Sushanta Chowdhury, 43, is one of the most important Ministers in Tripura. An MLA from Majlishpur, Chowdhury is in charge of the departments of Information & Cultural Affairs, Sports & Youth Affairs, and Public Works Department. Excerpts from his interview with Frontline:
Given the tie-up with the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front and the diminished influence of your alliance partner, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), in tribal-dominated areas, how difficult will these elections be for the BJP?
While some speculate that this election will be tough for us, I think the BJP will secure a comfortable majority. In the past five years we have delivered the goods, worked for the people of the State, which is now heading towards prosperity, and there is a strong feeling of nationalism. These were not there in the 25 years before we came to power.
These are still early days. The elections have just been declared for February 16. A lot will depend on the declaration of candidates by political parties. But we are optimistic that the BJP, on the basis of its performance, will return. Winning this election is crucial for us.
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What are the highlights of your performance in the past five years?
The country, along with the whole world, had come to a standstill during the pandemic. The performance of the government at the Centre and in the State has been significant; people have accepted this “double-engine” government. Our major performance has been in ensuring vaccinations and providing water connection to the people under the Jal Jeevan Mission. We started this journey [of providing water connection] from 2.5 per cent, and now we stand at 57-58 per cent; this is a big achievement.
We have successfully implemented the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, and the distribution has been done across party and political lines. As promised in our manifesto, we increased the social pension from Rs.700 to Rs.2,000. The Central government has been providing free ration, including 5 kg rice, to every house irrespective of party affiliation.
Moreover, one of our major achievements has been improving the law and order situation and ensuring people’s safety and security. Infrastructure development in various sectors is for everyone to see.
When it comes to law and order, all opposition parties allege that democracy is constantly under attack in Tripura and that there is no rule of law. A massive rally was held in Agartala on January 21 under an apolitical banner to protest against violations of people’s constitutional rights in the State.
This rally was brought out jointly by the CPI(M) and the Congress under the banner of “Nagarik Mancha”. It was not acceptable to the people.
The Left and the Congress have entered into an unholy alliance, an anti-people alliance. The very Congress leaders who are now hand in glove with the CPI(M) used to complain that there was no democracy under Left rule.
People are not fools. These parties are maligning Tripura at the national level. They don’t care about democracy; all they want is power and political and social unrest.
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TIPRA Motha, with its strength in 20 seats, is widely believed to become the “kingmaker” in this election. What is the BJP doing to secure TIPRA’s support?
Nobody can deny that TIPRA Motha has emerged as a dominant political party in the ADC [Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council] region. In addition to the 20 seats, there are around 10-12 seats where tribal votes play a pivotal role. While it is a fact that Motha has strong control in the ADC area, the BJP is equally capable of winning a good number of tribal seats in the region. If Motha joins hands with the BJP, we will win more than 55 seats [out of 60]. It is up to Motha now.
The BJP will not accept the demand for a separate Tipraland. The BJP is of the opinion that let there be politics of prosperity, development, and more autonomy in the ADC. We believe that TIPRA Motha will eventually take a call and realise that a separate Tipraland is not a permanent solution. The permanent solution has to come within the framework of the Constitution in terms of development, peace and prosperity, and harmony between tribals and non-tribals.
The supremo of TIPRA Motha, Pradyot Manikya Debbarman, the Maharaja, needs to keep in mind that the demand for a separate State will have to be accepted by the Government of India, and there is little chance of the CPI(M)-Congress forming a government at the national level in the near future. Therefore, whatever demand they have will have to be addressed by the BJP at the Centre.
He [Debbarman] will have to finally take a call, and we are sure he will make a meticulous study before making his decision. Whatever he decides will have a cascading effect [in Tripura politics] in the near future. But as far as the BJP is concerned, we are not worried at all, because the people of Tripura want the BJP to continue.
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Unemployment is something the BJP had promised to address in its manifesto. This has brought about disenchantment among the youth.
Unemployment is an international issue and it is not possible on the part of any political party to address this overnight. Our government has adopted a transparent policy. Our job recruitments are through a process and there is little scope for favouritism. Whatever jobs were given after we came to power were done in a transparent manner. During the Left regime we saw so many allegations of corruption.
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