Manik versus BJP's mighty
Agartala: Narendra Modi. Amit Shah. Rajnath Singh. Arun Jaitley. Yogi Adityanath. Nitin Gadkari. Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Like the legendary saptarathi of the Mahabharat that created a chakravyuh to kill Arjun's son Abhimanyu, these seven BJP stalwarts have launched a no-holds-barred onslaught on the tiny northeastern state of Tripura, with its chief minister, Manik Sarkar, stoutly defending the Left citadel he has nurtured for the past two decades.
In between back-to-back rallies in the seven districts and the state capital, Sarkar spoke to The Telegraph at the CPM party headquarters here while the BJP unleashed its campaign might outside with road shows, rallies and a vision document with much fanfare.
"Tripura is a beacon of light in the country that is resisting a BJP onslaught," the chief minister said. "We have peace, harmony, prosperity after years of turmoil in the state. Our ideology and pro-people agenda will bring us the votes."
Elections to the state are slated for Sunday and the results will be declared on March 3.
On allegations that tribal people in Tripura were victims of his government's apathy, Sarkar countered: "The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and the Land Revenue Act gave the tribals land. We ensured they got jobs and expedited development. The Forest Rights Act was another tool.
"We have placed a Rs 444-crore scheme before the Centre for developing tribal areas, though the NDA government has reduced our allocation under the rural job scheme (MGNREGA)."
Reiterating what he tells his followers at the poll rallies, Sarkar said: "The people of Tripura, unlike in other states, do not need to leave their rural hearths and flock to the towns. You will not hear of babies being sold here."
Among the electorate, Sarkar, who catapulted into the limelight after Nripen Chakraborty passed on the mantle, is not known to be a good administrator. But his followers swear allegiance to the man who has a meagre Rs 1,520 in hand and Rs 2,410 in his bank account, according to the affidavit submitted to the Election Commission.
Sarkar's spartan lifestyle (he is happy to walk or take the rickshaw) makes him stand out as the poorest and least corrupt of India's political leaders, an aspect even the BJP is finding hard to critique.
"The BJP kept a hawk eye on Tripura ever since they came to power at the Centre. Tripura has attracted attention with our model of democracy and development, a humane model of governance. The alternative to the BJP is not the Congress or vice-versa. Secular, democratic principles have always been upheld by the Left, hence it is the target of the BJP. They want to shatter this in Tripura and Kerala, where Left ideology has reaped rewards," the four-term chief minister said.
"RSS, VHP and BJP leaders have been coming here for months, testing the waters. They want Tripura, come what may. When they realised the mission was tough, they looked for allies," Sarkar said.
"The BJP and the IPFT are made for each other: one will create discord and the other will provide logistical support. They will destroy our hard-earned peace. But our electorate is not stupid; the people can recognise the old wine of disruption in its new bottle. We will return," Sarkar asserted, though a tad less confident than what he was in 2013.