It was May 11, 2011, a day after the six-phase polling came to an end in West Bengal. This correspondent metMahasweta Deviin her dishevelled study covered with stacks of journals, books, loose sheets and writing pads of various shapes. “I am running 86, so wrap up fast,” she said amiably insisting on first question, which was inevitably on the future of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), as it was only two days before the counting of votes. During the run-up to the elections, the writer-activist, who hailed from a family of Leftist writers, film-makers and activists, was one of the most powerful voices against the CPI(M). But then why was she so critical of the Left in supporting Mamata Banerjee was the first question. “Because they [the CPI-M] have done nothing. I have had this concern, always, as I ask what did the poorest of the poor get from the government.”
The CPI(M) is in power for 34 years and people do not have a ration card. Now, what happens if one does not have a ration card? They do not get kerosene oil. Many of these villages in rural Bengal do not have electricity. So if the villagers do not have kerosene oil, they stay in darkness and the children cannot study. Additionally, there are other atrocities.
What kind of atrocities did the CPI(M) commit?
They [the CPI-M] sent forces to Lalgarh [West Medinipur] and the harmad [CPI-M’s armed cadres, in this case] joined them. The locals called me up from 19 villages to say that the forces have been relieving themselves near the draw-wells to pollute the water. It is a small example but tells you a lot about the mindset. The CPI(M) has destroyed primary education, ruined women and children’s safety and then reversed the land reform in Singur [in Hooghly], which is the most fertile piece of land. The farmers were doing so well in Singur but the CPI(M) wants to give the same patch of land to the Tatas to set up economic zone.
But Bengal needs industry
Surely. The CPI(M) could have easily tried to work out a plan to open thousands of factories, use that unused land … but the plan was never there.
But your criticism of the Left almost never has taken into consideration the good work … the Land Reform … Would not you accept the good work?
Yes, that [Land Reform] has happened. Not due to the CPI(M)’s goodwill but because of Benoy Choudhury [Minister of Land and Land Reforms], mainly. They only made people suffer … Muslims and tribals …
But you do accept the good work …
Of course I do. There was an excellent Land Revenue Department with good officers. I was close to many of them … even Buddhadeb [Bhattacharya, former Chief Minister], if I tell him something he listens to me. To be honest, we all supported the CPI(M) when it came to power … but they have caused a lot of frustration.
You mentioned somewhere that if Mamata Banerjee comes to power the first thing you would ask her to do is to get Taslima Nasreen back to the State — will you?
Of course. I am not sure if that would be the first thing I would ask her to do but surely I will ask her to get Taslima back.
Perhaps you can suggest her many things as we can see that a relationship has evolved between you and Mamata Banerjee over last few years …
Mamata’s nature is such that she respects people who are old. She was fighting against Jyoti Basu but whenever she met [Basu], Mamata touched his feet. Observe her dress … her rubber slipper … any woman can approach her and can hug her and cry. I have seen this in Gandhiji, she has bit of [Gandhiji’s] quality.
If she comes to power, what could be her [Mamata Banerjee's] challenges?
Many. Firstly, she will have to distribute food grain to every part of the State. Facilitate drinking and irrigation water which is a huge issue. Rural Bengal also needs wells. Then roads — that is an absolute necessity and let me clarify that everyone needs these tribals, non-tribals, Hindus, Muslims, Bengalis, non-Bengalis and she has to go among the poor and work. Many challenges, but she will have to do it.
[Two days after the interview, the Trinamool came to power in West Bengal.]