Several offices of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and at least five media houses were attacked on Wednesday in Tripura allegedly by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cadres. Vehicles parked outside the Left party’s offices were also torched. The situation remained tense on Thursday as well.
At least five main offices of the CPI(M), including its state headquarters, West Tripura divisional office, office of the party mouthpiece and the CITU state committee office in Agartala were vandalised on Wednesday. According to the party, the ground floors and first floors of the multistoried buildings were mainly affected. Six vehicles parked outside the CPIM offices in Agartala were set on fire along with some motorbikes belonging to Left cadres.
The boundaries of the CPI (M) sub-divisional committee office at Melarmath in Agartala were bulldozed by attackers, and then, the building was set ablaze using gas cylinders, alleged a CPIM member. Among others, the CPIM party office in Bishalgarh, Sepahijala, was also burned down. In total, around 20 party offices and buildings across the state have been vandalised or torched, a party member said, adding that the police did not come to help and even fire services were prevented from reaching the spots.
Jitendra Chowdhury, CPI(M) Central Committee Member in Tripura, said the party estimates that at least 50 of their cadres have been injured in the violence and more than 30 houses belonging to Left activists have been burned or attacked. Eleven BJP activists were also injured in the violence, according to media reports.
How Violence Started
Clashes broke out in Agartala when BJP workers took out a rally to protest against an alleged attack on party cadres by CPI(M) workers during former chief minister Manik Sarkar’s rally in Dhanpur on Monday. BJP cadres from the rally allegedly attacked the CPI(M) offices in the state capital.
The confusion and rumours around Dhanpur appear to be the origin of the violence. According to some reports and the CPIM, some BJP workers tried to stop Sarkar’s convoy in his constituency Dhanpur. A group of CPIM workers protected the leader and reached Kathalia block, where a demonstration was scheduled. However, on Wednesday, clashes broke out in Sepahijala district, along with West Tripura and Gomati.
Jitendra Chowdhury told Newsclick that no clashes took place in Dhanpur during Sarkar’s visit. According to Jitendra Chowdhury, the violence erupted after newly-inducted Cabinet minister Sushanta Chowdhury held a press conference from the BJP headquarters claiming that party workers were under attack and that they should retaliate and resist the communists.
The spate of violence started at Udaipur town in Gomati district after CPIM’s youth wing Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) took out a procession demanding jobs on Wednesday. While the CPI(M) maintain that BJP-backed goons attacked the rally, some reports quoting the police suggest that few activists from the rally allegedly attacked a BJP activist who was nearby; a group of BJP activists who were close then reacted by attacking the DYFI procession. CPIM cadres allegedly retaliated, leading to subsequent confrontations and violence in the Gomati district, and then West Tripura including Agartala, and Sepahijala.
Attack on Media Houses
Besides the office of CPI(M) mouthpiece Daily Desher Katha, offices of at least four other media houses were also attacked in Agartala. These media houses are PB 24, Pratibadi Kalam, Kalmer Shakti and Duranta TV. TV anchor Prasenjit Saha and journalist Partha Sarathi Deb of Daily Desher Katha reportedly sustained injuries in the attacks.
Participants in the BJP’s rally in Agartala had attacked the media houses. According to the police, the rally was led by BJP state vice-president Rajib Bhattacharjee, and two secretaries Tinku Roy and Papia Datta, the Times of India reported. BJP state president Manik Saha claimed that CPIM workers had thrown stones and bricks from the West Tripura divisional office targetting the BJP rally, and the BJP cadres retaliated by attacking the CPIM headquarters and its mouthpiece’s office. However, the cadres “mistakenly” entered a nearby building housing two media publications and ransacked them, Saha said, referring to Pratibadi Kalam and Kalmer Shakti.
Contending Saha’s claims, Pratibadi Kalam’s editor Anal Roychowdhury alleged that BJP leaders led a group of cadres into their office, who then disconnected the CCTV, rampaged the office and abused journalists in the presence of the Officer-in-Charge of West Agartala Police Station.
The leaders of the Assembly of Journalists on Wednesday demanded the arrest of all the culprits within the next twelve hours or otherwise, the group would sit on a strike in front of the state police headquarter in protest.
Left Says BJP Acting Out of Fear
“Why is BJP so terrified of the Opposition? These attacks are reprehensible and must stop at once,” CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said on Twitter, sharing a video of one of the party offices set ablaze.
In a press conference on Thursday, Sarkar told the media, “As the end of the current regime’s tenure is coming nearer, they are getting more distanced from the people. That is because of non-performance – zero performance, because the main thing is the lack of employment and access to food.” He added that the BJP was scared as people were disappointed with their performance and the mass participation in the Left’s protest rallies and meetings was increasing.
Condemning the violence, the former CM said, “This is not a sign of strength. Those who are strong and are supported by the people, don’t do such things.” Attacking the ruling party of behaving like “fascists”, Sarkar said they were wrong if they thought they could use violence to suppress people. The senior CPIM leader also urged party members to not give in to provocations by the BJP and resist violence in peaceful, strategic ways.
While CPIM members Newsclick spoke to said they have never seen such violence in Agartala, Jitendra Chowdhury said it was a culmination of the violence that BJP had unleashed on the Left since the saffron party came to power in the state three and a half years back. However, not a single culprit has been apprehended in those cases so far, which has granted the BJP-backed goons impunity, he claimed.
“There is high dissatisfaction with the BJP. They have no vision for the future. With one and a half years left for state elections, they are banking upon terrorisation,” Chowdhury said.
Yechury Writes to PM, Alleges ‘Mobs of BJP Men’ Attacked CPI(M) Offices
PTI adds: CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury on Thursday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging that the party's offices in Tripura were attacked by "mobs of BJP men" in a "pre-planned fashion" on September 8.
In the letter, Yechury has said that the "impunity" with which the attackers operated shows the "connivance of the state government".
"In a pre-planned fashion, scores of offices of the CPI(M), including the state headquarters, were attacked by mobs of BJP men," he said.
He alleged that among the offices, which were damaged or burnt down are the Udaipur sub-divisional office, Gomati district committee office; Sepahijala district committee office; Bishalgarh sub-divisional committee office, Santar Bazar sub-divisional office; West Tripura district committee office and the Sadar sub-divisional committee office.
"The most brazen attack was on the state committee office in Agartala. They have ransacked the ground and first floors of the office, burnt two office cars and broken the bust of Dasarath Deb, a revered leader of the people of Tripura.
"Houses of many leaders and activists of the CPI(M) were attacked, ransacked or set on fire," he said.
He alleged that the office of the newspaper 'Daily Desharkatha', which is supported by the CPI(M), was also damaged.
"It is to be noted that the police who were present at many of these venues remained silent bystanders. In the case of state committee office, some CRPF jawans were present in front of the office but they were withdrawn an hour before the attack began.
"The impunity with which the attackers operated shows the connivance of the state government. These attacks took place because the ruling party has tried and failed to suppress the activities of the main Opposition in the state," he alleged.
Yechury urged the prime minister to "intervene" and to stop the violent attacks against the CPI(M) and the Left Front.
"The manner in which the attacks took place makes it clear that the state government is grossly failing in discharging its Constitutional responsibility of maintaining law and order and trampling on the Constitutional rights of the opposition to organise political activities in a peaceful manner.
"The failure of the police, if not connivance, to check the violence and book the culprits makes it imperative that the central government act to enforce the Constitutional principles," he said.