In Tripura, roughly 70% of the population of which comprise Bengalis, the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party must be seen as the linguistic community’s disillusionment with communism. More so because the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, with which the BJP had allied, has contested and won from the tribal-dominated constituencies alone. This result should go a long way in telling the rest of India that a Bengali is perforce not communist.
This columnist does not tire in reminding his readers that, even at the peak of popularity of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal, it managed a mere 2% lead over its then archrival, the undivided Indian National Congress. What the anti-incumbent people always look for is a credible alternative. It emerged in the form of the Trinamool Congress in the late-1990s, and yet it took more than a decade for Mamata Banerjee to defeat the CPM. In contrast, the BJP hadn’t got the foggiest clue of the State’s issues, the most glaring one being the alienation of Bengalis from a Delhi-centric INC. The BJP stayed ignorant of the local grievances: that the freight equalisation policy had disadvantaged a coal-rich Bengal; that Bengalis were being discriminated against in national bureaucracy and polity alike, that there was no Bengal Regiment in the Army after the British disbanded it following the Mutiny of 1857, etc. Even when the traditional voters of the oldest party of the country were getting fed up of its Muslim appeasement, which was the issue more significant than the question as to which community was the rightful owner of the disputed plot in Ayodhya during the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement, the BJP committed the mistake of filling the rank and file of its local unit with Marwaris, forcing a disinterest among Bengalis in the saffron party.
And even today, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chooses a Ramnavami over Durga Puja in the State that is overwhelmingly the land of the goddess! As a ‘Hindu’ party, shouldn’t they have studied the Shiva Mahapurana or the Tantra scriptures to learn that Shakti dominates the devout in the eastern stretch of the nation (while Ganesha rules the west and Kartikeya the south)? As a serious contender for power, should it have struck a backstage deal with the TMC to make the law enforcement agencies go soft on the investigations into the Saradha and Rose Valley Ponzi scandals to ensure a smoother functioning of the Rajya Sabha before the election of 2016?
On the other side of the map of Bangladesh lay Tripura, where the BJP went full-throttle this time around, with an experience of having fought just one election before. And yet it is forming the State government with a thumping majority.
The people of Tripura have had enough of glorification of poverty, which is the wont of communists. While keeping them mesmerised by his austere manners, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar deprived the State of a semblance of development. Different parts of the province stay poorly connected via land routes by means of pothole-ridden or dug-out roads. There has been no such thing as industry in Tripura. Sarkar exploited the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act by rewarding those with the contracts who stayed loyal to him and denying those who refused to bow to him.
The supporters of the INC have long tales of woe to tell. Following the fall of the last government of that party 25 years ago, the CPM unleashed its henchmen on some traditional voters of the party, going to the extent of setting their houses afire for their brave defiance of the communist ruling establishment. Their houses were stoned and their children heckled on the way to school. During my tour of the State, those who garnered the courage to speak up repeatedly pleaded with me to not reveal their names, lest they should invite the CPM’s wrath all over again. Most importantly, they said they prayed that the party they had been loyal to for decades, the INC, should not emerge as the third pole in the contest, which would affect the chances of the BJP that was now being considered the genuine anti-left contender.
Having come out from the election offices of the BJP, where several past loyalists of the Congress broke down before me, narrating the torment they had had to bear with after the defeat of the Samir Ranjan Barman government, when I reached the Congress Bhavan situated at the heart of the city, people whiling away their time at a stall nearby said there was no point talking to the leaders of this party! The night before, the driver who was taking me around the city had dissuaded me. At a busy marketplace in Agartala, people said that the INC had been retaining 10 odd seats election after election while failing to impress the rest of the State because the handful of MLAs would strike a deal with Sarkar to let them secure nothing more than their constituencies. They did not mind the fact that the Left Front would remain unchallenged in the rest of Tripura!
After some effort when I located Birajit Sinha, the Tripura unit head of the INC, at Congress Bhavan, he was hardly excited about the proposition that the violence perpetrated on his voters by the CPM could be an electoral plank. The interview was so monotonous that we decided not to publish it on Sirf News.
On the other hand, a Maharashtrian Sunil Deodhar was working tirelessly as the leader in charge of the BJP’s Tripura unit. While hundreds of activists had switched their allegiance from the INC and TMC — as well as the CPM — to the party ruling at the Centre, its core remained the dyed-in-the-wool karyakarta (party worker). Despite the subdued presence of the RSS in the State, its political front performed remarkably because its ideology was not lost on the cadre. If Biplab Kumar Deb goes on to become the next chief minister, he would be one among many swayamsevaks who let an outsider Deodhar take the lead. The RSS has always been fond of such disciplined followers.
Those who are giving turncoats the credit also miss the point that the TMC stood little chance in the second State whose people had lost their hard-earned money to Bengal-origin chit funds. Like the second rung leaders of Banerjee’s party in Bengal, prominent members of the Sarkar Cabinet used to be seen promoting the schemes of Saradha and Rose Valley openly.
The lost dignity of the tribes was the ‘x-factor’. It was appalling that old men and women in their 80s and 90s had to carry rubber tree twigs on their backs and walk miles of hilly roads to the market to earn no more than Re 1 out of Rs 108 for which a kilogram of wood sells. They had resigned to their fate with the belief that this was how life was supposed to be until the BJP arrived. The promise of an autonomous council for them along the lines of Gorkhaland in West Bengal cemented their hopes.
The prime minister remained the BJP’s trump card. Whether Modi’s party honours its election promises is a chapter of the future. He shed the inhibition noticed at the hustings in a socialistic Bihar where he was wary of stating that Biharis stayed poor in the absence of the private sector that is too scared to invest in the land of daily abductions and extortionist demands. In Tripura, Modi spoke jobs. The BJP manifesto highlighted the portion on special economic zones. Insofar as the campaign is concerned, it had all the right planks.
This victory was still doubtful because the BJP had not yet penetrated homes. In contrast, about a month before the election, the local CPM leaders had finished visiting every household. The chances of the left were bolstered further by the backing of trade unions. The Marxist teachers’ union had, in fact, brazened it out by appealing to the headmasters and primary, middle and secondary school teachers to keep their institutions closed until the election was over so that their force remains mobilised for canvassing. Yet, if the Left Front got routed, it implies that the people of Tripura, by and large, overcame the fear of communist retribution the way the electorate of Tamil Nadu no longer get swayed by the politicians who bribe them.
Bengal is a tougher challenge also because of a massive percentage of Muslim population, which is negligible and also benign in Tripura. The pathological aversion the community bears for the BJP looks insurmountable, and a large section of urbane Hindus continue to live in denial. For, the issues of Bangladeshi infiltration and the encircling of Kolkata by the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have left them untouched. Only the part of Bengal to the north of Siliguri, districts Murshidabad and Malda, the districts bordering Bangladesh and, lastly, the suburbs realise the dangers of the demographic skew. Delhi-based media’s favourite Bengali, the ‘intellectual’ Bengali, hails from the capital of the State. This has, over the ages, created an impression that Bengalis per se are communist.
When the whole State becomes important in the national reckoning, as it has been in Tripura, other Indians will emerge from a Bengali’s stereotypical image. Those who gave the nation Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Sri Aurobindo et al cannot be communist. The Bengali who extricated the land for India from the clutches of a proposed East Pakistan on the strength of no more than a mere 32% of the entire Bengali population who were Hindu in the undivided province, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, wasn’t a communist. The exasperated Hindutva activist must study everything the BJP did right in Tripura and has been doing wrong in Bengal. He will know that regionally assertive and proud Bengalis — regardless of the iconoclasm of Raja Rammohun Roy, Christian rationality of Michael Madhusudan Dutt and internationalism of Rabindranath Tagore — are essentially not communists. Nuance!