Already there have been plenty of problems for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the northeastern state of Tripura and now it has been facing heat over the recent gang-rape cases that took place in Kumarghat of Unakoti district and Kalyanpur in Khowai district.
There have been three more rape cases reported in the last week of October, giving the Opposition a chance to launch attacks against the BJP government over the declining law and order situation in the state where the elections are only three months away.
In Kumarghat of Unakoti district in the northern side of the state, a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped on 19 October and the police have already nabbed six persons, including a woman. Despite the arrests, this case has become a political hot potato in the state.
Political Blame Game or Election Strategy?
The main opposition CPI(M), Congress, TIPRA Motha, and other opposition parties have been holding protest marches and are directly attacking the BJP as they believe that the ruling party is “protecting the culprit”—Chandra Sekhar Das, the son of Pabiachhara MLA Bhagaban Das, the state cabinet minister for welfare of scheduled castes, labour and animal resource development.
The CPI(M) and Congress have been demanding the arrest of Chandra Shekhar Das and the resignation of the minister himself. This hasn’t gone well with the ruling party which has been claiming that the allegations about the minister’s son are “fabricated” and that the opposition parties — CPI(M) and Congress are using this gang-rape issue keeping in mind the upcoming elections.
The BJP has been claiming that in the FIR, there has been no mention of the minister’s son and his name is dragged by both CPI(M) and Congress for maligning the minister, the government and the party.
The BJP has even released CCTV footage to prove that the minister’s son was present elsewhere when the crime took place but the Opposition isn’t ready to buy this. Congress MLA Sudip Roy Barman has demanded to check the mobile tower location of the minister’s son on the date of the incident.
Protests Intensify in Tripura Over Minor Rapes
Amid the political war of words between the BJP and the opposition parties, some community-based organisations have also started protesting on this issue. People belonging to the Bishnupriya Manipuri community under the banner of Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Yuva Parishad, held a massive protest rally in Dalugaon bazaar under Kailashahar of Unakoti district on 28 October, as reported by the local media, seeking justice for the victim.
The next day, Manipuri Aikya Mancha comprising people both from Meitei Manipuri and Bishnupriya Manipuri, held a protest march in Kailashahar town seeking arrests of all culprits and seeking justice for the victim.
Is the Tripura Administration Sparing Insiders?
In the Kalyanpur case in which a 13-year-old tribal girl was gang-raped, the police have already arrested two, one of whom is Aditya Das— an elected panchayat member of BJP in West Dwarikapur panchayat. According to the police, two others are absconding including the deputy chief of the Dwarikapur panchayat from the ruling party, although the Opposition has been alleging that there is “pressure” on police not to arrest the deputy chief.
In the rape case in Bankumari in Agartala, the accused local BJP leader named Sanjoy has been arrested for raping a 12-year-old girl. In a separate case from the Irani area in Kailashahar, one Ahid Ali has been arrested by the police after receiving the complaint from the parents of a minor girl, who was kidnapped and then raped near the Indo-Bangladesh border.
The charges made by the Opposition aren’t entirely hollow but to claim that the police have been completely inactive to arrest the culprits is also exaggerated. The police have been able to arrest some of the culprits, including those belonging to the ruling party.
Law and Order Issue in Poll-Bound State Not New
Since the BJP came to power for the first time in 2018, there have been allegations from the CPI(M) and Congress about the declining law and order of the state. Those allegations were simply not hollow. The state has witnessed how the candidates of the Opposition weren’t allowed to contest starting from the by-polls of urban bodies in 2018 to rural body polls of 2019 to 2021 civic body polls.
It is not that violence during elections is a new affair to this northeastern state but during the late 2000s and 2010s when the CPI(M)-led Left Front was at power, violence during elections did show a drop.
Is Rejig in BJP Tripura a Boon or a Bane?
It can’t be denied that since the BJP high command had changed the first saffron Chief Minister Biplab Deb with Manik Saha, there has been a drop in electoral violence against Opposition — as seen in the bypolls of four assembly seats this year.
Undoubtedly, the new chief minister has been able to send a positive signal to the people of the state on law and order issues through his statements, often urging his party workers not to indulge in violence.
The recent rape cases, however, have hit the image of the chief minister and the ruling party which was already facing the heat of anti-incumbency. This is a tricky situation for the BJP as the opposition CPI(M) and Congress have been hitting the ground on the rape issues.
Will Left’s Activism in Tripura Earn Extra Points?
The Left party under the leadership of Jitendra Chaudhury, which recently showed its strength through its state-wide big rally on 21 October in Astabal ground, has been quite active on the ground along with its students, youth and women organisations on these rape issues. BJP knows that it can’t take the CPI(M) lightly and also the Congress, which has been gaining strength in the state. Already, the saffron party has been facing a strong challenge from the TIPRA Motha in the hills.
The probe by the police is on. Will Saha and BJP take the bold step to remove Bhagaban Das from the cabinet till the completion of the probe to blunt the campaign of the Opposition? Or without the resignation of the minister, will Saha and BJP be able to convince the people of the state that their version is true?
For that to happen, Saha has to ensure that the probe is completely impartial. One has to wait and watch if BJP can tackle this tough challenge before embarking on the electoral battlefield.
(Sagarneel Sinha is a political commentator and tweets @SagarneelSinha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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