Updated: September 21, 2021 5:35:01 pm
It has been three-and-a-half years since his government went out of power. Manik Sarkar, who led Tripura as Chief Minister for 20 years straight from 1998, saw the fall of the Left bastion under his watch in March 2018, paving the way for their ideological arch-rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to rise to power.
Since then, several CPI(M) offices have been razed citing illegal occupation of government land. According to a party report, as many as 21 of its activists were purportedly killed in political attacks, over 5,000 party leaders and activists came under attack, over 500 party offices were ransacked and over 2,000 houses vandalised during this time. In his own words, the rule of law has been replaced with the rule of the jungle and “the Constitution of India doesn’t work in Tripura” anymore.
So what makes him believe that his party will bounce back?
In an interview with indianexpress.com, Sarkar said he feels the common people have become detached from the BJP due to a whole range of unfulfilled promises made by the party ahead of the 2018 polls. He claimed that people who got excited by the BJP’s stellar promises have realised their ‘mistake’ and are now coming back to the Left.
On incidents of violence, Sarkar said BJP has been stifling the Opposition by restraining its leaders from meeting people in their own constituencies. His comments come days after several CPM party offices were attacked and set ablaze on September 8, purportedly by BJP-backed cadres in different parts of the state, including Agartala.
Sarkar said, “There is no rule of law here. It’s jungle raaj. Opposition legislators, including me, were not allowed to enter our constituencies. Our party activists and counsels who moved the court faced attacks, even the media is not spared. To sum it up, the Indian Constitution is not working here.”
On recent clashes in Dhanpur Assembly constituency in his home turf of Sepahijala and subsequent violence at Udaipur, Bishalgarh and Agartala cities where two CPI(M) party offices were gutted and six vehicles torched, Sarkar said the attacks were signs of “desperation”.
The former CM also claimed that the Tripura Police is under pressure from political bosses. “It is this same police force which was honoured with the President’s Colour during our tenure. We gave them a free hand to do their duty. Now, they are under heavy pressure. Attacks are happening right in front of them but they are unable to act without orders from the top brass,” said Sarkar who also held the home portfolio while he was chief minister.
He pointed out that his party has never sought to oust the elected BJP-led government in Tripura, but has, instead, demanded that it fulfil its own promises.
In the past few weeks, massive BJP rallies have announced that they will come to power in all 60 seats in the next Assembly polls even as the Trinamool Congress has been gearing up as a major contender. Sarkar, however, maintains that none of them can be the “true alternative” for solving people’s problems.
“Our politics is different. We stay with the poor, middle class, people of low-income, working class masses and everyone else throughout the year and talk on their issues through a sustained ceaseless struggle. None of the others do this,” he said.
He said the BJP-led Tripura government is fast becoming unpopular due to its anti-people policies and attacks on democratic rights are signs of its receding support base.
Asked if his party would go for a poll alliance with the Congress, TMC or any other political party against the BJP before 2023, the Opposition leader said there is no question of alliance. “We want to remove the BJP from power. They want to do it as well. Everyone has got their own reasons for it. They will do their job, we shall do ours. But there is absolutely no question of alliance with any other party from our side,” he said.
Sarkar said that despite the resistance they faced from cadres of the ruling party, Left leaders touring various districts found that the people have understood their “mistake” of choosing the right wing over the Left.
In a scathing attack on the saffron party, he said Tripura never had to see mothers selling their babies or people searching for wild products across the border out of hunger. He said BJP hasn’t fulfilled its poll promises of jobs, rule of law, freedom of choice of politics, safety and security, and pointed out that it was trying to make up for these losses with violence.
The CPI(M) had earlier raised allegations of poor people being forced to sell their children and of people crossing the International Border into Bangladesh in search of ‘gandhaki’, a resin, in the forests there after MGNREGA and other wage sources began to dry up. The state government has repeatedly denied the allegations.
When asked about his next course of action, Sarkar said his party has sought the chief minister’s intervention against political violence while the Assembly was in session. After the CM Biplab Kumar Deb’s assurances fell flat, a CPI(M) delegation went to meet the governor, who repeated the promises, but that too failed to materialise.
After the recent clashes, a team of party general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Manik Sarkar and Tripura CPI(M) secretary Jitendra Chaudhury went to meet President Ram Nath Kovind in New Delhi, but wasn’t granted an audience. A letter was also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but the party is yet to get an acknowledgement of its receipt.
“The Prime Minister and the President don’t want to speak on it. We can‘t be expected to believe that the government of India doesn’t know about these incidents of violence. Indirectly, they are allowing this,” Sarkar said.
Without going into detail on the party’s strategy to take on the BJP in the polls, the Opposition Leader said, “Our target is to ensure food and protection to all sections. We shall continue to do so, staying with the common people throughout the year.”
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