On Monday, Congress leader and former Goa chief minister Luizinho Faleiro left the party and looks set to join the Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Wednesday. West Bengal’s ruling party has set its eyes on the poll-bound coastal state in its bid to expand its national influence. TMC chairperson Mamata Banerjee, who is preparing for a bypoll in Kolkata’s Bhabanipur seat on September 30 that will determine whether she remains chief minister or not, is expected to soon lead the campaign in Goa for the 2022 assembly elections. TMC Rajya Sabha member Derek O’Brien spoke exclusively to News18 on why his party is venturing into Goa, what its strategy is to fight the BJP, and what its approach would be towards opposition parties like Congress and AAP. Edited excerpts:
What are your expectations from the West Bengal bypolls?
It’s as expected. BJP will lose. They talk big, but TMC will be winning. My question though is where are Modi and Shah? Why have they run away from the campaign this time? They were on every poster earlier. That tells the story of Bhabanipur. And after this ask anyone who is the leader who can take on Modi. The answer is Mamata Banerjee. That’s the reality. I have been in Goa for the past week and I will be staying for a few more weeks; that’s the sense on the ground
Why not Goa? When you are trying to expand and that’s what we are doing…under our new general secretary, the dynamic young man Abhishek Banerjee, and Mamata Banerjee, the view is different. You have to choose your battlefield. Tripura is a natural choice; we speak the same language, and it’s a small state. Goa too is a small state. No point in saying that we would fight on a lot of seats in Uttar Pradesh. That needs time, you need people power, resources. UP will come later, maybe in 2024. That’s why Tripura assembly 2023, 2 MP seats, and Goa 2022. We have identified two small states where the BJP has to be defeated, Modi and Shah have to be defeated. That’s the strategy.
Faleiro has resigned from Congress. Will he join you? He has said Goa needs a streetfighter.
He will make that clear himself. It’s not right for me to say anything. I should not comment. Yes, Mamata di is a streetfighter, but she is a three-time chief minister. Street-fighting and also good governance are the key to all this. You touch people’s lives and follow the Constitution. That’s what the choice for India today is.
A lot of Congress leaders want to switch sides. Your target seems to be the Congress. Why?
No, we are not targeting the Congress. That’s not true. Some Congress people will be joining us sooner or later. But we will not target a political party. The only party we are here to target is the BJP, because of its ideology and non-delivery of promises. This is a mistaken notion. We want to expand. In this expansion, we do not wish to have the high-command culture, which the BJP has. We are here with our colleagues. We are clear that everything will be by the people of Goa, of the people of Goa, for the people of Goa. We believe in grassroots workers. That’s how TMC is.
What’s the feeling on the ground?
TMC MPs came here a week back. We have been here on the ground since June. Then July and August went, and after that the party thought this is serious, we are going to fight an election. Everyone knows where TMC was a week ago and where it is now. For the next few weeks and months, the leaders of Goa will speak. Let me tell you, we are getting civil society people here…going with civil society is our party’s culture. Writers, painters, theatre personalities, all will be there. We are meeting them not in a hotel, but we are going to them; they are touched. Whether they join us or not, that is different, but they say, “Tell Mamata Didi, we were happy with the Bengal result and she can do it.”
There is a feeling that in 2017, the Congress got numbers but could not form the government. Is that feeling there still? And what about fragmentation of the opposition?
There is no question of fragmentation of the opposition. That’s a theory I don’t buy. Voters are smart and sharp enough to choose the best option in a constituency against BJP. Obviously, in Goa if you vote for the Congress, you get 17 MLAs but can’t form the government, they can’t deliver. So there is an issue of credibility. People were saying here that Congress was credible but not an alternative and AAP was an alternative but not credible. So we think this is the right time for TMC. Our real job is here, the voice of the people of Goa is here. We cannot write a manifesto in Kolkata. There’s no question of fragmentation. Mamata will come here, of course. Now, it’s a great opportunity. It’s about the people of Goa. The people will have to bring back that thing, which has been snatched away from them.
If all of you fight, then what about national unity in the opposition?
The TMC is saying we need to remove those who sell every asset, who are responsible for price rise and other things. It’s the BJP. They have to be removed. So who will remove them? Until now it was the Congress. Now this woman has shown in Bengal how the BJP can be defeated. So we have the best chance. Everybody spoke of opposition unity before the Bengal election, all fought, others got zero seats. That’s what the challenge in Goa is. The voter needs to know who is the best; it’s not high command. Not only the Congress, the BJP too is removing chief ministers. The BJP has a bigger high command in Modi-Shah. The Congress wasn’t performing. That’s where the space is, and we are moving in.
Do you want to project that the TMC is the only opposition?
We haven’t moved to a big state, we are working on the right strategy. We are not into talking big, we are going slow. People appreciate our policy: one person, one post. Credibility is one word where Didi scores. Look at her stand on demonetisation. Where was the Congress? It was the Shiv Sena who joined us, not the Aam Aadmi Party. Omar Abdullah marched with us. On land law, look at what the TMC did. On the rights of farmers, track TMC and you will see what we have done.
AAP is your best friend. So how will that work in Goa?
We have friends in every political party. There is nothing wrong. They are anti-BJP. How many MPs does the Aam Aadmi Party have in the Lok Sabha? So there are certain things that will be there. The target is BJP.
What will happen nationally in 2024?
Nationally the BJP has to go out. Look at what they have done with the agencies, the Election Commission. We need to fight it on that point. The idea of RSS needs to be changed. In 2024 the opposition being fragmented is not the story. The story is what they (BJP) promised and what they are doing. They are weakening parliamentary democracy.