Manik Sarkar, who has been Tripura chief minister for nearly 15 years, appears confident of returning to power. This stems from his record of implementing welfare schemes effectively and the organizational network of the Left pitted against a weak and faction-ridden Congress. But the high rate of unemployment and the increasing aspirations of the youth could work against the prospects of Sarkar’s Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM, which is pushing hard to retain power in the only state it governs. Polls will be held on 14 February and the result announced on 28 February.
Sarkar spoke in an interview about his expectations and concerns for the state. Edited excerpts:
Given that Tripura is the only Left Front-ruled state, is there any added pressure?
I don’t feel any extra pressure. The West Bengal election was held in their own situation, Kerala election was held in their own situation. All elections are held in their own situations. Every state has its own characteristic. One state cannot be equated with others. So, yes. we fought we lost... Yes, we are learning lessons from them. But, that is not putting any extra pressure on us. We are fighting on our own grounds. (The CPM lost power in elections held in West Bengal and Kerala.)
Unemployment continues to be a problem in Tripura.
It is only natural. What did Tripura have? Nothing.
Even the improvement in the unemployment rate has not been as much as the national average?
How is it possible? We had no infrastructure at one point of time. Responsibility lies with the centre. Rails, roads, air connectivity, telecommunication—these are the most important areas without which one cannot come to invest. All those should be done by the centre. They did not do it in a proper way and now we are putting pressure on them.
Now, things have started changing. At the same time, what I should say is in power generation we are going to be one of the surplus states in the country. Another thing is the per capita income of our people that is rising, an internal small market has been created and that will also further improve. We are trying our level best to develop our link with Bangladesh, Chittagong port, rail link, road link and air connectivity. All these things in the coming days will help us to (increase) the scope of employment.
Is unemployment one of the biggest problems in the state right now?
It is a national problem. This state cannot be isolated. Throughout the country, what is the number of unemployed people? It is 20 crores; 41 lakh posts are lying vacant in the government of India, they have taken decisions not to fill up those vacant posts. They have instructed us that you should also not go with filling up of vacant posts.
Have the poll losses in West Bengal and Kerala affected morale?
No, not at all. This is because they have learnt lessons from them.
Have they emerged stronger from these defeats?
That will be seen after the (assembly election) results are publicized. One has to wait for that.
How strong is the party cadre in the state?
Our party is expanding regularly. New people are coming. Keeping that in mind, we can humbly claim that we are gaining ground. From the angle of organization of the party, from that angle, I am telling you. We are gaining ground, people are coming, and they have developed confidence in our party, because in this democratic system it is the party which is ultimately steering all the things. They have developed their confidence in this government.
Behind this government, the party is there, the Left Front is there. Eliminating this party and the Left Front, the government cannot be seen or thought of in an isolated manner.
After consecutive terms in government, aspirations will rise. How does the government plan to live up to the faith people have kept in you?
At the time of the elections, we never make any commitment to the people which we cannot (meet). We know our limitations. Power lies with the government of India, the centre. Powers with the state are very, very limited. So, on that particular aspect, we are trying our level best to make our people conscious that this is our limitation.
You are a veteran leader of the party…
No, no. I am not a leader, I am still a cadre.
Given that you have also been a politburo member, do you think the electoral slide of the party may affect the political relevance of the Communist movement in India?
That is absolutely wrong. Yes, our performance in the last Parliament election was poor; that was beyond our expectation. And yes, we lost our government in West Bengal, we lost in Kerala. That is immaterial to us, we are learning from all these defeats. But, what is the performance of our party inside the Parliament and outside the Parliament, you are observing.
I am telling you, people also learn from their own experiences. People who did not support us in the last parliamentary elections are also realizing it now. What is said, why we withdrew our support from the first United Progressive Alliance government, the issues. Now, people have realized that.
Keeping all these things in mind, losing in parliamentary or assembly elections is a temporary phenomenon.
In the wake of the Telangana agitation, there is a growing debate over the demands of smaller states. You have been the chief minister of a state that is relatively small. What is your view on bifurcation of states?
We don’t actually support this sort of approach or subscribe to this idea. What is smaller state or bigger state? States were created on the basis of language and that should not be disturbed. If one tries to undertake this sort of thing, there will be no end to this. This will not help to strengthen our unity and integrity.
How do you see the future of Tripura?
Bright. Nature has endowed us with so many things, our people are good, polite, positive and they are very hardworking and conscious. Keeping all these things in mind, the strategy what we have drawn, if that is properly implemented, Tripura will be one of the leading and model states in our country in the days to come.