AGARTALA/ DHANPUR/SONAMURA :
The Lok Sabha constituency of west Tripura will vote on Thursday in the hope that they will bring to power a candidate who can address the sharp rise in unemployment in the state as well as assuage fears about the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had in February 2018 ended the 25-year rule of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, in the state, with chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb replacing former chief minister Manik Sarkar.
For the people of Tripura, the state government needs to tackle the looming crisis of unemployment and a flagging education system, for which the people are willing to bring in governance parity between the centre and the state so that the two can work in tandem to address the growing crises in the region.
“Unemployment is at an all-time high in the state. Since the Manik Sarkar government came to power 25 years ago, 750,000 people have been unemployed and there are no fresh jobs. We need to give the BJP a chance to create jobs and to undo 25 years of damage. The previous government did not bother with improving education as a result of which unemployment increased," said Subhash Deb, chairman, Shantinagar school management committee, Dhanpur.
Tripura west, which votes on 11 April, in the first phase, includes the state capital of Agartala. East Tripura, which is the tribal belt, will vote on 18 April, in the second phase. Both seats have been held by either Congress or the Left since the 1950s.
This time, it will be a multi-cornered contest. The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, which allied with BJP in the state polls, is fielding its own candidates for both Lok Sabha seats.
In Tripura west, BJP candidate Pratima Bhowmik is up against her former colleague Subal Bhowmik, who rejoined Congress in March. The CPM has held Tripura west since 1996, and its sitting MP Sankar Prasad Datta is contesting again.
The unemployment has also impacted the income of the farmers.
The state government has shut down illegal opium plantations in west Tripura, which fetched a sizeable income for families in the interiors of the state. Those farmers have now taken to growing vegetables and paddy. However, the produce is insufficient to sustain a family of three or four, they say.
“If people don’t have jobs, how will they buy anything? Farmers are very badly off here. We hope the farm benefit schemes of the Modi government reach us. Politicians just come here, make promises and go away. When we don’t get the price for our produce and struggle financially, it hurts us and nobody else," said Mufiz Miyan, a farmer in Dhanpur.
The state, which is locked by Bangladesh on three sides, considers the citizenship amendment bill a looming threat.
In Tripura, which is struggling against rising unemployment, the people are hoping desperately that the centre will see reason and scrap the Bill.
“Unemployment is skyrocketing in Tripura. If the government decides to bring in more people from neighbouring countries, where will we go? How will we survive?" asked Bikram Pal, a shop owner in Tripura’s Sonamura.
“The legitimate citizens of the country will stand to lose because of this. The government first needs to solve the unemployment problem here. We have yet to see results on this front," Pal said.
Residents pointed out that Tripura is still trying to pull itself up from the economic doldrums it had fallen into these many years and said that the bill would only compound its problems in terms of distribution of logistics and resources.
“We do not support the citizenship bill at all. We hope it is not passed in Parliament. The government needs to think, look at the size of states such as Tripura. The size of the land is not enough to accommodate people from Bangladesh or other countries. How will our resources stretch to provide for the extra people? The government needs to think about these logistics before it opens the country’s door to refugees from elsewhere," said Sankar Debnath, a businessman in Agartala.