Agartala, Feb. 11: Memories of the June 8, 1980, Mandai massacre are indelibly imprinted on the minds of veteran Tripura residents. On that day, insurgents killed nearly 400 (the official figure is 255) villagers in a gruesome ritual, severing limbs and crushing heads of victims.
Those who survived the incident, like sitting legislator and fourth-term contestant Manoranjan Deb Barma, recount how children were spiked to death and wombs of pregnant women ripped open. “We have lived through a horrific, difficult time,” he said.
The rebels missed him narrowly in April 2004, when they ambushed his convoy. “We had to flee our homes. Over 140 people were killed. We are refugees in our own land,” he rued.
At a huge rally organised by the CPM at Mandai, 30km from this state capital in West district, he says the Mandaibazar constituency has been with the Left ever since Tripura became a state in 1972. “My father, Rashiram Deb Barma, won this seat four times. Now that he is old, I have contested and retained it.”
The contest should be a cakewalk, because Manoranjan is pitted against Jagadish Deb Barma of the Congress, who had been his opponent the last three times as well. Since this is a CPM bastion, Manoranjan echoes chief minister Manik Sarkar’s priorities: “Peace and development. With peace, our villages are developing. The disparity between town and village must end. This kind of progress in the hilly region is unseen in West Bengal. Our village has two hospitals. We are gaining eminence in literacy.”
About 500 metres from the site of the rally, a village house has no water. But its residents are quite satisfied with their plight and will continue to vote for the Communists. “We have peace. Aft-er what we have endured, we can bear hardships like lack of water, but we need peace,” they say.
On the sidelines of the rally, waiting for the thousands of villagers to come to the site dancing and singing, raising CPM slogans, Manoranjan said the early days were filled with struggle. “The rebellion of the eighties between the hill tribes and Bengalis, the days of Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS) were followed by insurgency.
“To those who are clamouring for change, I say we have already seen change — between 1988 and 1992, from insurgency to peace, We don’t need “paribartan” like people in West Bengal,” Manoranjan Deb Barma signed off, as the convoy with CPM leader from Bengal, Biman Bose, arrived to address the rally.
On stage, Manoranjan addressed the thousands gathered at the site in Kokborok, while Bose spoke in Bengali, having apologised earlier for being unable to address them in the local language. From the applause and roars from the crowd, it appeared evident that this was a “safe seat” for the ruling CPM on all counts.
There is no room for complacency, though. Militants struck in adjoining Simna constituency yesterday, killing three. To ensure that there is no repetition of the Mandai massacre, vigil needs to be constant.