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Tripura assembly elections: In CM Manik Sarkar’s Red fort, CPM wary of BJP

Accuse each other of creating tension; BJP loses Muslim members but its push visible across constituency

Written by Esha Roy |
Updated: February 16, 2018 10:49:48 am
Tripura assembly elections: In CM Manik Sarkar’s Red fort, CPM wary of BJP Chief Minister Manik Sarkar addresses a gathering in Dhanpur, a long-time bastion of the ruling Left Front. Abhishek Saha

Anwar Hossain, 38, was a member of the BJP’s minority cell when he fought the last panchayat elections, which he lost to the CPM. A Congressman before that, Hossain crossed over to the BJP after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. “I used to listen to his speeches, especially the things he said about giving Rs 15 lakh to all and jobs to two crore people every year,” says Hossain.

One-and-a-half months ago, Hossain and 16 others of the BJP’s minority wing made another switch — this time to the CPM. This was after the arrest of a man — the CPM calls him a member of the BJP, which denies it and describes him as mentally unstable — for the alleged desecration of a statue of Loknath Baba that was found in a temple.

The statue was found desecrated in a temple in Bashpukur, part of Chief Minister Manik Sarkar’s assembly constituency of Dhanpur. The seat has 43,000 registered voters, including 10,000 Muslim, 15,000 tribal voters and the rest mostly Bengali Hindus.

“The BJP-RSS has been trying to create a communal divide in Dhanpur but we have not allowed this to happen,” alleges CPM area-in-charge Babul Debnath. “First a Shani temple was vandalised, then a Kali temple, and then the Loknath Baba incident. The police later caught the culprit who confessed to being a BJP worker, called Vikas Das. His mother-in-law is a BJP panchayat member from a neighbouring village.”

In response, BJP district (Sipahijala) president Ratan Das tells The Indian Express, “The man arrested is actually mentally unstable. Sometimes he carries the BJP flag, sometimes the CPM flag. It is true that he carries the BJP flag more often, but does that make him a BJP member?” He alleges: “It is the CPM that is trying to instigate communal tension… we are trying to ensure there is no tension.”

Police says the arrested man has confessed and been chargesheeted. “But our inquiry was not conducted on religious or political lines,” says IG (Law & Order) K V Srijesh.

While parties debate the affiliations of the accused, Hossain is convinced. “I thought I couldn’t belong to this party [BJP] any longer. So I approached CPM leaders,” he says.

And while the CPM’s Debnath agrees that the Dhanpur election will be a tough one, the Red flag is the most visible. On this day, the flag decks the approach road to Boromura village, surrounded by freshly sown paddy fields and tall rubber plantations. CM Sarkar is to address a gathering of some hundred, as he has been doing over the last one month. The village has a population of 5,000, all CPM voters, says Uttam Kumar Das. “We will win with even more votes than in the last election. The BJP’s tie up with the IPFT has not gone down well with Bengalis and even many tribals,” he says.

Sarkar won by 6,000 votes in 2013 —21,000 to 15,000 — while the BJP polled 721.

Across Dhanpur, where the Left has never lost, BJP vans blaring party songs travel from village to village. In Dhanpur Bazaar, a small street-corner event of the Mahila Morcha is under way. Konika Debnath, 36, lives in Dhanpur Colony with her husband, mother-in-law and son. “We used to vote for the Congress before. We switched to the BJP. Look at this constituency. It is the CM’s constituency. Don’t you think it should be far more developed than it is? There is a hospital but no doctors. There are schools, but no teachers,” she says.

Anjan Debbarma, 28, is a former CPM voter who says he will now vote for the BJP. “I have been giving interviews for years for a job. The BJP has promised that each household will get a job,” says Debbarma.

There are others who remain loyal to the Congress. “A section of Congress voters have gone with the BJP and another section has joined the CPM. But we are still voting for the Congress. We can’t tell who will win though. The BJP has been strong recently; the CPM has always been strong,” says Abul Kalam, 52, who owns a pharmacy store in Dhanpur.

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