Left banks on peace, pensions; BJP promises roads to growth – Press24 News


AGARTALA: Tripura’s map resembles a thumbs-down sign, tucked mostly inside Bangladesh. But whether it’ll be thumbs-up for the Left this election is the question, as the communists face a fierce contest for the first time in their unbroken 25-year stint in power.

The Left has governed Tripura in two phases — first from 1978-88 and second from 1993 till now. In its first innings, the Left corrected the ‘flaws’ in the previous Congress government’s decision to settle Bengali refugees on tribal land. For context, in Census 1951-52, tribals formed the bulk of the population, but over the decades were outnumbered by Bengali refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan. In its first stint, the Left not only restored tribal land, but also offered them self-rule, setting up the Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council. These decisions helped the Left consolidate its hold in the tribal belt. In 2013, it won all 20 ST seats.

During Congress’s reign (1988-1993), the state was caught in the vortex of ethnic conflict between majority Bengalis and minority tribals, who had by then intensified their movement for a separate state. In its second phase, the Left made peace between the two ethnic groups its mission, managing to keep the majority of tribals away from prostatehood militant groups. Almost all tribal underground outfits are non-existent today.

Manik Sarkar has been at the helm for 20 years now and is leading the Left in its quest for power for a sixth consecutive term, focusing on what it calls its ‘three jewels’ — peace, unity and development. The Left hopes its government’s track record will help overcome the BJP challenge.

It says it successfully handled insurgencies in the state. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the main underground outfit was National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT). Sarkar took on NLFT by strengthening Tripura Police and Tripura State Rifles, chasing militants right inside Bangladesh. Union home ministry records show civilian fatalities in rebel attacks fell from 237 in 2001 to 14 in 2008. ‘Reformed’ militants were engaged in rubber cultivation – Tripura being one of India’s highest rubberproducing states – though the sector is underdeveloped and vulnerable to fluctuations in rubber-sheet prices in China.

“Sarkar single-handedly wiped out insurgency that held the state in its grip for years,” says Subir Bhaumik, northeast-watcher, adding that while the Left government brought stability, it failed to create jobs. Educated youth have migrated and the number of government job-seekers is growing — 6,93,516 or 18% of the population had signed up for state jobs till March 2016.

But it’s the 30-odd pension schemes and health and education facilities in the state’s remote corners that speak of the government’s achievements, says Bijan Dhar, state CPM secretary, adding that roads, farm subsidy and no cases of farmer suicides are the Manik Sarkar government’s high points. Tripura also fared well in MGNREGA rollout in 2015-16, giving 95 man days to rural households out of the stipulated 100 a year. But creation of rural assets remains a problem.

There’s also the teachers’ case. Supreme Court last year struck down recruitment of 10,323 government teachers on grounds of improper appointments. In 2013, these teachers were allegedly recruited on ‘merit’ and not as per Right to Education rules. BJP’s used this as a campaign weapon, accusing the Left of making false claims.

“The Left has destroyed Tripura, keeping its people in a state of permanent backwardness,” says state BJP president Biplab Deb, adding that there is “massive antiincumbency”. “I won’t say people in Tripura have understood BJP’s ideology but they’re eager to bring about change.” The party has promised SEZs, for bamboo and food processing, and smartphones among other things.

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