Moidatila is a small village of farmers in Shantibazar constituency in South Tripura. It can be reached by dusty untarred roads surrounded by paddy fields. For nearly two years now, the village has been split down the middle. The village has just over 100 families, 83 of these Muslim. After 25 of these Muslim families decided to go with the BJP — they say they are party members — Moidatila now has two mosques, one in which the BJP supporters pray, and the original mosque that holds congregations of the non-BJP families.
“We joined the BJP 16 months ago. Soon after, people at the mosque told us we could no longer pray there,” said Babul Hossain, 35. “They said since we are supporting a Hindu-vadi party, there is no longer any need to come to the mosque and we could go with the Hindus.”
Hossain grows potato and sells it in the open market to support his family that includes two sons in school. The 25 families shut out of the mosque have made a makeshift mosque with a tin roof and bamboo. The group has engaged a separate imam and pay him through collections.
“We don’t know about the BJP being a Hindutva party,” says Hossain. “I don’t believe they have been involved in attacks against Muslims in other parts of the country. This is just something the Congress and the CPM has been saying. If there are Muslims who have been killed, they must have been done something wrong. Why would anyone attack a good person?”
Hossain used to be a Congress voter. “The Congress is finished, muche gecha (wiped out). But we want this government to go. It’s been 25 years and we have got nothing from them [Left Front]. If the BJP comes, we hope to get fertiliser subsidies and water,” he says.
Of the Muslim families who have become BJP supporters, most were formerly Congress supporters and a few CPM loyalists. Farooq Islam, 27, whose family supported the CPM for years, says they decided to switch to the BJP to see “if we get anything in return”. “As you can see, we have nothing in the village,” he says. “There is no power, not even clean drinking water. The BJP says it can bring us all this. Besides, CPM leaders and their workers had become arrogant, they were oppressing us. We wanted the mosque upgraded and repaired but two CPM workers here, who are in charge of the mosque, opposed it. So we collected money ourselves to do the job and they got angry. It had become unsafe for us here. When we wanted to raise the salary of the imam and decided to take collections, they wanted a cut out of it.”
Bhanu Bibi, 38, had contested the last panchayat elections on a Congress ticket and says she lost by one vote. She expressed her disillusionment: “This year I didn’t even get paid for 35 days of work under MNREGA. Also, Congress workers are regularly oppressed, attacked by CPM workers. Our families don’t get jobs, water or any other basic services.”
The BJP’s minority wing state president, Mohammad Jasmuddin, who facilitated the “joining” of the Muslim voters, belongs to neighbouring Karmibazar, another village with a large Muslim population. He says that out of the 150 families there, 40 Muslim families have moved to the BJP. “I joined the
BJP right after the 2013 elections. I was with the Congress but realised there was no point remaining. They couldn’t protect workers from CPM musclemen. It was a good idea to join the BJP at that point because it wasn’t considered a threat, so we weren’t prosecuted. I never thought the BJP would become the main opponent,” Jasmuddin says. “As far as minority affairs are concerned, there is no problem for a Muslim joining the BJP.”
The Left Front’s candidate for Shantibazar is Minister for Home and Tribal Welfare Manindra Reang, who belongs to the CPI. Workers at the Shantibazar office claim that at least 25 RSS workers from Assam are now camping in this semi-rural constituency. “We have been told that they are giving the voters money. Whenever they hear of a financial problem in somebody’s home, they visit the family and help them out financially,” CPI worker said.
Reang is confident of victory in a constituency where Muslims constitute 4% of the vote and tribal voters over 40%.
“Initially the voters would demand mota bhaat mota kapad (food and clothing),” Reang says. “Now there are demands for infrastructure. They want full electrification and a blacktopped road. It is incorrect to say that the government hasn’t done anything in 25 years. First of all you have to take in to account that in the first 10 years we were battling insurgency and in those circumstances development was just not possible. My own son and daughter had been kidnapped by insurgents on different occasions. We have built infrastructure and in the next five years we will ensure that more demands are fulfilled.”