A hoarding announces the candidature of chief minister Manik Sarkar in Dhanpur market. Telegraph picture
Dhanpur, Feb. 10: It is a dream of a ride from Tripura’s capital Agartala to chief minister Manik Sarkar’s constituency, Dhanpur, in Sonamura subdivision, 85km away.
The Border Roads Organisation has kept the arterial routes, along National Highway 44 and its adjoining roads, satin-smooth, except for a couple of patches where bridges are being built.
Past the forests of Sipahijala, acres of farmland and the vast expanse of Rudrasagar, the Ramsar site lake on which Neermahal (an erstwhile palace of the Tripura kings, now a heritage museum) sits at Melaghar, we veer left in search of the electorate Sarkar has nurtured since 1998.
Dhanpur lies almost on the zero line, beside the semi-fenced (large swathes are yet to be fenced) Indo-Bangladesh border, about 10km from Comilla in the neighbouring country.
The entrance to the village has a market by the same name, where a prominent hoarding announces the candidature of the chief minister.
One of the shopkeepers, Dijendra Debnath, has voted “seven or eight times” and wants the Left Front to retain power. “Look at what Manik Sarkar has given us: a hospital, good roads, a high school, 100 days’ work under NREGA, rice for below poverty line families at Rs 2 a kg,” he says.
The chief minister had told The Telegraph the same day that one of the pointers to development was to look at the roadside shops. “Nowadays you will find well-stocked shops, which means sales are picking up,” Sarkar had claimed.
We venture into Dhanpur village, past the BSF’s border outpost for the 29 battalion, to meet other voters, especially first-time ones.
Outside some huts there is a cluster of four men — Badal Debnath, Bipad (so named because his mother almost died at his birth) Debnath, Suman Debnath and 18-year-old Litan Debnath, who will be voting for the first time. While all of them are full of praise for the chief minister, it is the first-year college student Litan who puts it succinctly: “We want peace so that there is more development and education opportunities. I attended the rally addressed by Left leader Md Selim from Bengal and am looking forward to Manik Sarkar’s visit on Monday.”
Sarkar’s opponent at Dhanpur is social activist Md Shah Alam of the Congress, who was defeated in 2008 by only 2,918 votes. That is a worrying factor, because being on the border, the number of minority voters have risen. In 1998, Sarkar had defeated his Congress rival Mujibur Islam Majumder by 3,103 votes, while in 2003, the victory margin rose to 4,502 against Dipak Chakraborty of the Congress.
This year, Alam is actively campaigning in the area and hopes to bring an end to Sarkar's uninterrupted run. His supporters say that Alam has been around lending a helping hand to the villagers while Sarkar has neglected his constituency, given his preoccupation with chief ministership. Change is in the air, Alam claims at a rally in nearby Kathalguri.
As of now, there appears to be a tough contest on the cards, at least the toughest Manik Sarkar has faced here since 1998.