Unlike most national media who batted for the centre and its decisions since the 2014 general elections, the English national daily, The Telegraph took an anti-fascist and secular stand during this Bengal assembly elections. Madhyamam spoke to The Telegraph editor, R Rajagopal for analysing the poll results of the latest assembly election in West Bengal.
1. How did Mamata Banerjee outlive the raging communal propaganda?
What surprised me the most was BJP attempted their best to polarise Hindus in Bengal but didn't succeed. Hindu majority areas like Bankura, Hooghly, Howrah and urban areas of North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas, where rampant communal polarisation happened during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, are good examples. Mamata cannot attain such a result in Bengal with Muslim votes alone.
2. Were the poll results the Bengal society's response to the communal moves?
Two things happened beyond expectations. First, Hindus didn't vote according to religion, and Muslims didn't stand with Abbas Siddiqui's ISF alliance. Here people took a secular stand, giving the country the message of secularism.
Second, this is not Mamata's win alone but a lot of others too. Like the youth's movement "No vote for BJP", many worked to turn the current in favour of Mamata. They went to various districts and did grassroots level campaigns. Also, a lot of young Bengali artists and movie stars stood against BJP. Despite the public threats of BJP state president Dilip Ghosh that they will be dealt with accordingly when BJP comes to power, these artists took an enormous risk.
They campaigned against the party without paying much regard to their career and future. I don't think anyone from any other state would take a similar solid political stand at their career's peak. This is not like Malayalam actors Mukesh or Suresh Gopi taking a political stand, who had reached their career's end.
3. So even in Kerala, where BJP won zero seats, the frontline Malayalam actors won't take a chance against the party?
Bengali actors like Riddhi Sen, who is just 22, are at their career peaks, and if the BJP had come to power, that would have been their career ends. Unlike the BJP candidate in Thiruvananthapuram, who had said that if he is not getting Malayalam movies, he will go for Tamil or Telugu, Bengali actors only have their own industry. They put their life at risk and took their political stands.
Many, like Sitaram Yechury, had claimed that BJP would win, uniting the anti-government votes, if support was given to Mamata. But the poll results prove that it was a false claim, don't you think?
Yes. The left supporters rejected their leader's stand and voted for Mamata to defeat BJP, ultimately proving that the Left front's claim was utterly false. Thus, the Left's vote went down to five from seven.
4. What is the future of the Left and the Congress in Bengal?
I think this is a lesson for them to learn. If they are bringing up more inappropriate schemes which the people find difficult to understand, rather than staying together in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, they will fail again. If they stay together in 2024 to oust the BJP, they could compete against each other in 2026.
5. Do you think the opposition could defeat BJP in 2024 if they stand together?
Of course, if they stand together and bring one leader to the fore against Modi, they could defeat BJP. Now, people have that feeling that the nation is going through a crisis that wasn't there in 2019.
6. Is there a chance for a confederation of regional parties?
That is what I said before. Rather than bothering the seats they would gather after polls, they should bring a solid leader to the fore. It could be Mamata or Stalin or anyone, but the seats they won won't matter. Congress in Kerala, as well as BJP in Bengal, didn't have such a leader and met defeat. India will stand only with a strong leader, which is what I always felt. I'm against such a trend, but the politics will be like that from now onwards.
7. Weren't the media biased regarding the coverage of the polls?
I think the national dailies were in awe, watching the BJP's campaign stunts, and they reported that the party is making miraculous gains. But the Bengali media stayed put, as they were against BJP. There was this newspaper that never mentioned Suvendu Adhikari by his name but 'defector'.
8. The Telegraph firmly stood with the anti-fascist faction. Was it criticised for that?
Someone called and told us that we don't know about the undercurrents in Bengal. We replied to him that it's not our job to report "currents" but facts. After the results came, we received acclamations for doing the right thing too.
We published the history of places in their respective regional pages during the polling days instead of predicting winners and losers. We wrote about what happened during the days of conflict before independence. In a special story, we wrote how Bengali's, who loves Muslim culture, music and Biryani, could not imagine a life without the Muslim community. Politicians could polarise, split or drive away people for their gains, but media should not be that irresponsible.
There is no need to link a poll result with a newspaper's stand. If a party criticised by newspapers came into power, it doesn't mean the newspapers' stand was wrong. The Communist Party in Kerala was criticised by the media a lot. They came to power again doesn't mean the media were right or wrong. Can we say that the genocide that happened in Gujarat was justified when Modi came to power again?