Interview: Tripura CM Manik Sarkar on How The Left Plans to Fight BJP

Speaking to The Wire, the four-time Tripura chief minister discusses the Left Front's strategy to fight the BJP, the possible impact of anti-incumbency in the assembly elections, unemployment in the state and more. 

Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty: The BJP has mounted a huge campaign against the ruling Left government and you are facing this challenge after a long time. How prepared is your party to lead this challenge?

Manik Sarkar: Our party is well prepared and people themselves have started voicing this slogan – they will constitute Left Front government for the eighth term with more votes, more seats. We have actually taken this slogan from their mouth and inserted in our Left Front manifesto. This is the mindset of the common people of our state. So organisationally we are trying our level best.

SBP: In 2008, Congress had also put up a big fight against the Left but they failed to topple your government. How are you seeing this challenge vis-à-vis 2008?

MS: Election is always a challenging political struggle. Election is a high form of political struggle. It is a trust battle according to our understanding. Thereby, those who are in the opposite camp, they will try their level best to use all their arms in all fronts. From our side, we shall also not leave any stone unturned. That is what is going on.

SBP: I want to ask you about the PM twisting your name and talking about ‘Manik’ and ‘HIRA’. It’s as much an attack on the party or your government as on you. How would you like to comment on that?

MS: No, I don’t like to comment. Election is not a battle between two persons or two personalities. It is a battle of ideologies, politics, programme and its implementation. So he [Modi] is representing his class outlook, his political outlook and understanding and he is talking in favour of his own party, in favour of his own ideologies which he believes.

I am actually standing by the side of my ideological position or political understanding or class outlook and we have our own programme, a pro-people programme that we are taking to the people, who have their own experience. Experience is the best judge and teacher for any human being. We are leaving everything to the common people and they are reacting, their body language is very clear.

SBP: So you are confident?

MS: This confidence I am gathering is from the confidence in the masses, [from] what I have been observing.

SBP: The Left has been saying that the BJP is trying to break the communal harmony in the state. Why is the Left saying this, on what basis?

MS: We are saying this because the alliance which they have developed is an unholy alliance. The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) has been voicing that Tripura should be carved and new state should be formed and constituted. So the main attempt is to create a division between tribals and non-tribals. The unity between the tribals and non-tribals is the backdrop of the democratic movement in Tripura. On the basis of that unity, the Left and Congress government has developed and flourished and is flourishing, on which the emergence of the Left government has happened.

What does it mean if they are targeting the Left Front government? Until and unless they break this unity, create distance between tribals and non-tribals, how will they be able to do all these things? That’s why the BJP is using the IPFT. They have developed their political alliance. BJP has been claiming that they are the nationalist political party, they are the champion of the unity and integrity of India, [and that they] protect the sovereignty of India.

If it is so, knowing everything full well, they are politically aligning with IPFT, who are voicing the demand that Tripura should be divided into two and a new state shall have to be brought in. [Tripura] is a small state, a tiny state, 10,400 square kilometres [and with] 40 lakh population.

The IPFT has been created by none other than the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), an extremist organisation that is still declared unlawful; it was declared by the government of India. They have their camps in Bangladesh, they had their camps inside Tripura. We have demolished all these things. We have cornered them.

At one point in time in Tripura, there was AFSPA, a disturbed area act. We have done away with all these things. We have brought back peace, unity, tranquillity and amity. Then on the basis of all these things, development work is going on day and night. So in this situation, the BJP is aligning with them, what for?

SBP: Also, as you said—

MS: This is very, very clear. Because the Left Front government here in Tripura is showing an alternative to the nation. And people who are in the field of struggle, class struggle or mass struggle, they have also now started voicing the slogan ‘changing leaders will not take care of the problem being faced by the common people of our country.’

People need alternative policies; pro-people policies; policies for the greater interest of the aam janata. In a small state like Tripura, without the proper help and assistance of the central government, rather who is trying to create a stumbling block against them [the people]. Have they actually implemented pro-people programmes for the greater interest of the aam janata of Tripura? If they can do so, why should this not be done at the Centre, why should this not be done in other states of the country? So that is the beacon of light for an alternative policy.

Also read: BJP’s Campaign in Tripura Is Bringing Back Memories of More Violent Times

That’s why the BJP government in Tripura has created a headache for them [the people], they are passing sleepless nights. Otherwise, you have seen the prime minister, home minister, finance minister… the main hands of his cabinet, all are here. [Tripura] is not UP, it is a small state, 60 assembly seats, two parliamentary seats.

SBP: But the BJP is also looking at it [the elections] as an ideological war against the Left, isn’t it?

MS: Exactly. Programmes can’t be derived at without any ideology or political understanding. Any programme, [such as] an economic programme is derived out of your ideological understanding, political and class understanding. All these are linked up.

SBP: I want to ask you about the unemployment issue that the BJP is raising and also about the 7th Pay Commission that they are going to implement. Your comment on that?

MS: Unemployment is a national burning programme. They are posing all this as if India is free from unemployment, and the only unemployment problem is in Tripura. Is this fair? Can anybody show a single instance that this district is there in India which is free from unemployment? Not a single district. It [unemployment] is mounting like anything. At this moment in our country, the number of unemployed youth has crossed 25 crores, if not more. This is the situation.

The vacant posts, which were lying with the government of India, are more than 45 lakhs. They have vanished these things, disbanded them. They have already declared that they are not going to fill up all these vacant posts. They are not creating any new posts or going for any recruitment.

Instead of that, because of demonetisation, 98 lakh people have lost their jobs. At the same time, in the public sector undertakings, one after the other their disinvestment is going on. The private monopoly capital is gaining ground because of all these things. For profit maximisation, they are reducing the strength and number of workers and employees, minimum number of workers, maximum time of work, minimum amount of wages. They [private sector] are earning a lot of money.

Thereby, those who had a job have lost it and those who have a job are also going to lose it. From where will the other unemployed youth get jobs? Every year in our country, about two crore new job seekers are coming.

They [the BJP] promised [in the] 2014 election that every year they will generate two crore employment. By now it should have been eight crores. I think 5-10 lakh people could get jobs. What happened to their promise, their commitment? In this situation, in our small state, because industry cannot be built in the sky it needs proper infrastructure. That was not there earlier: no rail, no proper national highway, no power, no telecommunications.

SBP: But you are sending power to Bangladesh now.

MS: All these things were not there. In this situation, on the one hand, we are filling up all the vacant posts. It is normal – people are retiring, posts get vacated, so we are collecting all these things and we are regularly filling up [the posts].

Expansion is going on at the same time. We are taking up new projects – schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, districts, subdivisions, blocks, tehsil offices, roadwork, power extension, irrigation facilities, all these things. This is requiring a number of new workers. So we have to employ them, we are creating all these new posts.

But our state is small, [its] size is small, debt is not that big. So in this situation, we are not sitting idle like the central government. On the other hand, we are creating an atmosphere for the development of industries, which may take care of the problems of our unemployed youth.

When for the rail struggles… I had to go to jail three times when I was a college student. Now the rail has come. [In terms of] power, [Tripura] was a deficit state, now we have a surplus. We have started selling power to Bangladesh, 140 megawatts. More power is with us. The government of India is failing to take this power to other parts of the country, it is their job.

Telecommunications has improved a lot; the air connectivity has improved a lot. Road connectivity and road networks inside villages have improved a lot. Moreover, purchasing capacity of our people, 15 years back, yearly per capita income was on average less than Rs 15,000, now it is Rs 80,000.

It [Tripura] is small but the market is being developed. And for industrialisation, an atmosphere is also needed other than all this infrastructural development – democracy, peace and stability. Otherwise, investors will not invest money.

All these things are being developed and thereby the atmosphere has been created. Now the investors have started searching. But the point is this: recession is going on in the capitalist world. India is also grasped by this problem. Can you tell me how many new industrial units have been set up during these last four years? Though our prime minister is crying Make in India, Make in India, Make in India. Has anybody come? No, no one!

Rather, existing industrial units are closing down their shutters one after the other. In this situation, in isolation, how does a state like Tripura located in the farthest, remotest corner of the country all of a sudden have a booming industrial sector? We shall have to wait. So those who are saying [against this] are trying to actually confuse our youth but our youth are not confused. We are taking all these things to our youth.

For employment generation opportunities, the most important thing is that the purchasing capacity of the people has to keep rising. When can you set up an industry? When the investor will see that yes, this is what I am going to produce and there are purchasers [for it]. Then only they will invest.

Purchasing capacity of the people of our country is very low, 70-77% people cannot even earn Rs 25-30 in a day. They cannot afford to spend Rs 25-30. How, in this situation in our country or market, will industry develop?

The development of this purchasing capacity of the common people will depend on the policy of the government of India. Unless [it’s there] we can’t. So we are taking all these things to our youth.

That’s why if you go and see our meetings or demonstrations you will find that the main participants are youth and our mothers and sisters. A son is coming with his mother. The mother is taking her son with her. That is the different picture. What they [the BJP] are saying is just to mislead the people who are coming from outside. It appears that you are also mislead. That is why I have taken a lot of time to explain all these things to you. Thank you.

SBP: Thank you so much.

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