Agaratala, Feb. 10: Jiten Chowdhury, sitting legislator from Manu (ST) Assembly constituency and minister for forest, rural development and industry, must have heaved a sigh of relief as the man who could have turned his nemesis bid farewell to the Congress and joined the CPM with 62 families of indigenous supporters.
Chandan Tripura chose a suitable occasion to join the CPM — the dais of chief minister Manik Sarkar’s poll rally in support of cabinet colleague and indigenous leader Jiten Chowdhury at Melarmath field in Sabroom subdivision of South Tripura district. He was accorded a warm reception by his decade-long bete noire, Jiten, and the chief minister with red roses.
Chandan’s defection has put paid to Congress candidate Chandi Charan Tripura's hopes of an upset in the constituency in the electoral battle against the Left Front's powerful minister, Jiten. “Why do you say my chances have improved with Chandan joining our party? I was sure to win, I am sure to win and I will win,” says a confident Jiten.
But voters as well as party activists in Sabroom subdivision knew that after four successive wins in Assembly election from 1993, Jiten was in for a tough fight this time.
The context in which the electoral duel promised to be bitter was former CPM leader and Jiten's one-time confidant Chandi's defection to the Congress after indictment in a massive scam involving purchase of ginger in Satchand block in 2011.
When all his efforts at a patch-up had sunk, Chandi took the plunge and joined the Congress after being promised nomination by the then PCC president Surajit Dutta. He also led a series of agitations against the CPM and the administration in Sabroom subdivision and was rewarded with nomination by present PCC president Sudip Roy Barman.
But trouble brewed almost immediately as Chandan, candidate for the INPT in 2003 and for the Congress in 2008, started sulking. But Chandi remains confident of his chances: “Chandan may have his own reasons to leave the party but this will alter nothing. I am going to defeat the minister this time in Manu constituency.”
Chandi’s hopes rest on his own experience of the CPM's strong and weak points, anti-incumbency feeling among voters and a series of unsavoury incidents, including the gang rape of three indigenous women.
Till 2006, Manu had been a quiet bastion of the CPM and Jiten, but the alleged gang rape of an indigenous woman and the alleged killing of her father by CPM workers in the wake of village committee election in 2006 created a turmoil that persists even today.
But Jiten attributes all the turmoil to “Congress conspiracy”. “In all past elections we have inflicted heavy reverses on the Congress. Had the people been really annoyed, this would have been reflected in poll outcomes. So nothing to worry about,” he says.
But the lone point of worry for the minister is that in neighbouring Sabroom constituency the Congress secured a majority in the nagar panchayat election though anti-incumbency had set in in Sabroom also. While Chandi fondly hopes for replication of the Sabroom result, Jiten dismisses it as “illusory”.
Richest CPM candidate
Jiten Chowdhury, as evident from his affidavit to the election department, is the richest of the CPM’s 55 candidates (front constituents RSP, CPI and Forward Bloc have been being allotted two seats and a lone seat respectively).
He has immovable property (mainly land) worth Rs 88.46 lakh while his wife Manisha Debbarma has immovable property worth Rs 55 lakh. Jiten has only Rs 35,657 worth of movable property while his wife’s movable properties are worth Rs 11.19 lakh. The husband and wife have bank loans of Rs 10.84 lakh and Rs 17.40 lakh respectively. While most CPM candidates do not have PAN cards and do not submit tax returns, Jiten and Manisha have PAN cards.
A former clerk of Tripura Gramin Bank, Jiten is the son of a big indigenous landlord Matahari Chowdhury who was a CPM legislator from 1978 to 1983.