As Tripura reels under political and communal violence ahead of the municipal elections on November 25, Newsclick’s Sandip Chakraborty spoke with Jitendra Chaudhury, former Lok Sabha MP and Tripura state secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to understand the situation. Chaudhury is also President of Ganamukti Parishad, a leading tribal organisation of Tripura. He had won the 2014 Indian general elections from the Tripura East constituency but was by defeated by Rebati Tripura of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019. Chaudhury is also joint secretary of All India Kisan Sabha. He served for four terms as a minister in successive Manik Sarkar cabinets from 1993 till 2014. Following are edited excerpts from the interview to Newsclick:
Q: Is this a period of crisis in Tripura's history?
A. I would not call it a crisis period but a phase. For the past 25 years, the party (CPIM) was in power in the state, and 93% of the cadre recruited was from this period. They are finding it difficult as they lack experience in taking the fascist attacks head on. Also, the mode of governance of the Left Front that adhered to democratic norms and that of a fascistic (BJP-led) government are different. By gaining experience over time, the cadre will be able to tackle it.
What is your take on the rise of secessionist Tipra Motha (which seeks creation of a separate Tipraland and is led by former Congress leader Pradyot Debbarma)?
A. It is a recent phenomenon and not a time tested one. In Tripura, this sort of politics had started in the 1980s in the name of 'free Tripura'. This had grown in the hilly regions of the state. They then had said that Ganamukti Parishad, owing to its allegiance to CPI(M), would not support them in their endeavour for 'free Tripura'.
Then again, in 2000, during the chief ministership of Manik Sarkar, the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) – BJP’s ally in the state government-- rose to power in Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council elections. However, their endeavor, too, failed. Now, after 20 years, yet another endeavour has started, and this too will fail because both are divisive and anti-nationalist in nature.
Everywhere the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is anti-poor and against minorities and all the people oriented schemes are being phased out. However, the Tipra Motha is maintaining a stoic silence about them. We think that the misguided youths will return to the peoples' fold in a short time and this illusory phase will fade away.
What is the condition of minorities in Tripura?
A. There is about 9% minority (Muslim) population in the state. As throughout the country, they are concentrated in some pockets of some Assembly segments of Tripura. During the communal flare-up in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh government took courageous steps to stall violence there, aided by the solid students-youth movement and the Leftists of that country.
In Tripura, there always existed a harmonious relationship between Hindus and Muslims for ages, barring a few stray incidents in the 1960s.
BJP, which was earlier excommunicated from the masses, started forming an organisation called Hindu Jagaran Manch in the state, and suddenly, we saw all the known faces of BJP wearing caps of Hindu Jagaran Manch and starting a hate campaign against the minorities in their areas of residences.
A campaign was started on social media against the minorities in reaction to the Bangladesh incident. After Dussehra, the incidents of threats increased, with six-seven houses in Udaipur and Roya of Panisagar gutted by fire. Mosques were also attacked. I think the incidents could not a much wider angle as the peace-loving people of Tripura swung into action. The police were inept all this while.
The people of Tripura started protesting against this (communal violence). Nothing had happened in the bigger states like West Bengal or Assam, then how come the incidences were happening in a small state like Tripura, they questioned. In the meantime, Central agencies alerted the state government after it became an international issue. The police then swung into action.
That such communal incidents did not happen after October 27 should be credited to the democratic, peace-loving people of Tripura more than anything else. Still, in some areas, fear is persisting in the minorities' minds. The incidents have lowered the image of Tripura in the mind of the Indian people and the BJP's game plan has boomeranged.
Q. According to you, how will BJP fare in the municipal elections?
A: I have roamed around almost all the areas where the election is being held and spoken to a cross-section of voters. If the elections are held under normal, peaceful conditions, then not a single of the 13 municipalities will go to BJP, and in Agartala (state capital), out of the 51 seats, they will not win even five seats.
Yesterday (Sunday) in a meeting of BJP, its leadership's bankruptcy was on display when daily wage earners were hired at the rate of Rs 350 per day to walk in their rally in Bat Tala.
Till today, they have not been able to mobilise a good number of people in the elections. In this scenario, if normal voting takes place, they will lose everywhere and understand this too. One of the senior ministers in the presence of the Chief Minister said, "On 25th (November), there won't be any mercy and courtesy," asking his party workers to vote in thousands."
However, these types of threats are going unnoticed by the administration, and even the Election Commission is not taking any action against the speechmakers.
Do you think people are angry and upset against BJP now?
In the 2018 elections, BJP had come to power using the assurances that had emitted from the country's Prime Minister, who visited every district of this state and told the people of Tripura that they should believe him as he was speaking as the Prime minister of the country.
Today, after 44 months, not a single assurance listed in their ‘vision document’ has been implemented. On the contrary, taxes on the people have increased multiple times. There is the burden of property tax, hospital fees and education cost with the pay-and-use logic in use. For this reason, the people are extremely unhappy and angry, and there is a wave of extreme anti-incumbency in the state.