Agartala, April 6: Tripura, the country’s last red stronghold, goes to the polls Monday and a lot is riding on Chief Minister Manik Sarkar who leads the Left Front government.
“I have not seen such a politician and chief minister in my life. His honesty, sincerity, and competence are unrivalled with the present-day politicians in India,” said 101-year-old freedom fighter Jitendra Paul.
“I have closely witnessed many politicians and chief ministers in Tripura and elsewhere. Manik is truly a different politician,” Paul, who founded northeast India’s first Bengali daily newspaper 60 years ago, told IANS.
Manik Sarkar’s popularity, coupled with the split of the main opposition Congress party, very negligible anti-incumbency factor and division of non-Left vote share are expected to benefit the Left Front supported CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist) candidates to get more votes.
Paul’s views are also echoed by writer and election expert Hiranmoy Chakraborty.
“I knew him (Manik Sarkar) when he was a school student in southern Tripura,” Chakraborty told IANS, adding that he is a good administrator, honest politician and broadminded man hardly seen in Indian politics.
“Manik is a real jewel,” said Chakraborty, who was the joint chief electoral officer of Tripura and worked closely with the many chief election commissioners including T.N.Seshan.
After the assembly polls in February last year, senior Congress leader and former party legislator Subal Bhowmik along with many party leaders have deserted the Congress and formed Tripura Pragatisheel Gramin Congress (TPGC), a local party.
In September-October last year, many Congress leaders, including Surajit Datta (former state Congress president), Ratan Chakraborty and Jawar Saha (former opposition leader), all former Congress ministers, broke away from the Congress and set up the Tripura unit of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) headed by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Tripura, which shares its border with Bangladesh (856 km), Assam (53 km) and Mizoram (109 km), will see voting in two phases – on April 7 and 12.
Since 1952 the Left parties have won the two Lok Sabha seats 11 times each, while the main opposition Congress secured both the seats four times each.
In 1977, the breakaway faction of the Congress led by former Tripura Chief Minister Sachindra Lal Singh won the West Tripura Lok Sabha seat.
Former Tripura chief minister Dasaratha Deb (1993-98), also a father figure of the Communist movement in Tripura, won the East Tripura lok Sabha seat four times while CPI-M central committee member and veteran tribal leader Bajuban Reang was elected to the lower house of parliament from this tribal reserved area a record seven times.
Assam Congress leader and former union minister Santosh Mohan Deb was also elected from the West Tripura parliamentary constituency twice (1989 and 1991). However, the Left parties accused Deb of winning the seat through “mass rigging”, a charge denied by the Congress leaders.
The CPI-M candidates got 62 percent votes in the 2009 polls and 69 percent in the 2004 elections while the combined share of votes of all opposition parties including independents was 38.31 percent and 31.20 percent votes respectively.
“The non-Left opposition parties in Tripura are only fighting this 16th Lok Sabha polls for second, third or fourth position. The combined opposition parties’ vote share would not cross even 40 percent this time,” political analyst Tapan Datta told IANS.
He said: “During the past 62 years, Left parties vote share gradually increased in Tripura … During the last year’s assembly polls the Left parties vote share was around 53 percent. This triumph is mostly due to Manik Sarkar.”
Sarkar, 65, chief minister of Tripura since 1998, after addressing 35 election rallies in 19 days (March 22 to April 9), would lead the Left parties’ campaign in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and other places where Left parties have put up candidates.
“Among the Left leaders in India, Sarkar is the main face,” said Datta.
Of the 25 candidates, including three women, contesting this time for the two Lok Sabha seats, the aspirants include academicians, legal experts, physicians and technocrats besides full time politicians.
Former vice-chancellor of Tripura (Central) University Arunoday Saha of the Congress was pitted against Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) leader and CPI-M nominee Shankar Prasad Datta in West Tripura, where in all 13 candidates including Trinamool Congress and Aam Admi Party have been contesting.
Sachitra Debbarma (Congress) is trying his electoral fortune in the East Tripura, where Industries and Commerce minister Jitendra Chowdhury (CPI-M) is the front runner. There are 12 candidates contesting for the tribal reserved seat.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, TMC and TPGC have also fielded candidates for both the Lok Sabha seats in the state, ruled by the Left parties since 1978 except five years (1988-1993), when a Congress-led coalition government ruled the state.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)