Tripura elections: Tiny state set to vote on 18 February as violence, blamegames mar campaign
Politics and violence bear an inextricable link in politics, and especially in the Left-ruled states of Kerala, West Bengal, and Tripura.
With the Assembly elections in Tripura just two days away (they’re scheduled for 18 February), incidents of poll-related violence are being reported almost every day from across the Left Front-ruled state. Allegations and counter allegations fly thick and fast, with both national and regional parties laying the blame for their cadres’ deaths on the CPM-led Left Front government, while the latter ducks the charges.
On 11 February, the body of BJP supporter Madhusudhan Deb was found hanging from a tree in Barjala area, 8 km from state capital Agartala. Deb, one of the 47 booth presidents of the BJP in Ramnagar area of the city, had gone missing on 9 February, while Chief Minister Manik Sarkar was addressing an election rally there.
The BJP alleged that he was killed by CPM cadres — in fact, party president Amit Shah himself levelled the allegation. However, Jitendra Choudhary, CPM leader and Lok Sabha MP from Tripura-East, said the BJP was politicising such incidents by implicating his party cadres and was claiming anyone who dies unnaturally was a BJP member. Ruling out any foul play in the case, Tripura West district superintendent of police (SP) Abhijit Saptarshi said that preliminary investigation suggests suicide. The autopsy report also said the death of Deb was 'suicidal in nature'.
Meanwhile, the BJP election in-charge for Tripura and Assam’s finance minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, alleged in a press conference last week while releasing his party’s joint declaration with the tribal party Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) that in the past year, the BJP had “lost 10 party workers”. While hinting that the Left Front had a role to play in their deaths, he said it was impossible to have independent investigations into such deaths under the incumbent government. Many in the BJP claimed that poll-related deaths in the party have increased to 12.
Congress made claims similar to the BJP. Tapas Dey, the Tripura Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson, alleged that more than 30,000 Congress supporters have been killed in the Left Front-ruled state since 1978. The Congress members alleged that the CPM was indirectly involved in the killing of one of its own ministers, Bimal Sinha (he was reportedly killed in 1998 by the National Liberation Front of Tripura), and Congress MLA Parimal Saha’s brutal murder in April 1983.
Left politics: Murder they wrote
Drawing parallels with political killings in other Left-ruled states, Sarma accused the CPM of using murder and rape as "the biggest political weapons to neutralise its opponents". "Wherever any Left-front government is in power, whether it’s West Bengal, Tripura, or Kerala, you will find that murder, rape, and molestation of family members of political opponents is very high. This is a documented fact," he said.
Politics and violence bear an inextricable link in politics, and especially in the Left-ruled states of Kerala, West Bengal, and Tripura. While Kerala has been a Communist bastion since 1957, the CPM ruled West Bengal between 1977 and 2000. Political killings in West Bengal during the Left rule were much higher than the other two states if we go by the available statistics. According to a report in Mainstream Weekly, in 1997, former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (CPM), in a reply to an assembly question, had said that between 1977-96, 28,000 political murders were committed in the state, which averages to 1,473 murders a year. In Kerala, according to police records cited in an NDTV report, 172 political murders were committed between 2000 and 2017, averaging to 11 deaths per year. Of these, the RSS and the BJP together lost 65 party workers, the CPM lost 85, while the Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) lost 11 members each.
Political killings in these Left-ruled states have been mostly grisly. Victims are usually hacked to death and their legs or arms are chopped off. In some cases, they are shot to death. Last year in December, BJP worker Sunil Deb was found dead in Kanchanpur area of North Tripura. The veins on both his legs had been slit open so he bled to death. More often than not, the law doesn’t take its course in such cases, which are marked by tardy investigation and long delays in the trial process.
Sarma said political killings are not as rampant in Tripura as they are in Kerala because the people of the state have "woken up" and are supporting the BJP. However, those overseeing the BJP’s poll campaign here said many poll-related crimes go unreported as party workers in the state are not as politically aware as their counterparts in Kerala who speak up whenever there’s an imminent threat to their lives.
NC Debbarma, the leader of the IPFT, which has tied up with the BJP for the polls, said some of those killed were associated with the saffron party but were not full-fledged workers. He said the BJP was politicising these killings and even if political murders do occur, they are not as rampant as in other Left-ruled states like Kerala.
Responding to a poser on alleged political killings in Tripura, BK Hrangkhawl, veteran tribal leader and president of the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra, quipped, “Have you come across any Communist-ruled state without any political killings?”
CPM denies murder allegations
The CPM, however, denied all such allegations. Party state secretary Bijan Dhar claimed that the opposition parties are carrying out a "malicious campaign" against the CPM because they don’t have proper political agendas to match the "pro-poor policies" of the Left Front government. "The BJP is alleging that eight of its supporters were killed in the last one year or so. Only two people died in a political clash last year between the BJP and CPM. One of them was our supporter, a schoolteacher from Longtarai in Dhalai district, and the other was one of their workers, who succumbed to injuries at the hospital," he said. Dhar added that all other alleged BJP workers’ deaths were a result of personal clashes, family feuds, and land disputes, but the BJP was attempting to paint them in a political colour.
Commenting on Congress’ claims, Dhar said that Arun Deb, a student leader of the CPM, was killed in 1988 by followers of Ratan Lal Nath, the five-time Congress MLA from Mohanpur Assembly constituency who is contesting the upcoming polls on a BJP ticket. However, Nath, a lawyer-turned-politician, was only elected in 1993. Last month, Nath accused a CPM cadre of killing a Yuva Morcha worker of the saffron party in Shimna Assembly constituency. Dhar added that the Left Front has lost more than 1,900 comrades to the hands of the Congress.
Lamenting that the political atmosphere in Tripura has been vitiated by the recent spate of violent incidents, human rights activist Anthony Dev Verman said: "CPM cadres are conducting their poll campaigns in an aggressive manner. People are intimidated by them. The electioneering process shouldn’t be violent. It should be conducted in a peaceful manner."
The author is an Imphal-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
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