Interview: Gautam Das, CPI(M)

‘This is a different kind of battle’

Print edition : March 02, 2018

Gautam Das. Photo: Suhrid Sankar Chattopadyay

Interview with Gautam Das, Left Front spokesperson and CPI(M) Central Committee member.

GAUTAM DAS, the spokesperson of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front in Tripura, is a member of the Central Committee of the CPI(M) and one of the most respected leaders of the State. He was the editor-in-chief of Daily Desher Khobor, the party’s mouthpiece in Tripura, from its inception in 1979 until 2015. Das is one of the key election strategists of the Left Front. In an exclusive interview to Frontline, he spoke about the electoral battle ahead with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“Why will the people of the State want a change at all? They are seeing what is happening in BJP-ruled States. The people of Tripura have already decided what they want,” he said. Excerpts:

This time the Left Front has a new opponent, the BJP. How do you see your chances against the party?

In the previous elections, the CPI(M)’s contest was against the Congress. All along, regional tribal parties had a political understanding with the Congress. This time, the Congress has been replaced by the BJP. The tribal parties have shifted their support to the BJP. Until the 2013 Assembly elections, the BJP used to get 1 or 2 per cent of the vote. But now the BJP, at the cost of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress, has risen to the second position in most of the places in Tripura. We are not worried about this.

The Left Front’s vote percentage has been increasing gradually since the 2013 elections. In the subsequent elections to the Lok Sabha, the local bodies and the constitutional body—the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council [TTAADC]—our vote percentage increased. In fact, in the coming Assembly elections, our vote percentage will increase further. But the big difference this time is that the BJP is using the Central government machinery in a blatant manner and has tied up with a separatist party, the IPFT [the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, arguably the most powerful regional tribal party now in the State], which wants to divide the State.

The situation is a little complicated in Tripura. After Partition, the demography of the State changed totally. Over the years, the tribal population got reduced to one-third. But the Left Front has always maintained unity between the tribal and non-tribal people. In the 1980s, sectarian forces among the tribes raised the cry for “Free Tripura”. There was a lot of killing. More than 1,300 of our leaders, workers and supporters were killed in ethnic violence in the past three decades. But the tribal people themselves have rejected the cry for “Free Tripura”.

In the past three years, the IPFT has raised the slogan of a separate State of Tripura comprising the TTAADC region. Its leaders have even spoken to the Prime Minister’s and the Home Minister’s offices. The tribal people of Tripura have rejected this, as was evident in the 2015 elections to the Autonomous District Council, in which the Left won all the 28 seats. In the subsequent village committee elections, it won 96 per cent of the seats. In the coming elections we expect to get more seats and more votes.

Could you explain your remark that the BJP is using the Central government machinery?

Never before in the history of Tripura’s politics have so many Central Ministers visited the State. Every month six or seven Ministers visit the State. It is doubtful whether so many Central Ministers had come in one whole year when the Congress was in power [at the Centre].

In the name of government meetings, the BJP Ministers come and spread canards against the State government to the media. They are using the platform of government functions to promote State party functionaries. Such a thing never happened with the Congress. They [the BJP] are also using funds meant for public sector undertakings for party purposes. This is blatant misuse of Central funds. They are spending a huge amount of money to buy voters.

There is a buzz, particularly in Agartala, that there is a pro-BJP wave in Tripura. Could you explain that?

There is no pro-BJP wave. On December 31, 2017, we held a Left Front rally in Agartala. There has never been such an enormous gathering before in the State. The field in which the rally was held was filled and there was double the crowd outside. The whole of Agartala was flooded with supporters of the Left Front. Wherever we hold election rallies, wherever the Chief Minister [Manik Sarkar] speaks, the crowds are huge. Where is the pro-BJP wave?

Is the younger generation veering away from the Left and leaning towards the BJP?

In our meetings, it is the younger generation that is coming in large numbers, particularly women. It is true the BJP has managed to purchase certain youth leaders from different parties, but the youths are by and large with the Left Front. The youths know that they will be cheated by the BJP if it came to power.

After five consecutive terms in power and seven terms since 1977, an anti-incumbency sentiment is bound to work against the Left Front.

Apparently not. This is because of the performance of the Left Front government. In spite of limited resources, what we have achieved in the field of human resource development is unparalleled in the country. Although a small State, Tripura is at the topmost position in India in literacy levels; infant mortality rate [in the State] is far below the all-India average; and life expectancy in Tripura is significantly higher than the national average. You will not find any beggar in the State, as the State government has provided the poor with various social security measures. There are 33 social security pensions, of which only three are Central government schemes. The State has made tremendous strides in agriculture and rural development. In MGNREGA [Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act] implementation, Tripura has been number one in the country for five consecutive years. Road connectivity has improved enormously, People are getting safe drinking water. Tripura is now producing excess power. There is all-round, continuous development and, most important, there is peace and stability. Why will the people of the State want a change at all? They are seeing what is happening in BJP-ruled States—in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The people of Tripura have already decided what they want.

Do you think the coming elections will be the toughest battle for the CPI(M) to date?

In the 1980s, particularly in 1983, 1988, and again in 1993, 1998 and 2002, the violence unleashed by secessionist extremists was at its peak. We had to combat that. It was almost like a real battle. Our leaders and followers were killed while holding public meetings. Today, those extremists have been contained, though a few terrorists are still at large, hiding in Bangladesh. Now the separatists have sided with the BJP. As I have said earlier, the BJP is nakedly misusing Central government machinery and is encouraging divisive forces to push its communal agenda. This is a different kind of battle, but it is too early to say that it will be our toughest battle. Now, on a regular basis, we are getting news that the BJP is losing its cadres. Old BJP workers are not happy with the new steps the party is taking.

We are confident that a Left Front government will be installed once again here.

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