CPI(M) rule in Tripura

Against all odds

Print edition : March 30, 2018

In Tripura, where there were dense forests populated by wild animals even as recently as 10 years ago, there are now motorable roads. Photo: Abhisek Saha

THE allegations against the Manik Sarkar government may be many, particularly at the local level, but when weighed against its achievements in the last 25 years, and taking into consideration the numerous constraints it had to work under and the seemingly insurmountable odds it had to overcome, one finds it difficult to explain the massive defeat it suffered at the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)- Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) combine.

Tripura has had certain inherent problems mainly because of its location and hilly terrain which form a major hindrance to large-scale investments and industrialisation. Being a State government that has mostly been at odds with the Centre’s economic policies did not help Tripura either. A landlocked, food-deficit State, torn apart by insurgency, Tripura under the Manik Sarkar government had come a long way with limited financial resources.

Where there were dense forests populated by wild animals even as recently as 10 years ago, there are now motorable roads; remote villages that were cut off from all modern amenities now have water supply and electricity; there is a school in every hamlet; and most of the 1,100 gram panchayats in Tripura have at least one health sub-centre.

With its focus on grass-roots development and poverty alleviation, rural development has always been a priority for the Manik Sarkar government. The number of primary health centres (PHCs) and community health centres (CHCs) has also increased by over 90 per cent, and there are 12 subdivisional hospitals, six district hospitals and six State-level hospitals. Not too long ago, for a person living in the rural region, going to a hospital meant going all the way to the city.

But the biggest achievement of the Left Front government was establishing peace and harmony in a land that has for long been ravaged by insurgency-related violence. Between 1992 and 2008, nearly 3,500 people of Tripura lost their lives in terrorist attacks. These forces were defeated, in the words of Manik Sarkar, “politically, administratively and ideologically”. In fact, whatever development work took place in the State began only from 2006, after the insurgency menace was successfully dealt with. The last decade of CPI(M) rule saw an almost cent per cent decline in the incidence of killing by extremists. In May 2015, the State government decided to revoke the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which was in force since 1997.

“In view of the fact that insurgency in the State has been practically reduced to nil, the Cabinet has taken the decision to withdraw the AFSPA from the entire State. This is a happy occasion. We want to send out a message of peace to the whole country,” said Manik Sarkar on the occasion. The AFSPA, which Tripura did away with, still remains in force in the other north-eastern States of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, parts of Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh.

Commitment to development

The end of violence meant the beginning of development. Between 2004 and 2011, the number of people in Tripura living below the poverty line was reduced by as much as 62 per cent. Infant mortality rate (IMR) has declined by nearly 50 per cent in the last 10 years and stands at 20 per thousand live births, and maternal mortality rate (MMR) is six now. Literacy rate in Tripura is over 97, one of the highest in India, and to the enormous credit of an impoverished State, there are no beggars on the streets of Tripura. No one dies of starvation, and no farmer has committed suicide under the burden of debt. Manik Sarkar’s commitment to the development of core social sectors is reflected in the fact that the State government spent a whopping 17.9 per cent of the gross state domestic product on areas including health, education and welfare programmes. Most importantly, it was a government that tried to deal with the limitations it was saddled with as best as it could and extended relief to the people as much as possible. In 1998, the number of social pensions in the State was nine, which in 2017 had gone up to 33, of which only three were Central schemes. In 1998, the beneficiaries of social pension schemes were 63,503; in 2017, their number had increased to 4,32,000. “If we had to spend more money in modernising infrastructure in modern areas and building lifestyle facilities, given our limited resources, we might not have been able to provide social pensions and other such relief to the poor people, who have always been our priority,” CPI(M) leader Rahul Sinha told Frontline.

There is lack of investment and a sizable section of the educated unemployed has been in a state of anguish; but the government, with its limited resources, managed to create 92,000 jobs in the government sector in the last 20 years. With no big investments coming to Tripura, the government’s focus was on the growth of small-scale industries—incense sticks, rubber, bamboo, and so on. There are at present 4,870 small industries operating in the State, providing employment to 67,000 people. The Manik Sarkar government also launched numerous schemes like the Swavalamban scheme to promote small businesses. As many as 15,632 entrepreneurs were assisted in the scheme and subsidy worth more than Rs.273 crore was extended to them.

Praise from detractors

One of the biggest tributes a political party can receive is the acknowledgement from its detractors that it had done good work. In Tripura, even the most diehard anti-Left voter will admit, often with reluctance, that the CPI(M) had done a lot to ameliorate the condition of the wretched. “The CPI(M) had its faults, but it had its good qualities too. But it is good that a change has taken place after so long,” said Raju Deb of Agartala, a car driver who supports the BJP. It was a government that prided itself on delivering what it promised, and it promised the people nothing more and nothing less than “peace, harmony and development”.

The election results in Tripura are, in fact, one of those bizarre cases where they do not reflect the performance of the losing side.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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