Agartala, Feb. 7: The battle between two outsiders, both named Jiten and both defectors, for No. 4 Barjala (SC) Assembly seat has drawn the attention of poll observers and voters alike.
This sprawling constituency, commencing from the northern outskirts of Agartala town and extending up to the airport and bordering the Narsingarh area, was a general constituency till the last delimitation in 2009, effected by the commission headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Kuldip Singh.
Despite the preponderance of voters from the Scheduled Caste (SC) community, who are generally more loyal to the Marxists than the Congress, Barjala has returned candidates of both parties.
CPM’s former women front leader Gauri Bhattacharjee had won the seat consecutively in 1978 and 1983 while INTUC’s strongman Dipak Roy emerged winner in 1988 and became minister for a short while. The CPM snatched the constituency back in 1993 only to lose it consecutively in 1998 and 2003. Citu leader Shankar Prasad Dutta, however, narrowly pipped Roy to the post in 2008.
Following the designation of the constituency as reserved for Scheduled Castes, both the CPM and the Congress have been forced to bring new faces here as contestants. Interestingly both Jiten Sarkar of the Congress and Jiten Das of the CPM are defectors and outsiders in the constituency.
Sarkar, 63, had been a Citu leader and CPM legislator from Teliamura in Khowai district, 55km from Agartala, in 1977, 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1998, rising to the rank of Speaker for the past term. He had lost the Assembly polls in 2003 and also got embroiled in a factional battle within the party. Gradually marginalised within the party, he was denied nomination in the 2008 Assembly polls. He joined the Congress a year later.
“My experience in the CPM is bitter. You cannot express your opinion; you are only to listen and raise your hand in support of whatever is said by the leaders. In the Congress, I can work freely at least and whether I win or lose I am happy in this party,” Sarkar said.
Das had embarked on his political career as an activist of the CPM’s student front. He drifted to the Congress in the early seventies and got a primary school teacher’s job near his residence at Ranir Bazar, 8km east of Agartala town. He gradually became PCC general secretary and a leader of the SC community but never got nomination as party candidate except in 1977 when he lost massively from Salgarah (SC) seat of South Tripura.
“He would not have left the Congress in 2008 but he had to because he badly needed a job for the widow of his murdered younger brother. The CPM easily enticed him with the bait,” said PCC president Sudip Roy Barman.
Das, however, made good his dissociation from the Congress by becoming the vice-chairman of the Pashchim (West) zilla parishad within a year in 2009. Short of strong SC community candidates in Barjala constituency, the CPM leadership picked on Das this time.
“The party has given me nomination and I am trying hard. My plus point is the CPM’s strong organisation in the constituency, especially among SC voters. There is no reason why I should not win against Sarkar who is from Teliamura,” Das said.
As the campaign rages, both the contestants and their parties have their fingers crossed.
The deciding factor in Barjala is the vote of the eight per cent minority, who have always backed the Congress candidates here.
“We are not worried about victory, Barjala will come to us this time. In 2008, we had lost the seat by a paltry 544 votes. Jiten Sarkar will win the seat hands down this time,” the PCC president said.
CPM party secretary Bijan Dhar is no less optimistic. “The Congress has specialised in creating artificial hype but politics is guided by reality and not hype,” he said.