We can’t dance to each other’s tunes on each other’s schedules. As for the broad anti-BJP coalition, that’s absolutely fine. On the issue of poaching, in India, the Congress is the parent party. Either you come from the left, or from the Jan Sangh, or from the Congress. Whether it’s the YSR Congress, the NCP or us, we all come from Congress. So that means Sushmita Dev is a defector? Mamata Banerjee is a defector? Jagan Mohan Reddy is a defector? Sharad Pawar is a defector? Three days ago they took Michael Lobo, who is a BJP MP, and they took Carlos Almeida. So when it’s Congress, it’s like people have seen the light and they’re in love with Congress and its ideals and if people come to us, they’re defectors.
What is the proposal that is on the table now?
This is obviously something the directors have talked about.
Mr. Chidambaram claimed that you have also not specified whether TMC will be the main party of an alliance, nor specified the number of seats you plan to contest?
As I said, the directors have spoken and this is the current situation. If Congress, as a big old party, believes in coming to them, asking them for seats, rather than allying with us, I don’t think that’s a mature policy. I think if the directors have spoken it is with broad understanding to defeat the BJP. It’s not about whether I asked for seats or said please enter an equal alliance. I think these are things when you have a principled understanding to defeat the BJP, you sit down and discuss.
Is the proposed understanding only for Goa or will it extend beyond the state?
At present, Goa is the only joint state between us and the Congress. We are not fighting in Punjab, Manipur, UP so obviously it is Goa now. But based on Goa, of course as we approach 2024 (general elections), this will define what happens next.
You said that the AAP is also a major player in the opposition camp. Are you reaching out to them?
There is nothing like it on the table. As I said, we are open to talk to any non-BJP. But as of now, the directors of Trinamool and Congress have spoken. Now we’ll wait (for them to come back), but we can’t forever. There is a fixed timeline for everything, after which we will make a decision. We have no ego, we tell Congress to come to the table. Let’s go forward and defeat the BJP. This is not a sign of desperation, it is a sign of political maturity. We are not begging for anything, Congress has everything to lose.
The AAP seems to be very dismissive of the TMC’s prospects.
If they think we’re nothing, we respect that, that’s okay.
What is the best and worst case scenario for the TMC without any alliance?
I am not a psychologist. All I can tell you is that we are definitely going to make an impression. Even in the worst case scenario we will open our account and that is great news and we will have a substantial vote share.