With the November 25 Municipal elections in Tripura approaching, suspicions about its free and fair execution have dominated media debates owing to the repeated heckling of opposition candidates by the ruling BJP-IPFT alliance. NewsClick speaks with CPI(M) Politbureau member and former four-time Chief Minister of Tripura Manik Sarkar about the emerging political developments in the state as well as at the national level. Excerpts from the interview:
HOW DO YOU SEE THE VICTORY OF THE FARMERS’ MOVEMENT?
Manik Sarkar: In post-independent India, farmers have made history by not only the scale of their struggle but also by achieving victory. Their movement’s significance is enhanced by the fact that central trade unions also stood by the farmers unitedly. This is a necessity of the hour in the present circumstances. Other sections of the society too, such as students, youth, women, and Dalits have welcomed this movement. This increased the strength of the movement as well.
The farmers have also boldly announced that their movement will go on until the demands are met in the real sense, that is, a bill is passed on the floor of the Parliament for withdrawing the three black farm laws. The most important demand of the farmers is, however, the demand for a just MSP as well as the withdrawal of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill which makes farming a difficult proposition.
The other issue is also of the killing in Lakhimpur Kheri where the son of a Union minister mowed down four farmers and a journalist, killing them all. The Union minister continues to be in office. Seven hundred sons of farmers have also died in the course of the struggle. So long as the culprits are not brought to books, there can be no justice. The Central government has to take legal actions regarding the same. So, till all these demands are met the movement will continue. The farmers as well as their supporters, the common people of the country, are now waiting for what steps the government takes regarding these demands
WHAT HAS BEEN THE EXPERIENCE OF AN AVERAGE CITIZEN OF TRIPURA IN 44 MONTHS OF BJP-RULE?
MS: The people of Tripura under the BJP-IPFT rule have only received fraudulent promises, a game of false assurances, so to speak. It is impossible to convince people in this way in a state like Tripura. People are now seeing that the government has failed to meet these assurances. During the 2018 elections, the ruling alliance may not have believed that it would come to power. When they succeeded in coming to power, they have realised that they wouldn’t be able to materialise the poll assurances given the existing governing structures in the country. The Tripura BJP government won’t be given any preferential treatment and the ruling alliance knows this very well.
In these conditions, the opposition led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has rallied the people regarding the implementation of the poll promises. Understanding this, the BJP has started fascist-like terror tactics all over the state. The question now arising is whether Tripura is within the country or outside its limits, as its government is clearly not conforming to constitutional norms.
In a democracy, the party which loses the popular vote will sit in the opposition. This opposition has an important role to play. They are supposed to check the weaknesses of the ruling party and give an alternative proposal for the welfare of the common people. However, now in Tripura, the people’s right to vote itself has been curtailed. BJP’s aim is to curb the voice of those who are asking the government about its past assurances. The fourth pillar of democracy too, has been decimated in Tripura. The media when it tries to highlight the plight of the people, faces continuous attacks.
Minorities are especially under attack. What happened in Bangladesh was faced upfront by the government there. Throughout Bangladesh, there was a storm. The Bangladesh government ably unmasked the guilty behind the carnage and dealt with them sternly. In Tripura taking a cue from the events in Bangladesh, the RSS created extreme pressure on minorities of the state. Minority religious institutions came under attack, electricity poles were uprooted, mikes used for azaan were disconnected, RSS flags were hoisted on religious institutions. Homes of minorities near mosques were gutted.
When the Prime Minister had come to Agartala he did say in his speeches that such events are going to happen in the future. Instead, he promised that his government would drape the state with diamonds. He spoke of jobs by missed calls, and that government employees would receive pay according to the 7th pay commission. Now the Central government is saying that the ratio of government employees is the highest in Tripura amongst the northeastern states. This higher government employment actually happened during previous Left Front rule because Tripura is a border state with scant opportunity for industries.
Now, the situation is such that BJP is telling people to sell betel leaves, start poultry farming, animal grazing as means of employment generation. Workdays under the MGNREGA scheme, which were promised to be increased to 200 per household every year, are below 50 days in the state. What is worse is that BJP mandal-level workers are taking bribes to clear off the bills of the rural employment scheme.
Another condemnable phenomenon in the state is the constant threat of transfers of bureaucrats, with bribes as a means to keep good postings. In such a situation, government employees are suffering the maximum. This is how the government is generating income. In the name of anti-addiction drives in Tripura, the government is actually giving licenses to liquor stores. In another instance of breakdown of law-and-order, two policemen were mauled under the wheels of a truck which they suspected to be carrying drugs from Bangladesh. With the blessings of the Prime Minister, jungle law prevails in the state today.
WHAT ABOUT THE TRIBAL PEOPLES’ RIGHTS?
MS: Right after independence, communists used to hold sway amongst the tribals. There was then a saying that Congress had its support base among non-tribals while the tribals went with the communists. Yet, it is not a fact that all tribals have been left or CPI(M) supporters. There also existed a block that was anti-communist in nature. But a bigger section of the tribals were pro-communists. During the Left rule, large sections of tribals became middle-class rising from their earlier destitute condition. When the tribals and the non-tribals started to mingle together in the 1980s, Congress formed Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS) which later degenerated into an insurgency. It was then that the slogan of ‘Free Tripura’ came into being. To bifurcate Tripura, the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT) was formed which later turned into the Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura (IPFT). Before the 2018 election, the residence of the Chief Minister was gheraoed by the IPFT for 18 days and the sole national highway was closed for 13 days. The party was sloganeering that within three months a new state would be formed. Since then, another organisation, Tripura Motha has sprung up with a demand for a Greater Tripuraland.
During the Left Front government, we had allotted 30% jobs to the tribals and had allocated 1.5 times the budget for the development of tribal areas, compared to the non-tribal ones. Now, we are actively addressing the issue of getting back the misguided youth of Tripura back to the Left Front.
HOW DO YOU ASSESS MODI’S SECOND TERM?
MS: The Constitution is under attack, democracy is under attack, national resources are on sale, monopoly houses are not being taxed. When people ask questions, Modi enforces his divide and rule policy. Exploiters are ruling the country. We too are working amongst different sections of the people. The secular opposition must become consolidated. After the Lok Sabha election, confidence of the people in the government has subsided. People will have the last word against Modi.