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Tripura Polls: 'BJP turned Constitution into mere symbol; must restore democratic order': Jitendra Chaudhary

The 60 assembly seats in Tripura will go to polls on February 16.  As the campaigning enters the critical phase, Asianet Newsable's Richa Barua reached out to CPI-M State Secretary Jitendra Chaudhary to understand his party's strategy for the 2023 assembly elections.

Tripura Election 2023 Exclusive interview with CPI-M State Secretary Jitendra Chaudhary Part 1
First Published Feb 4, 2023, 11:24 AM IST

Tripura was once a Left bastion. For 25 years, the Communist Party of India-Marxist was at the helm of affairs in the state. Then, in 2018, the Bharatiya Janata Party allied with the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) and dethroned the Left. This time, the Left is determined and confident about returning to power. 

The 60 assembly seats in Tripura will go to polls on February 16.  As the campaigning enters the critical phase, Asianet Newsable's Richa Barua reached out to CPI-M State Secretary Jitendra Chaudhary to understand his party's strategy for the 2023 assembly elections.

Chaudhary is a prominent tribal leader and former Member of Parliament who will be contesting from the Sabroom assembly seat. He has served as minister in four successive Manik Sarkar cabinets from 1993 to 2014. As the state secretary of the CPI-M, Chaudhary is determined to defeat the BJP in this election.

Read the first of the two-part in-depth interview: 

What are the issues that the CPI-M is raising in this election?

The main issue of the CPI-M and the Left in this election is the restoration of democracy. Since the BJP-led government came to power, from the very first day, the constitutional order, civil rights, and everything has collapsed in the state, and there has been no rule of law. So the restoration of the function of law and democratic order is the priority. It will also provide the people of Tripura with more opportunities for their livelihood as civil rights (law and democracy) could be restored. 

How are you trying to consolidate the tribal vote?

Our priority is to address the needs of all groups of people, including the Scheduled Tribes who are indigenous. Unfortunately, democracy and law have failed in the face of the ruling party turning the Constitution into a mere symbol.

Over the past five years, marginalised and underprivileged communities have become victims of exploitation. In the previous election, the BJP misguided and mistreated these groups. As a result, a section of indigenous people joined the IPFT party and demanded the formation of a separate state within Tripura called Tripraland. However, because the districts are not contiguous, forming an autonomous council or state for tribal leaders based on geography is impossible. The so-called Tiptaland will not be beneficial for either indigenous or non-indigenous people.

Despite assurances made in IPFT meetings, creating a separate state never materialised. The indigenous people of Tripura have been misled by false promises made by the IPFT leadership. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister of India remained silent on the issue, only fueling the division among people.

Efforts to empower marginalised communities, such as the proposed 125th Constitutional Amendment Bill, have also failed to pass in parliament. The TTAADC, a local body established under the Constitution, needs to receive its fair share of taxes, and the elected committee needs to conduct elections. The minimum democratic rights of the people of Tripura are being denied.

The real friends of these marginalised communities are the CPI-M and the Left Front. We have a proven track record of supporting the rights of the indigenous people and developing the area. This election will reflect the response of the people to our efforts.

What is your take on the BJP and IPFT reforging their alliance?

The BJP has tried to align with the newly-formed Indigenous people's party, TIPRA Motha. And they had several talks within BJP and TIPRA Motha Party. According to many media reports, TIPRA Motha Party has kept their demands before the BJP and the central government, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, to have the constitutional amendments for the overall upliftment of the indigenous/tribal people. They requested to give the same in written TTAADC to TIPRA Motha, but it didn't happen. So, their (BJP) attempt and effort to join with TIPRA Motha Party will not happen. We don't see any such thing happening, an alliance or understanding, going to happen between these two parties.

However, since the beginning, we have been fine with TIPRA Motha's demand to bring development in social, cultural and economic terms, but except one that there should be no compromise for the territorial declaration of the state. Hence, within the framework of the Constitution, by amending the provisions, we can create opportunities for TIPRA Motha Party and join hands with the party for the sake of development. 

Until today, we have been asking the party to come together to an understanding to defeat the BJP and avoid splitting of votes. Let us have some adjustments that we had with Congress Party, so this we are putting before the TIPRA Motha. 

Have the Left and Congress fixed the seat-sharing agreement? Candidates have filed nominations against each other in some areas.

With the Congress and Left Front, we have already finalised our agreement. As with Congress, we are contesting with 13 seats and with the Left Front party 47. There are some disputes in one or two seats, but within a period of time, they will be solved. And we will appeal to the people not to split the votes with BJP. And to defeat the BJP, we will do everything democratically, peacefully, and amicably.

Political violence has been a trend during the campaign of the Tripura elections. There have been attacks on many CPI-M offices in the past few months; any views?

BJP's performance for the last five years is zero and minus. They have nothing to say to the people of Tripura; not a single promise has been fulfilled during these years. Instead, they have brought hundreds of anti-social people spreading terror.

Hence to win the election, BJP has only two options, terrorising people, vandalising properties, looting, killing etc., during the time of the elections. So, ECI has to be more active, and the central paramilitary forces should be sent in huge numbers to check the law and order that was missing these five years. Also, to keep a check on the funds that it is appropriately utilised.

But if law and order don't get by the administration, the people are ready to go to whatever extent to defend the right to protect their vote right. So this election is a very significant battle for the state of Tripura, not only to form a new government but to defend their right to restore their constitutional and fundamental rights, etc. 

Watch this space for Part II of the interview...

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