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Tripura: ‘Attack’ on Democracy and Media Under BJP-IPFT Rule

A first person account of fear of violence faced by mediapersons covering civic polls in the small Northeastern state, especially those from Kolkata.

Agartala: Tripura, one of the smallest states in the country, is bleeding. Every corner of the capital, Agartala, has a tale of violence, as witnessed in the past few days.

Right after the day Newsclick, along with other mediapersons, entered this Northeastern state, a reporter with a Bengali news channel, Ali Akbar, from Kolkata was brutally attacked, allegedly by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) men, and had to be hospitalised. Akbar was reportedly also beaten up at the local police station premises along with two other journalists from Tripura for “daring to cover a political incident involving the Opposition Trinamool Congress leaders”. 

When Newsclick asked fellow journalists in the state whether this incident would be probed, they answered in the negative, saying that after the change of regime in 2018, over 50 journalists had been attacked in the state. They said Chief Minister Biplab Deb had himself had threatened the media with dire consequences if they write against the BJP government.

Read Also: 'Attack on Fundamental Right to Privacy,' Says Digipub on Tripura Police Detention of 2 Journalists

Several cable TV channels, including Tripura’s premier channels, Akash Tripura and Din Raat, were shut reportedly after orders came directly from top ranking  BJP politicians of the state to the cable TV operators not to show these channels.

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Matters reached a peak when on September 8 this year, when 44 offices of the opposition CPI(M) and two daily newspaper offices --  Desher Katha and Pratibadi Kalam -- were attacked and set on fire. Vehicles belonging to both the organisations were also torched, including that of the editor of Pratibadi Kalam.

Newsclick met Samar Chakraborty, former Deputy Mayor  of Agartala Municipal Corporation ( that of the last elected municipal Board )  and a leader of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), whose house was attacked a record eight times.  He said the attacks had become regular “and even the little ones of my family now know who the attackers are and what to do when the house is attacked.”

Read Also: National Press Day: Journalists Being Increasingly Heckled and Gagged

It was only after knocking the  door  of the  Tripura High Court that  a solitary  guard has been posted  to look after the security of the  CITU leader, that too just two days before the municipal polls, said his colleagues.

When we asked about a sense of insecurity after such attacks, Chakraborty said: “What will happen, will happen. If we communists dare to fear, that will be our end.”

Newsclick also saw signs of fire in the divisional CITU office of Agartala which too was attacked on September 8, along with the  CPI(M) state office, where the bust of legendary tribal leader and former Tripura Chief Minister Dasarath Deb remains a grim onlooker to the violence.

Shahid Choudhury, MLA of Baxanagar, told Newsclick that after the attacks on minorities September on 26 -27, there is a sense of fear amongst Muslims.

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The media team that visited Longtharai Valley, saw the remains of the CPI(M) divisional party office, which was  attacked and set ablaze on September 8.  A party activist, Chintamohan, who witnessed the attacks, told us how “hooliganism” after the regime change that ended Left rule in 2018, had ruined the once peaceful and pictureseque valley. “What the police is doing, is giving mere lip service,” he added.

In Agartala, the media team witnessed “motorcycle gangs” of alleged BJP members crisscrossing the roads and showering expletives on those who came in their way.  A colleague from Desher Katha said it was “these gangs which are wreaking havoc in  Agartala city since the last 44 months”.

Such is the fear that while writing this report in the lobby of  an Agartala hotel, a staff member  told Newsclick: “Sir, don’t say you are a journalist or our hotel will be threatened. Please file reports from your office or your room.”

Many fellow journalists who had come from Kolkata and stayed in another hotel at Agartala alleged “intentional” power shedding cuts at their hotel at around 1.30 a.m. They said when they approached the hotel staff, they admitted that this was happening because journalists from Kolkata were staying in this hotel.

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On our visit to Kumarghat in Unokoti district, we saw truckloads of jawans from Tripura State Rifles at a CPI(M) rally, which is on the ruling BJP’s radar.  Later, CPI(M) sources alleged that  decorators  and those supplying mikes for the meeting were  threatened. However, the meeting continued without any employer of the mike company  in sight and when CPI(M) state secretary  Jitendra Choudhury spoke, it was  party leaders who were fixing the mikes.

On my last day there, Rahul Sinha,  a senior journalist from Desher Katha, advised me not to loiter outside as there could be danger from motorcycle gangs and from the police if my Kolkata  reporter identity was exposed. I had checked into the hotel using my home address, not by office particulars. As a result, the hotel staff was relieved perhaps because they thought this would save the hotel from another attack. The hotel had been attacked earlier too on “frivolous charges”.

 After we returned to Kolkata, we heard of at least 100 incidents of poll violence injuring over 50 CPI(M) activists and of other Opposition parties in Tripura.

However, there were heartening reports of people’s resistance to poll violence, foiling rigging plans by members of the ruling BJP-IPFT combine.

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