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Manik Sarkar Warns BJP Against 'Playing With Fire' in Tripura, Calls Narendra Modi 'Weak Prime Minister'

Sarkar is leading a high voltage electoral campaign for the Tripura assembly elections, due on February 18. He is hopeful of forming a record eighth Left Front government in the state.

Sougata Mukhopadhyay | CNN-News18

Updated:February 13, 2018, 4:08 PM IST
Manik Sarkar Warns BJP Against 'Playing With Fire' in Tripura, Calls Narendra Modi 'Weak Prime Minister'
File photo of Manik Sarkar. (PTI)

Agartala: Confident of defending one of the last remaining fortresses of the Left against the political onslaught of the BJP which is on a winning spree in the North East, Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar said that the saffron brigade was “playing with fire” by joining hands with the divisive forces in that state.

Sarkar also hit back at Narendra Modi for playing on his name at a recent public meeting in Tripura. The PM had said that the time is ripe for the state to replace Manik (gem) with Heera (diamond). “Such use of words only demonstrates his weakness as a Prime Minister. The people of Tripura will not accept such attacks on an individual,” Sarkar said in an exclusive interview to News18.

Sarkar is leading a high voltage electoral campaign for the Tripura assembly elections, due on February 18. He is hopeful of forming a record eighth Left Front government in the state. The campaign is currently in its final phase, with the BJP emerging as the primary opponent.

Calling the pre-poll tie-up between the BJP and the tribal-based Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) an “unholy and opportunistic alliance”, Sarkar said, “It is surprising that a national party ruling the Centre has allied with a party like IPFT, whose main demand is to carve out a new state from Tripura. This organisation was founded in the year 2000 by an extremist outfit called NLFT which has its camps on the other side of the international border. They have been pampered and nurtured by the ISI and the CIA. They have organised holocausts and riots here in Tripura to divide the tribal and non-tribal population of the state.”

“It is to a party of such dubious background that the BJP has extended its support. Naturally, the people of Tripura are asking how a nationalistic political party is aligning with this sort of a divisive political organisation. We are asking people to decide whether they want to support the BJP, and hence the IPFT, and thus aide the division of Tripura,” Sarkar added.

“By doing this, the BJP is playing with fire,” the chief minister asserted.

According to the BJP, its alliance with the IPFT alliance is based on a set of “common minimum programmes” for development of socio-economic conditions, education, language and culture of the indigenous people of Tripura who form about 31 percent of the state’s population and have one-third of the 60 seats reserved in the state assembly. The BJP has fielded its candidates from 51 seats and left nine to the tribal party. IPFT has, however, announced that it would separately pursue its demand for separate statehood.

Asked to respond to Prime Minister Modi’s recent jibe at him, Sarkar was all for returning back the favour albeit within democratic parameters and courtesy. “This is a political battle we are fighting. It’s a struggle for ideology, politics, programmes and their implementation. It is not a battle between two individuals. I have respect for the chair that he occupies. He is our Prime Minister and by saying these things, he has only demonstrated his weakness. It is not expected of him,” Sarkar said with a wry smile on his face.

Sarkar, who has been chief minister for the last two decades and heads a government which has ruled Tripura since 1978, except for a five-year gap between 1988-93, strongly denied facing anti-incumbency.

“We are not facing anti-incumbency because our government has not taken a single step which goes against the interest of common people,” he asserted, adding, “We have implemented numerous pro-people policies and programmes despite sustained non-cooperation from the Centre, which has failed to fight us politically and ideologically.”

The chief minister also shirked responsibility for the CPI-M failing to anticipate BJP’s rapid growth in Tripura. “The BJP has not been able to consolidate its base in Tripura. The RSS’ attempts to divide tribals into Christians and Hindus have failed. The present growth of BJP is only because of a section of opportunistic Congress leaders, who have switched over first from the Congress to the Trinamool and now from the Trinamool to the BJP. A section of their followers are irked by this toying with their sentiments,” Sarkar said.

“The formula of co-opting the Congress, which has worked for the BJP in some of the other North-Eastern states, will not work in Tripura. If the card changes at the Centre, a reverse exodus will happen here… that’s the experience of the North East,” Sarkar maintained.

Despite showing firm conviction about holding the BJP at bay, senior party functionaries at the CPI-M state headquarters in Agartala admitted that Sarkar was up against one of the toughest challenges of his political career. Should he succeed in giving the BJP its Waterloo moment, his prominence within the Left leadership in the country would skyrocket, not to speak of that within his own party.

Evidently, Manik Sarkar has much more at stake in these state elections than just holding one of last remaining Left bastions in India.

| Edited by: Aditya Nair
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