The BJP government led by Biplab Kumar Deb has completed a one-year-long run in office. Last year, after dethroning the 25-year-old CPM-led Left Front government in Tripura, BJP come to power with Indigenous People's Party of Tripura (IPFT) as the junior ally in the government. Chief Minister Deb, on the first anniversary of the BJP-IPFT government, highlighted the achievements of his dispensation but ignored the key issue — signs of shrinking democracy in the state.
Allegations of Intimidating Opposition
Since the BJP-IPFT combine came to power, there have been allegations of attacks on opposition supporters and leaders. There have been clashes even between the supporters of the two ruling partners – though political clashes are not new in the state.
The large-scale resignations of Left representatives in rural bodies, resulting in vacancies in more than 50% of gram panchayat seats, however, is unprecedented.
With the Left losing power, for many representatives from the red camp, joining the saffron party was a better option to secure their own political futures. Still, large-scale desertions raise questions about whether everything is alright in the state.
No Opposition to the BJP?
Not only this, but 96% of the rural body seats were won by the BJP unopposed. The nomination process for the by-elections saw clashes between the supporters of the BJP and the opposition. The BJP supporters also clashed with supporters of ally IPFT, with the latter, too, joining the opposition CPM and Congress to defer the deadline of the nomination process. This demand was declined by the State Election Commission.
Elections were held for the rest of the 4% of seats, where the BJP won mostly all of them. The BJP described the results as the people of Tripura accepting the saffron party. However, the electoral process raises some valid questions which can’t be brushed aside.
Had there really been no opposition, there would have been no political clashes between the BJP and the opposition supporters.
The same happened in the civic by-elections held in December last year, where 99.37% of seats were won by the BJP, raising serious eyebrows on the electoral process. In this case, too, the reason for the by-elections was the same — resignations of the Left's urban representatives.
Attacks on Senior Opposition Leaders
Apart from that, the attacks on senior opposition leaders raise questions about the well-being of democracy in the state.
Former chief minister Manik Sarkar, one of the longest serving Chief Ministers of the country, has faced attacks at Rastar Matha in Sipahijala district.
His convoy was targeted allegedly by BJP supporters. Former state minister and Congress President Birajit Singha (who was recently replaced from the post by Pradyut Kishore Barman) was attacked by alleged BJP supporters in northern Tripura.
Not only this, East Lok Sabha MP and former CPM minister Jitendra Chaudhary, too, had faced attacks allegedly by the BJP supporters. During the day of urban by-elections, senior CPM leader and former minister Bhanulal Saha was assaulted by a BJP activist. Plus, state CPM secretary Gautam Das was heckled by the BJP supporters the day results were declared.
This shows how the democratic situation has deteriorated in the state after BJP’s coming to power. There had been allegations of attacks on opposition supporters during the Left era too. But as a local daily pointed out, during the Left regime, the CPM cadres used to attack the opposition supporters secretly. Large-scale political violence across the state was last seen during the period of 1988-93 when Congress-TUJS (Tripura Upajati Samiti) combine was in power in the state. However, presently the attacks are done openly by BJP supporters.
State Administration’s Alleged Media Censorship
On 2 October last year, the publication of CPM mouthpiece Daily Desher Katha—the second largest circulated daily of the state—was stopped due to Registrars of Newspapers for India (RNI) cancelling the registration of the paper late night on 1 October following inputs of District Magistrate of West Tripura.
This was due to mismatch of ownership issue of the paper. According to reports, RNI on 1 October had issued a Revised Registration Certificate to the paper but the Sub Divisional Magistrate, who had authenticated the daily, was ordered by the District Magistrate to cancel it. RNI was then told that the verification of the paper was cancelled.
However, Daily Desher Katha resumed its publication after remaining closed for 9 days following the orders of the Tripura High Court, which stayed the administrative order that had stopped its publication.
The point to be noted here is that the Daily Desher Katha has been the main opposition against the state government.
So, the cancellation order by the state administration seems to be politically motivated and an attack on freedom of press.
Development Minus Democracy?
It is true that the BJP government under Biplab Kumar Deb is taking serious steps to improve the quality of education, health infrastructure, and the tourism industry. But any development minus democracy is not worthy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his New Year interview had mentioned the BJP's huge victory in the urban by-elections in Tripura, saying it decimated the opposition. Was the PM not aware that there have been allegations that opposition supporters/candidates had been intimidated by BJP activists/supporters, throwing the entire electoral process into doubt?
The state of democracy, though not yet in a critical state, is fast deteriorating under BJP rule. It’s high time for Biplab Kumar Deb to look into this significant issue before it goes out of hand. Otherwise, all the development efforts of the new government will be in vain.
(Sagarneel Sinha is a freelance writer from Tripura who writes on politics, foreign affairs and Indian mythology. He 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.)