West Bengal’s two main political forces – the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP – have shifted their political battle to Tripura with both making accusations and counter-accusations of “destroying democracy” in the two Bengali-dominated states.
Since the “house arrest” of 23 members of poll stategist Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC at an Agartala hotel on July 25 by the state police, more than 15 top Trinamool leaders, including several ministers and national General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee, have started arriving in BJP-ruled Tripura, triggering violence.
On Saturday and Sunday, several clashes between the BJP and the Trinamool cadre took place at Dharmanagar in North Tripura district, Ambassa in Dhalai district, and Khowai in Khowai district – injuring at least 15 Trinamool leaders and members and damaging several cars.
Banerjee, accompanied by West Bengal Education Minister Bratya Basu and Rajya Sabha member Dola Sen, arrived in Agartala on Sunday and straightway rushed to Khowai, where police detained 14 Trinamool leaders and workers for “violations of Covid protocols and restrictions”.
Exacerbating the tension, a large number of BJP workers showed black flags to Trinamool leaders and shouted ‘go back’ slogans.
As Trinamool’s chief spokesman Kunal Ghosh alleged that the 14 party leaders and workers, mostly from West Bengal, were arrested by the BJP government in a “false case”, a court in Khowai granted bail to all 14, including Debangshu Bhattacharya, Sudip Raha and Jaya Dutta from West Bengal, on local sureties and personal bonds.
“BJP goons and anti-socials even attacked the Trinamool workers and leaders within the Khowai court complex and damaged four cars on Sunday… a huge police contingent led by senior officials remained silent spectators. A total ‘jungle raj’ has been prevailing in Tripura since the BJP came to power in March 2018,” Ghosh told IANS over phone.
He said that the Trinamool would organise a demonstration outside the Parliament on Monday to protest the attack on the party workers by the BJP in Tripura.
Ghosh said that seven party leaders and workers, including youth leaders Bhattacharya, Raha and Dutta, were injured when they were attacked by BJP workers at Ambassa, while a Trinamool party office was totally damaged by the ruling party workers at Dharmanagar.
“Instead of arresting the attackers, the police detained several of our leaders and workers, including Subal Bhowmik, in Dharmanagar on Saturday night. We would meet the Governor (Satyadev Narayan Arya) soon to demand the arrest of the BJP goons. The Trinamool will not tolerate the BJP government’s jungle raj,” he said.
Banerjee, who was in Khowai police station until the court granted bail of his party leaders, said: “BJP cannot succeed in throttling democracy in Tripura by using the police force and their goons.”
His convoy was also allegedly attacked by BJP workers during his visit to Tripura on last Monday.
Strongly denying the charges, the BJP claimed that the Trinamool is entirely a non-factor in Tripura and is trying to spread the “virus of political violence” in the northeastern state, where “outsiders” with the backing of CPI-M are fomenting trouble and lawlessness.
BJP spokesman Nabendu Bhattacherjee told IANS that over 500 of his party workers and members from West Bengal took shelter in Tripura while hundreds of others went to Assam after being attacked by the Trinamool workers following the declaration of Assembly election results there in May.
He also demanded a high-level probe into both the incidents in Dharmanagar and in Ambassa.
BJP spokesperson in Kolkata, Samik Bhattacharya, said that the saffron party wrested power from the Left Front in Tripura in March 2018 after a massive struggle, and it would not be so easy to dislodge it.
Political commentator Sanjib Deb said that since the erstwhile princely state joined the Indian Union in October 1949, the Congress and the Left parties were the two main political forces but before the 2023 polls, the traditional political milieu is likely to change with the BJP and the Trinamool emerging as the main forces.
“Like the BJP in Bengal, the Trinamool has not yet projected an attractive and politically acceptable face or leader in Tripura putting Bengal’s ruling party on the back burner in Tripura so far,” Deb, editor of a leading English Daily “North East Colours”, told IANS.
In the February 2018 elections, the BJP had secured 36 seats (43 per cent votes) in the 60-member house and its ally IPFT 8 seats (7.5 per cent votes) with combined vote share of 50.5 per cent against the four-party Left Front’s 45 per cent, with only the CPI-M bagging 16 seats.
Congress, the erstwhile chief opposition party, went unrepresented in the house, managing only a meagre 1.8 per cent vote share. The Trinamool secured only 0.3 per cent.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at [email protected])