The women’s movement can never forget , as we celebrate the Centenary of the October Revolution that shook the world, that it was Soviet Russia which first acknowledged the rights of women as workers, as citizens, and as individuals. Under Lenin’s stewardship, the Soviet State ensured that women were able to move out of the stultifying drudgery of housework, into the productive process as workers. Child bearing and child care was seen as an important contribution to the economy, and was given complete support. Women’s right to vote was given legal recognition. Many more measures taken by the Soviet state ensured that women, not just in Russia, but all over the capitalist world gained multiple rights that were until then denied to them. Such was the electrifying effect of the October Revolution led by Lenin.
We recall this tremendous contribution today, in the wake of Lenin’s statue getting toppled in Tripura, after the BJP/ IPFT alliance came to power. It is a wake up call for the whole nation, pointing out that the forces of reaction are trying to gain the upper hand in every nook and corner of the country. Women who have enjoyed the advantages of progressive regimes now have to face the challenge squarely. To defend what has been achieved, the experience of Tripura has to be examined thoroughly, of what went on before, during and after the elections!
Tripura election results.
The results of the elections in Tripura are a grim reminder that the onslaught of a strident neo liberal ethos combined with an aggressive rightist ideology can bring about a political change detrimental to the working classes and the common people. The Left Front in Tripura was defeated by the opportunist, and dangerous alliance between the BJP and the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) . They won 43 of the 59 seats for which elections were held ( BJP- 35, IPFT- 8), while CPI( M) won 16 seats. The BJP / IPFT combine polled 50.5% of the total votes, while the Left front polled 44.9% of the votes. The newly elected CM, Biplab Kumar Deb, is the state President of the BJP, while the Deputy CM Jishnu Devvarma, a tribal leader, is the descendant of the erstwhile royal family of Tripura.
The immediate and vicious unleashing of violence against the Left cadres, and CPI(M) offices after the BJP/ IPFT victory, (along with the toppling and beheading of a Lenin statue) underlines what we already know- the RSS will not hesitate to use the levers of state power in its all out attack on the Left. The infiltration by the RSS in a most organized and deadly manner into the urban and rural community is a direct threat to the Left forces, which if not countered effectively, can lead to the debacle that has been witnessed in Tripura. Taking note of what has happened during and especially after the elections in this tiny North Eastern state is therefore an important object lesson even for a state like Kerala, which has been declared as the next target by the RSS backed BJP ruling dispensation.
Chronicling post poll violence
After the results of the Assembly election in Tripura were declared on March 3, terror was unleashed by alleged members of the victorious alliance. Supporters and activists of the Left were attacked, their houses burnt down, and party offices were either wrecked or forcibly occupied by miscreants. According to CPI(M) estimates, 5, 514 individuals were injured, 1,539 houses were attacked, 196 houses were set on fire, 134 party offices were attacked and 208 party offices were captured as of March 5, two days after the election results were declared.
CPI(M) leader and vice chairman of the Melaghar Municipal Council, Zakir Hussein, of Sipahijala district, had to flee his home with his wife and two daughters aged nine and two after miscreants burnt it down and attacked his shop. Shyamal Chakraborty, the CPI(M) candidate who won from Sonamura constituency, said that arson and looting were rampant in the region. “Nine CPI(M) offices in Sonamura were wrecked and set on fire, houses have been destroyed, shops looted. From this area alone, 70 families have fled their homes in fear. Hundreds more dare not step out of their houses for fear of attack. These are mostly poor people who cannot even go out to earn their livelihood,” he said. According to him, the BJP is creating an atmosphere of terror so that nobody will dare challenge it later when it is unable to deliver on its election promises.
In the tribal belt under the jurisdiction of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) too, there was widespread violence. Repeated incidents of attack on CPI(M) supporters by members of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripara (IPFT), the BJP’s ally, were reported. According to Radhacharan Debbarma, general secretary of the Gana Mukti Parishad and chief executive member of the TTAADC, some 2,000 people from Jampuijala subdivision alone had to flee their homes.
There were even cases where those who had voted for the BJP were attacked by rampaging groups. In one such case, Shreyashi Goon of Chandipur narrated on social media how her house was invaded by alleged BJP vandals. “We kept telling them that we voted for the BJP and had no truck with the CPI(M), but they would not listen. Is this what we voted for? Is this their idea of development? We were warned that the BJP will bring goondagiri in the State, but we did not believe it then,” she said in a video message on a social media site.
The post poll attacks after the BJP / IPFT Government came to power has not spared women and children. To chronicle but a few:
• Fire was set to 221 homes. 966 were physically assaulted and attacked.
• Many have been rendered homeless particularly the Adivasis. There have been incidents of rape and murder in these areas, the details of which are still being investigated.
• Many AIDWA offices were attacked, and ransacked. Sukla Sarma, Panchayet member in Gouranagar gram panchayet was attacked and her house was set on fire, along with four other AIDWA members.
• In Nagbanshi ,Kamalpur, women were physically assaulted and two pregnant women were kicked in their belly and they lost their fetuses. This occurred on the midnight of March 7th – just 3 days after the election results were declared.
• In Ampi, mother of a CPI(M) worker suffered a heart attack when her house was set on fire by BJP-RSS lumpens.
• In Burjola, an 85 year old man was attacked, and his legs were broken. Physical assaults on women and children also occurred, many of the victims were admitted to the hospital in Udaypur where they were visited by AIDWA leaders.
• When there were attacks by BJP-RSS goons in bikes in Kazipara they had to retreat when AIDWA women came out , mobilized the women and protested.
Women have also been protesting and resisting these attacks. AIDWA has been trying to mobilize women, and is part of the ongoing process of helping affected victims, demanding justice and the re establishment of law and order in the state.
• In Kumarghat AIDWA comrades along with others marched and gave deputation to demand restoration of law and order to district administration.
• AIDWA comrades along with others from 3 violence affected mahakumas in Dharmanagar walked in a resistance and protest march on March 21 to demand restoration of law and order in the state. A Memorandum was given to the District Magistrate.
A delegation of the CPI(M) and other Left Party members of Parliament submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi detailing major incidents of such attacks. At a press conference in Kolkata CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said: “This is the actual character of the RSS. It has never in its entire existence expanded its mass base or its social influence without resorting to political violence.”
The comrades in Tripura are facing up to the reality of what barbarism the RSS is capable of. Vandalism and violence amid chants of “ bharat mata ki jai” indicates a proud proclamation that nobody with any other ideology will be tolerated. The Governor of Tripura, Tathagata Roy, who was a senior BJP leader tweeted “ What one democratically elected Government can do, another democratically elected Government can undo” . Some Central ministers came out with statements almost justifying the violence.
The need to build up a larger, powerful movement at the national level to counter this trend has become a priority.
But how did the BJP manage this seemingly astounding feat?
The BJP’s election strategy – money, muscle, and machinations.
While a detailed analysis is still awaited, the victory of the BJP can be traced to a number of factors, not least of which was the use of huge amount of money, and the full utilization of the central government machinery. For the first time, money was pumped in to present voters with laptops, expensive clothes, etc.
Secondly, the opportunist alliance with the IPFT, which had been demanding statehood for the tribal people, ignited a separatist fervour among the tribal sections, which went in their favour. While tribal people constitute only 31% of the population of Tripura, the plan to tap into the discontent among the tribal communities, and using it as a key plank in the campaign worked. The BJP/IPFT won 17 of the 19 seats in the TTAADC region.
The BJP has also worked on exacerbating the existing rift between the plains people, majority of whom were Bengali speaking, and the tribals, posing the interests of one against the other. The well known strategy of “ divide and rule” was deployed with great skill, and it paid rich dividends, as it found many takers among the people of the plains.
The cadre base of the RSS was utilized in a big way. The fact that the number of RSS shakhas increased from 60 to over 260 in the past three years gives an idea of how serious the Sangh parivar was about capturing Tripura. According to some estimates, as many as 5000 BJP workers and RSS cadres were deployed for the Tripura elections. There was a huge mobilization of RSS cadres from neighbouring states. The spadework done by the RSS to establish a presence in the tribal areas also contributed. This was part of the larger plan by the BJP to capture the north eastern region of the country
Selling a Dream.
Selling jhumlas has been a special strength of the Modi regime. This has been a feature of the BJP election strategy in many states and at the national level. It worked in Tripura as well. A high decibel campaign was conducted by the BJP central leaders to tell the voters how the Central government would fulfil all their aspirations, including the provision of jobs for the youth. The years of “ peace, harmony, and development” , provided by the Left Front had created newer aspirations especially amongst the youth. The unemployment figures among educated youth at 19.7% created dissatisfaction among them. The BJP leaders also held out the promise of more funds from the central kitty for Tripura’s development – contingent on their being elected to power!
The BJP did not hesitate to run down the Chief Minister, despite his known reputation for simplicity and straightforwardness. Many motivated comments were made, and amplified by a compliant media.
It is indeed unfortunate that the litany of untruths and half truths that were used against the Left Front government in Tripura got so much publicity due to constant repetition by Modi and Amit Shah. Can the BJP lay claim to the kind of achievements made by the Manik Sarkar Government in Tripura despite the backwardness of that region as a whole, the lack of connectivity with the Indian mainland, and the paucity of resources?
The record of the Left Front Government in Tripura
The Left Front Government under the leadership of its Chief Minister Com. Manik Sarkar has been widely regarded as one of the most exemplary State Governments both in terms of performance and corruption free governance. The state managed to overcome the problem of insurgency, and move towards a more inclusive model of development. The setting up of tribal councils, the attempt to channelize more resources to the tribal areas, etc, helped in this effort. The social indicators on literacy and health made impressive progress. Welfare programmes were also being rolled out effectively. The implementation of the MNREGA was among the best in the whole country, with women being the biggest beneficiaries.
Even as the state tried to sustain its progress, the weakness in the industrial sector was manifesting in a lack of jobs for the youth, Unemployment was a big source of discontent among the youth. The financial policies being adopted by the Central government were also placing obstacles in the path of development. The discontinuation of the central assistance programmes to Special Category States by the BJP Government on the recommendations of the Fourteenth Finance Commission caused Tripura a net loss of Rs.1356 crores. The funds under other major schemes were also reduced by Rs. 314.72 crores in 2015-16. Starving states of funds has become another weapon of the BJP Government in their attack on non BJP states.
The Struggle will go on
It is in such a context that the BJP has made inroads into the state and taken over the reins of Government, through money power, strategy and subterfuge. Its policies of pro corporate, neo liberal privatization are going to be thrust down the throats of the people. Their voices will be sought to be strangled by the communal forces. To prevent the Left from leading the people’s resistance, terror strikes are being unleashed. Now is the time to tell them that they will not succeed in their nefarious designs. Pulling down a statue cannot pulverize a revolutionary ideology that emancipates and empowers the people.