Agartala, Feb. 8: The Tripura CPM is confident of retaining the last Communist bastion in the country after debacles in West Bengal and Kerala, the buoyancy stemming from its almost impenetrable base among indigenous voters.
"There is no denying that the Scheduled Tribe (ST) seats form our core strength and have long been our base areas," CPM office secretary Haripada Das said.
The 60-member Tripura Assembly has 20 seats reserved for indigenous people ' three were added to the earlier 17 by an act of Parliament as part of the peace accord with Tripura National Volunteers in 1988.
At best, the CPM bagged 19 of the 20 seats in 2008 with only INPT supremo Bijay Kumar Hrangkhawal scraping through the now defunct Kulai (ST) seat by a margin of 117 votes. Even in the worst of times, its tally never went below 13 of the 20 ST seats.
"There is no reason why the good result cannot be replicated," Das said. He traced the origin of the Marxist base among indigenous people to the literacy movement launched by late chief minister and legendary indigenous leader Dasharath Deb from December 1945 under the banner of Jana Shiksha Andolan (mass literacy movement). Within two years, he formed the Gana Mukti Parishad against the misrule of the royal family.
Soon, late Biren Dutta and Pranesh Biswas formed a Communist party unit here but it gained strength only after Deb and his followers joined it en masse, Das said. After the Calcutta congress of the undivided Communist party called for an armed struggle, the Tripura unit joined it.
The armed struggle fizzled out because of changed party line after the government of India deployed army under the command of Nanjhappa upon merger of princely Tripura with the Indian Union on October 15, 1949, but the Communist movement had taken shape, Das said.
In Independent India's first Lok Sabha polls of 1952, undivided CPI candidates Dasharath Deb (East Tripura ST seat) and Biren Dutta (West Tripura general seat) won handsomely by securing more than 62 per cent votes.
"But the influx of Bengali refugees from riot-torn East Pakistan started changing the electoral equations. While the indigenous people remained with the Communist party, the CPI and then the CPM, the new arrivals developed a fear psychosis drilled by the Congress that the Communists would expel them from Tripura," Das said.
Citing the Communist party's electoral supremacy, Das said of the 15 Lok Sabha elections held so far, the party had won the East Tripura (ST) Lok Sabha seat 11 times and West Tripura general seat 10 times.
"This includes the controversial and rigging-marred Lok Sabha elections of 1989 and 1991. The then CPM candidate, present chief minister Manik Sarkar, had to be withdrawn from West Tripura seat on the poll day in 1989 while the Lok Sabha polls of 1991 were totally boycotted by the CPM," Das said. "Even at the height of regionalism in state politics, the Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti (TUJS) could only win six seats in 1983 and seven in 1988 while the Congress could win its lone seat in 1988."
"Our tally of ST seats has never gone below 13 of the 20 seats at the worst of times. Even in the two successive elections to the autonomous district council (ADC) for tribals, the CPM-led Left Front made a clean sweep of all the 28 elective seats twice in 2005 and in 2010," he added.
He attributed this to the CPM's continued struggle and endeavour for tribal welfare. He said the CPM struggled for ADC and organised the first ADC elections in January 1982 even before the Centre amended the Constitution to extend the provisions of Sixth Schedule to Tripura ADC.
"We are confident that the vast majority of ST seats in this Assembly election also will come to us despite the artificial hype sought to be created by the Congress and its ally INPT," Das said.
Leader of the Opposition Ratanlal Nath blamed the Congress's lack of acceptance among indigenous people to its poor organisational work.
"Our party leadership in the past made serious mistakes by not trying to enlist support from the indigenous people but those days are gone. Indigenous people in Tripura are keen to join the national mainstream and they are coming to us in large numbers," he said.
He described the struggle launched by Deb in the mid-forties as "essentially an ethnic movement directed against the Bengalis" and termed the Communists during the armed struggle period as "those who fought against the nascent Indian state like insurgents". He said in the upcoming Assembly polls, the Congress and the INPT would comfortably secure at least eight seats.