Agartala: The political violence rocking Tripura is nothing new, and is just a continuation of the intimidation that the CPI(M) practiced during its time in power, according to Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma, chairman of the Tipraha Indigenous People’s Regional Alliance (TIPRA).
“What you’re seeing here is a continuation of the same acts of violence only under different flags and banners,” Debbarma told ThePrint in an interview Thursday.
“It’s been there for the last 50-60 years. You’ve seen MLAs being hacked to death; party workers being murdered. At one time, it was under the garb of the Communists. Now it’s under anyone who is in power…I think this is a very sad state of affairs.”
Last week, the state was rocked by several incidents of political violence. On 6 September, cadres of the CPI(M) and the BJP clashed in Dhanpur, where the former chief minister and communist leader Manik Sarkar had gone to address an event.
Two days later, CPI(M) offices and those of several media organisations were vandalised, allegedly by supporters of the ruling BJP.
This week, Sarkar reached Delhi where he along with other members of the CPI(M)’s politburo held press conferences to up the ante against the BJP. The four-time chief minister said that the BJP had turned the state into a “laboratory” and established a “one-party, dictatorial, fascistic regime”.
In an interview to The Wire, Sarkar also said the CPI(M) had particularly been targets of such violence in the state.
But Debbarma said the Communists are now at the receiving end of what they had started. He added the CPI(M) had adopted the “culture of political intimidation” during its rule in West Bengal and even to a “certain degree” in Kerala.
“Today, they are paying the price at the hands of the BJP, who at one point were Communists themselves or Congress,” he said. “The BJP has learned this act of intimidation by imitating the Communists who had done the same thing not very long ago.”
His own party, however, hasn’t been faultless in this cycle of violence.
Back in April, following the declaration of results of the Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous District Council (TTADC) elections, there were 25 cases of post-poll violence. Cadres and members of Debbarma’s TIPRA motha, which had won in 18 of 28 seats in the TTADC, were implicated in at least 23 such incidents.
Debbarma admitted that his cadres were involved but added that he has taken action against them.
“I probably will be the only one to say that my members have indulged in violence, and I’ve taken action against them. I’ve suspended them,” he said. “I would like to do more. But the other side also has to take some reciprocal action and nobody is doing it.”
TIPRA motha in 2023 polls
The TIPRA motha’s win in the TTADC elections had come as a major blow to the BJP-IPFT (Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura) alliance, which is also in power in the state. The Left Front and Congress had fared even worse, failing to win a single seat.
Responding to a question about the implications of this win on the upcoming 2023 assembly polls, which his party is set to contest, Debbarma said, “It’s just not the tribal vote. There are the Muslim votes; the Hindustani voters. Bengali votes. So I would say that we are the only political party right now in Tripura with an established vote-bank.”
The party, he said, will continue to press for a Greater Tipraland — a separate state for the tribals of Tripura. He added that he would consider allying with any party, be it the Trinamool Congress or the BJP, as long as they accept the demand of Greater Tipraland “in writing”.
In another significant move, the Assam Jatiya Parishan and TIPRA had also joined hands in political cooperation last week and announced the creation of a platform for regional parties in the Northeast.
Debbarma said that the idea was to ensure that the issues specific to the region get proper representation in Delhi. “Right now what is happening is that Delhi leadership decides that this has to be done in the Northeast like let’s say the Citizenship Amendment Act. They then summon one leader, who comes here to manage the situation,” he said.
He cited the Citizenship Amendment Act, for which, according to Debbarma, the Centre had individually “placated” states like Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh by granting them the Inner Line Permit.
“What these states and its political leaders need to realise is that today it’s us. But if we are not safe, then tomorrow, they will be the next frontier,” he said.
‘Congress needs to introspect’
Son of Maharaja Kirit Bikram Kishore, a three-time Congress MP, and Maharani Bhibu Kumari Devi, once an MP and minister, Debbarma in 2019 quit the Congress after falling out with the high command over the CAA issue.
According to him, the party had asked him not to protest the issue.
“I had a view and the party leadership did not support my view. They wanted to balance things out, which they’ve done everywhere like with Captain Sahab (Amarinder Singh), Sidhu (Navjot Singh), Rosaiah (Konijeti), Jagan (Mohan Reddy) and Chiranjeevi. So they probably backed the wrong horse and didn’t expect me to walk out,” he said.
The Congress, he said, needs to make up its mind about who is going to be the head and introspect why leaders on the ground are leaving.
According to Debbarma, the party has meted out a “step-motherly” treatment towards the Northeast. “In this fight between two national parties (BJP and Congress), there is a third space. And the third space is right here in the Northeast,” he said. “And we will make up our mind on whoever comes and speaks on the strategic economic and security, security aspects of our region.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)