Jitendra Choudhury, general secretary of the CPI(M) in Tripura, is a former Lok Sabha member and Cabinet Minister in the State. He is also a Central Committee member of the CPI(M) and president of the Ganamukti Parishad (GMP), the tribal wing of the Left in Tripura. He spoke to Frontline on issues relating to the election. Excerpts:
There is a palpable anti-incumbency sentiment against the BJP. Are you strong enough to take advantage of it?
Every second person in the State is today speaking out against the BJP. People were scared to speak out for so long due to the fascistic attacks on civil and constitutional rights.
We are definitely in a position to take on the ruling party. You may point out that earlier the Left Front neither negotiated with any party during elections nor asked for any party’s assistance and that this time we have asked all secular democratic forces to join hands to defeat the BJP. From that point of view one may think that our strength has declined.
Our present situation is because of the relentless attack on the Left for the past five years. As there is no democratic atmosphere in the State today, it would be difficult for the Left to fight this battle alone. But even in this prevailing situation, I must say emphatically that the Left is the only alternative.
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The electoral understanding between the Congress and the Left failed repeatedly in West Bengal. It has alienated a section of both Left and Congress voters from the alliance. What are the chances of that happening in Tripura?
The situation in Tripura is completely different from that in Bengal. In Tripura, all forces have been involved to fight the BJP. Today, in Tripura, the moment the BJP attacks any party or destroys any party office, all the anti-BJP forces come together in protest. This feeling of spontaneous solidarity from all sections [fighting the ruling party] was absent in Bengal. I don’t think what happened in Bengal will happen in Tripura.
There is a history of animosity between the Congress and the Left. What are the challenges both are facing at the negotiating table?
Given the history, it is only reasonable to think that there will be challenges in both parties joining forces. But now, at both the national and State levels, we are seeing a joining of secular democratic forces for the sake of restoring democracy.
Let us go back to the time when Indira Gandhi was in power at the Centre and the Left was in power in Tripura: the Congress’ bourgeois ideology was completely opposed to the Left’s ideology, but still the principles of democracy prevailed. As a result, in Tripura we were able to establish the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council [TTAADC] on the basis of the Sixth Schedule by amending the Constitution.
After Narendra Modi took over as Prime Minister, there has been a gradual and premeditated weakening of the Constitution; and their goal is to ultimately do away with it. That is why it is very important that our democracy be immediately saved; then our other differences can be worked out.
Differences between the Congress and the Left have always been there, and will continue to be there, but if there is no Constitution, then everybody will be destroyed. Our priority is to defeat the BJP and save the Constitution. Moreover, it is the will of the common people of Tripura that is forcing the secular democratic forces to join forces. The people of Tripura want to remove the BJP from power. We have to give shape to this demand.
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TIPRA Motha is seen as the kingmaker in this election. With its 20 certain seats, whoever Motha supports is likely to come to power. How does the Left-Congress combine view the situation?
TIPRA Motha’s rise took place during the BJP’s term. It arose out of the false promise that Tipraland would be created within six months of the BJP coming to power. Now the tribal population is disillusioned, and TIPRA Motha has raised the demand for a Greater Tripraland.
From the time the TIPRA Motha came into being and even before that, we have been holding talks with the chairman of the party. Its demand for a Greater Tipraland stems from the deprivation the tribal people have faced for the past seven decades. Our Tiprasa [indigenous] people have been lagging behind socially, economically, and culturally. That needs to end and social justice has to be ensured. With an open heart and mind we assure them of this; not just them, but all the marginalised people of the State.
We are with Tipra Motha if by Tipraland it means ensuring social justice for the tribal people. But if you mean Greater Tipraland as a separate geographical entity, we do not agree with that. Tripura’s cultural history and population do not permit the creation of another State. Apart from the creation of a separate State, all other ideas of TIPRA Motha are acceptable to us.
The Left first came to power with the support of the Ganamukti Parishad, and it was assured of the support of the tribals until 2018. How did you suddenly lose that support?
The GMP legacy is still strong in the TTAADC region. Its contribution is in not just defending and protecting the Tiprasa people, but also democracy and freedom. But yes, the tribals have moved away from the Left for the time being. It had happened earlier too with the TUJS [Tripura Upajati Juba Samity, which formed the government in alliance with the Congress in 1988]. But, I would call this a phase, a generation gap.
The GMP’s legacy and ideology will once again establish it as a powerful force, and the people of Tripura will realise that the GMP’s way is the only way.
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The Trinamool Congress is also trying to establish base here. How will it affect the election outcome?
The Trinamool is a forgotten force in the State. Certain disgruntled people from other political parties joined it for a brief period. It is like a transit camp from where people move on to other parties.
The Trinamool has a lot of money and will probably be spending quite a bit of it here. But still, it is too insignificant a force here. The party candidates lose their deposits wherever they contest.
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