Rivals for decades, the Left Front and Congress have forged a seat-sharing agreement for the February 16 Assembly polls in a bid to eject the “divisive and dangerous” BJP from Tripura.Ahead of their meeting to chalk out a joint campaign strategy, Jitendra Chowdhury, the State secretary of the CPI(M) and candidate from the Subroom seat, and Birajit Sinha, State Congress president and the party’s candidate from Kailashahar speak to The Hindu’s Rahul Karmakar on why they needed to bury their rivalry to save the country by uprooting the BJP from Tripura first. Excerpts from the interview:
Did the Left Front and Congress keep the failed West Bengal experiment in mind while striking a seat-sharing deal?
Jitendra Chowdhury: One cannot compare West Bengal with Tripura, two completely different States with different dynamics. There’s a desperation to be rid of the jungle raj and make Tripura BJP-mukt (free). For the last five years, the BJP has used Tripura as a laboratory to create a model for spreading hatred across the country and destroying all constitutional values. Our pre-poll agreement was spontaneous because the people of the State have realised that we need to give a message to the country that our Constitution and the secular, democratic fibre have to be saved by first uprooting BJP from Tripura.
How are the people used to your rivalry taking your pre-poll understanding?
JC: There were, are and will always be differences between us [the Left Front and the Congress party]. We were like next-door neighbours not on talking terms, realising after five years of misrule and oppression by the BJP that if the house of one is on fire, the other cannot but jump in to douse the flames and save his own house from being turned into ashes. People want to escape from being burnt by the divisive flames the BJP has lit.
Birajit Sinha: People are warming up to our understanding because they see the bigger picture and want to take revenge for the five years of suffering the BJP inflicted upon them. One cannot avoid disgruntlement at local levels owing to the strategic tie-up, but we are telling our supporters that we have boarded the same boat and sailing in deep waters. If there is any bid to sink the boat everyone will drown, so we need to keep the boat afloat. We have overcome our differences over seat-sharing and are strategising our joint campaign for maximum output when Tripura votes on February 16.
Will the failure in striking a pre-poll deal with Tipra Motha affect your chances?
JC: The efforts for an alliance were not one-sided. The Tipra Motha chairman (Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma) publicly said we needed to come to an understanding to avoid a split in the anti-BJP votes. We tried till the very last moment to have a seat-sharing arrangement but we still have time for backing the strongest candidate, whether he or she is from Tipra Motha or Left Front-Congress combine, to ensure the BJP’s defeat.
Some people are suspicious that the Tipra Motha and BJP are eying a post-poll deal and the former may spoil the chances of Left Front-Congress candidates in the 22 non-Scheduled Tribe constituencies it is contesting.
JC: There is no point discussing a hypothetical post-poll scenario although the BJP flouted the model code of conduct by involving the Ministry of Home Affairs in the discussions with Tipra Motha in Delhi. The Motha is different from many tribe-based parties in the past that raised slogans against national integration and the Constitution and sought independence and expulsion of perceived non-locals. By fielding candidates beyond the 20 Scheduled Tribe constituencies, the Motha has indicated it is an inclusive party and wants to take tribal and non-tribal people along.
Does the Left Front-Congress agree with Motha’s ‘Greater Tipraland’ call?
JC: Unlike other parties that catered to the aspirations of the indigenous people, the Motha has always sought a solution within the constitutional framework. We have no issues if Greater Tipraland translates into the socio-economic uplift of the indigenous people. But we will oppose it [if it] disturbs the territorial integrity of Tripura.
What are the challenges you are facing?
BS: Unprecedented violence perpetrated by the ruling dispensation and the blatant misuse of government machinery by the BJP to retain power at any cost.
JC: If the Election Commission (ECI) succeeds in holding free-and-fair elections as it has assured, the BJP [which won 36 seats in 2018] will struggle to reach the double-digit mark. But if ECI fails, we believe the voters will stop them even if it means getting bruised and battered. The Left Front-Congress alliance has boosted their strength, enthusiasm and confidence to show an oppressive regime the door.