Modi’s Problem Now Is That the Youth Are Very Angry: Derek O’Brien

Derek O’Brien argues why Bengal will defy CAA-NRC, and how these moves could be the undoing of the Modi government.

5 min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

“India is for Indian citizens. India is for people who have been living in India. And Mr Amit Shah and Mr Modi have to be reminded very humbly – this is not the Gujarat Gymkhana.”
TMC MP Derek O’Brien

Derek O’Brien, TMC’s Parliamentary Party leader in the Rajya Sabha, speaks to The Quint about how West Bengal plans to defy the Citizenship Amendment Act and the NRC, and the reason why he believes these two initiatives will be the undoing of the Narendra Modi government.

Dressed for the occasion.
Dressed for the occasion.
(Photo: Meghnad Bose/The Quint)

Referring to the protests across India and in several cities around the world, O’Brien says, “See what students of Harvard and Tufts and MIT are saying, See what students of Oxford and Cambridge are saying, Indian students who are studying there. These are not people who are Trinamoolis, they’re just young people who are very, very angry.”

“You’ve got a problem on your hands, if you’ve upset young people between the ages of 16 and 25. This is not about a fight of Trinamool versus BJP or Congress versus BJP. This is a fight between your idea of India and our idea of India.”

The following are excerpts from the interview.

‘CAA-NRC Will Hurt Poorest of the Poor’

Does the TMC believe that none of these groups (Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis etc) should be given citizenship, or that Muslims should also be given citizenship?

Derek O’Brien: This is not an issue of religion at all. No millionaire did you see in the queue for demonetisation. It’s the same thing today, the poorest of the poor will get affected – because they lost an ID in the north Bengal flood, or in ethnic violence.

Let’s not talk about identification and certificates too much because then, as my colleague Abhishek Banerjee mentioned in the Lok Sabha, if we start talking about certificates then it’ll embarrass many ministers in this government.

But on a serious note, if you’ve been living in India since the 1950s and 1960s, voted in several elections, then what are we talking about? Who is Amit Shah and who is Narendra Modi to decide who can be an Indian citizen?

They’ve created a divisive India through their divide-and-rule politics. And what they’re doing to students and to any form of dissent, which is unacceptable!

‘BJP Adopting 2002 Copybook’

Derek O’Brien: What is Mamata Banerjee saying to people? She’s asking people to express their anger through music, dance and poetry in protest. Buses burning? Unacceptable. Trains burning? Unacceptable.

But a lot of that is happening in Bengal as well, right?

Derek O’Brien: There has been the odd incident. But none of these are cooked up incidents like what is happening in Delhi.

The truth in Delhi is that every opinion poll has showed that AAP is going to win 55-60 seats (out of 70) and BJP will get wiped out. So the BJP, in classic 2002 copybook fashion, is drumming up these incidents to try and change the inevitable in Delhi.

‘No Logic in CAA-NRC, Will Hurt Hindus Too’

It is true that there are a lot of immigrants from Bangladesh in Bengal – both Hindus and Muslims, who’ve come here for reasons such as seeking economic opportunities. For months, Amit Shah has been assuaging the Hindus among them that they need not worry about losing citizenship through the NRC because the CAA will ensure that does not happen. What is the TMC’s message to this constituency?

Derek O’Brien: Who are the people sitting in the detention camps in Assam? Who are the people left out of the NRC? A majority of these people are Bengali Hindus! You have created the mess through your pilot project and now when that hasn’t worked, you want to implement it in all the other states!

Let’s talk about the Matuas, who are Bengali Hindus. They’ve been voting here for 40-50 years. You’re going to take away their voting rights and then repackage and give it back to them? What kind of logic is this?

‘Centre Cannot Bulldoze India’s Federal Structure’

Mamata Banerjee has said that the CAA and NRC can only be implemented in Bengal over her dead body. Her announcement that Bengal will not implement the CAA has been followed by several other non-BJP chief ministers. But citizenship is something that falls under the purview of the Union government and the CAA is a law that has been passed by Parliament and received the assent of the President. So how exactly does Bengal plan to “refuse to implement CAA and NRC”?

Derek O’Brien: India is a union of states, there’s a federal structure in place. You can’t bulldoze your way. You cannot be using a majority in the Centre to bulldoze legislation and then hope that the states fall in line. It will not happen.

The CAA is a trap, the NRC is a trap, and soon the BJP which is setting these traps, will fall into their own trap.

Why Is TMC Govt Imposing Internet Shutdowns in Bengal?

If the TMC is criticising restrictions on free speech being imposed elsewhere across India, why is the Bengal government enforcing internet shutdowns in parts of the state?

Derek O’Brien: On internet shutdowns, my party’s policy is very, very clear. It’s a last resort. Please don’t ask me too many questions on internet shutdowns. Please ask this question first about Jammu and Kashmir, where not just the internet, the whole state has been shut down.

Nobody wants internet shutdowns. Yes, there have been occasional internet shutdowns in Bengal but on a scale of one to ten, we are at 1 or 2. The rest of the country, where BJP is ruling, it’s 9 or 10 on 10.

Advice for the PM? ‘He Needs to Listen’

What is the one message you would like to give to Prime Minister Modi?

Derek O’Brien: We were debating the CAA in the Rajya Sabha for around nine hours. Modi didn’t even come for nine minutes. He didn’t come to listen. You have to listen. Unless you listen, you will not acknowledge. Unless you acknowledge, you will not act.

On the Bengal Governor Calling Mamata’s Protest ‘Unconstitutional’

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar has called Mamata Banerjee’s protests against CAA “unconstitutional”. Does your party agree with what the Governor is saying, or do you feel he is overstepping his role?

Derek O’Brien: Oh, the Governor in an honourable man. That’s all I have to say. But even if I say this, if other people don’t believe it, what can I say? He is a very active Governor, he’s hyperactive on Twitter, maybe now he’s going to get onto TikTok. He is an honourable man.

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