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Stand together in fight against BJP, but not allies in Tripura: Ex-CM Sarkar on Left-Congress ties

Tripura assembly polls in February. CPI(M) leader Manik Sarkar, who has chosen to sit out polls, said while that he may not be a candidate, he is very much in fight for his party.

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New Delhi: The Left Front and the Congress have a seat sharing “understanding” in Tripura, but not an alliance, former state Chief Minister and CPI(M) leader, Manik Sarkar, has said. Tripura is scheduled to hold assembly elections next month, and Sarkar, who has chosen to sit out these elections, also said that while he may not himself be a candidate he is very much in the fight that his party and the Congress are fighting against the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state.

Last month, the Left and the Congress issued a joint statement to the people of Tripura to unite against BJP “misrule”.

The two parties, Sarkar said, are going to the people with an appeal for all secular and democratic forces to come together and counter the BJP in the state, under which, he alleged, democracy, human rights, and the economy are under threat. However, the electoral understanding which has left 13 seats for the Congress in the 60-member Assembly — the party has announced candidates in 17 seats — does not meet the criteria of a real political alliance.

“An alliance is a programmatic understanding with a common committee to execute it. None of that is happening with the Congress. The BJP needs to be defeated, not just for the state, but for the good of the nation,” Sarkar told ThePrint Monday.

He added: “Tripura may be a small state but we feel that a defeat for the BJP in our state will help immensely in the national fight against the BJP and the RSS. So it is better to say that we have come to an understanding with the Congress in some seats.”

Sarkar was the Tripura CM between 1998 and 2018, and served as the Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing assembly. Tripura goes to polls on 16 February, with the BJP-led state government being challenged by the Congress-Left and the Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA Motha). The Congress-Left combine had tried for long to stitch together an alliance with TIPRA Motha, but failed in the end because of Motha chief Pradyot Debbarma’s insistence on a written commitment on Greater Tipraland — a separate state for the indigenous people of Tripura.

Sarkar, however, is cautious about commenting on what effect the Motha will have on the electoral outcome in its maiden assembly election outing. “It is too early to talk about that. Today is the last date for filing of nominations and 2 February is the last date for withdrawal. The picture will be truly clear only after that and then we can see how to go about it,” Sarkar said.

TIPRA Motha was born after Debbarma quit the Congress in a huff in 2019, reportedly over differences with the party’s then-general secretary and northeast in-charge Luizinho Faleiro, among other reasons. The party went on to win the 2021 Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) polls.

Also read: Ex-royal, ‘impulsive, passionate’ — all about Pradyot Debbarma, who wants to be Tripura’s kingmaker

‘Need to make room for young people’

Sarkar dispelled the idea that his not contesting in the 2023 elections signals any differences with his party.

“My party fighting is the same as me fighting. I have been a member of the Tripura assembly since 1979, and have been a chief whip of the ruling party. The people of Tripura gave me the chance to serve them as their CM for 20 years and I have been the Leader of the Opposition over the last five years. I felt that there is a need to make room for young people coming up through mass movements, a generational change,” he said.

Sarkar added: “So it was a conscious decision not to contest. My party politburo agreed with me. I am very much in the fight, touring the state. There is no reason to belittle that responsibility,” he said.

The former Tripura CM also dismissed the impression that given the rise of the Motha, with its agenda of tribal rights, the over 28 lakh voters of Tripura may vote along community lines. The state has a little over 10 lakh tribal voters, with the bulk of the rest comprising Bengali Hindus.

“Our effort has always been to move forward for the good of the state, taking both tribals and non-tribals along. Our message is that democratic political forces, irrespective of religion or ethnic grouping, should come together and vote with the best interests of Tripura in mind,” Sarkar said.

He added: “Democracy is under assault in the state, Opposition parties are not being allowed to carry out their programmes, there is jungle raj in the name of law and order. Individual rights are under threat, mothers and sisters are being attacked and there is no redress. The Constitution is being subverted and psychological pressure exerted on minority groups. Our message is that restoration of the rule of law and of Constitutional order is necessary for the economic betterment of the state too. There is job loss, hunger, even instances of babies being sold.”

A veteran CPI(M) leader, Sarkar said that even though the Left has been reduced to only one state government(Kerala), the impression that it has not moved on from its erstwhile ideological intransigence is misplaced.

“We have let circumstances decide our ideology. How can you think we are stuck where we were 25 years ago? We asked for MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and now we are asking for an urban version of it. Politics is the facade but economy is the bulwark and we understand that,” he said.

(Edited by Smriti Sinha)

Also read: Old Pension Scheme now a poll plank in Tripura. ‘Part of our manifesto’, says CPI(M)

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