AS Tripura goes into a crucial assembly election, there is a red alert for the people of the state as well as around the country. An unscrupulous party ruling at the centre hell-bent on grabbing power in Tripura by hook or by crook, an alliance between this party and a tribal separatist outfit known for its violent deeds, a stream of central ministers and other bigwigs visiting the state and denouncing the Left Front, enormous inflow of money to run the election campaign, use of central powers to tilt the local bureaucracy and security forces – and a steady increase in killings and violence in the state.
All this has happened before in Tripura. In the mid 1980s, it was the Congress which, in a desperate bid to dislodge the Left Front in 1988 assembly elections, allied with the tribal group, TUJS, a front for the violent and separatist TN. This time round, the same dangerous path has been chosen by the BJP.
Bizarrely, many of the characters in this dance of death are the same. As young men they were part of Congress or TNV/TUJS and served as their storm troopers to spread terror in the 1980s; now, they have joined the BJP or the IPFT and are planning to repeat those nightmarish days.
The six MLAs of the BJP were formerly Congress MLAs. They switched to Trinamool in 2016 and then to BJP in 2017. Have a look at their history, especially in the 1980s and early 1990s, the period of terror:
• Ashish Kumar Saha was Agartala Youth Congress chief in 1984 and leader of Tripura Pradesh Youth Congress in 1985-89, and then member of Tripura Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) in 1990-99.
• Bishwa Bandhu Sen was president, Dharmanagar Block Youth Congress in 1982, Dharmanagar Subdivision Congress general secretary in 1984, vice president Tripura Pradesh Youth Congress in 1988, etc.
• Dilip Sarkar was Youth Congress leader in 1980 and then was inducted into the TPCC, becoming MLA in 1988.
• Sudip Roy Burman was general secretary of NSUI (Congress student wing) in 1986, general secretary of Pradesh Youth Congress in 1993 when he contested against former Left Front chief minister Nripen Chakraborty and lost.
• Diba Chandra Hrangkhawl was a TUJS MLA in 1983 and 1988, then he joined Congress and was again elected MLA in 2013.
Hundreds of such Congress workers have joined the BJP in the past two years, providing experienced muscle power for hooliganism and for terrorising the common people. The BJP has also embraced several leaders and activists from different extremist tribal outfits that keep appearing, merging, splitting and disappearing in Tripura. In 2016, prominent IPFT youth leaders David Murasing and Pabitra Jamatia, joined the BJP, although David Murasing left it in 2017 to form Twipra Dophani Sikla Srwngnai Motha (TDSSM). Currently, BJP has sealed a deal with the IPFT – known for its violent past – for contesting the elections together.
The desire is to repeat what happened in the 1988 elections – people were terrorised, booths captured, counting rigged and the Left Front, despite have a larger proportion of votes, was ousted and a Congress-TUJS alliance seized power in the state. Their five years of rule saw complete chaos engulfing the hapless state: disruption of developmental work, sabotage and starving of the TTAADC of funds, and a wave of murders, rape and lootings. People became so angry with this semi-fascist rule that, in the next election in 1993, they whole-heartedly threw out the Congress-TUJS rulers and brought back the Left Front.
Between 1985 and 1988, over 300 people were killed in Tripura by TNV extremists. Most of those killed were tribals. This wave of killings intensified as the assembly elections approached, with 162 persons killed between January 1987 and January 1988. Meanwhile, two central ministers – Santosh Mohan Deb and P Chidambram – visited Tripura repeatedly, interfered with the functioning of police, district magistrates and other officials, threatened IAS and IPS officers, prevented Tripura State Rifles from being deployed and held meetings with central para-military forces. The Tripura-Chittagong border was kept open over a 100 kilometre stretch despite the state Left Front government’s requests to close it. This was done to allow TNV extremists based in Bangladesh to move in freely. Just three days before the elections, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Tripura ostensibly to campaign but actually to set the stage for declaring the whole state a ‘disturbed area’ under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and 70 Army companies and 60 para-military companies were inducted without informing the state government. While this was going on, between January 23 and February 1, 91 persons were killed in extremist violence. The Congress government at the centre falsely blamed the Left Front of causing the violence and arrested 2500 Left Front workers in the run-up to polling on February 2, 1988.
This is eerily similar to what is going on today. The IPFT, which was supported by NLFT in the 2000 ADC elections, has been indulging in wanton violence, kidnappings and clashes with Left supporters. They organised a violent blockade of the National Highway in July 2017 which was reportedly lifted only after reported assurances given to them by the PMO in Delhi. They are the main accused in the brutal killing of journalist Santanu Bhowmick in September. However, two of these, charge-sheeted by the police and who were absconding, were facilitated by the top BJP leaders and they joined the BJP in their state office. Simultaneously, BJP leaders like Himanta Biswa Sarma from Assam (an ex-Congress man) threatened to throw Tripura CM Manik Sarkar into the Bay of Bengal, Amit Shah launched a vitriolic attack on Manik Sarkar and the Left Front government and, in January this year, another union minister Vijay Sampla declared that law and order has collapsed in Tripura. Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to visit Tripura twice in the coming days before the February 18 elections.
Prior to the 1988 elections, Congress had entered into a nefarious deal with the extremist TNV which was revealed when a letter written by Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl, president of TNV on October 27, 1987 to Rajiv Gandhi, was leaked to the media. It said that TNV would “acknowledge that Tripura is integral part of India” provided that, before resuming any negotiations, Rajiv Gandhi would “1. Immediately dissolve CPI(M) led ministry of Tripura; 2. Declaration of ceasefire on both sides”. Clearly, there was a deal between the Congress and the tribal extremists to oust the Left Front government.
This again is parallel to the current dealings of BJP with a bunch of extremist and separatist tribal outfits like the INPT and IPFT, before finally settling down with the IPFT’s NC Debbarma faction.
After the blood-drenched elections of 1988 were over, an all-round attack on the Left Front was launched through a series of cold blooded attacks, including the one at Birchandra Manu on October 12, 1988 where 11 comrades were killed as they were hoisting the red flag at the Party office. In the first year of the Congress-TUJS government as many as 52 CPI(M) workers were killed, 1500 leaders implicated in false cases, 300 forced to flee their homes and 1000 families terrorised.
Besides this attack by the Congress and TUJS, the Assam Rifles (a central para-military force) indulged in some of the most chilling atrocities. In Ujan Maidan, a remote village, AR men raped 25 women for three nights after driving away the men. Rapes were also reported from Anath Chowdhury Para, Jagabandhu Para and Siddapara.
The Congress-TUJS government subverted the functioning of municipalities, panchayats, block offices and even the ADC. Funds for ADC dropped to Rs 21 crore in 1989-90 from Rs 36 crore in 1988-89. The CEO of the ADC was changed twice in four months. Staff was withdrawn. All this under the watch of a TUJS ministry that claimed to work for the benefit of tribals!
The Tripura home minister of the time, Samir Ranjan Burman, openly declared “I shall not leave one CPI(M) worker alive during the next five years.” He said, in a speech at Manubazar, Subroom, on May 11, 1988 that only active Congress and TUJS workers would get government funds in loan melas, IRDP, or government jobs.
It will not be surprising if the BJP has a similar plan in its mind although its chances of winning the upcoming elections in Tripura are nil.
This short history of a turbulent period in Tripura was meant to illustrate what kind of incendiary ammunition the BJP is playing around with just to dislodge the popular Left Front government. It is willing to accept in its fold Congress men who were part of the terror in the 1980s, it is willing to tie up with avowedly separatist and violent outfits like IPFT, it is sending union ministers to threaten Tripura’s government and people, and surely we will see the prime minister himself descend to Tripura promising all kinds of things.
But the people of Tripura will defeat this nefarious plan and ensure the victory of the Left Front which will install the eighth Left Front government with an even bigger majority.