Political inertia and change

Agartala, Feb. 7: Landing in the last Communist bastion of the country in the run-up to Assembly elections brings a sense of d�j� vu for someone from Bengal. The splashes of red, the buntings and party flags with the "comrades" playing the poll bugle are tell-tale signs that the Left regime is not about to taste any dose of paribartan soon.

The man at the helm, chief minister Manik Sarkar, led the CPM to a stunning victory in 2008, the Left Front securing 49 of the 60 seats. The CPM's tally was 46, with the 64-year-old Sarkar then being sworn in for the third consecutive time. The Opposition Congress, which bagged all the four seats in the state capital (Ramnagar, Town Baradwali, Banamalipur and Agartala) is swearing by "change" though.

"Bam Front Paribartan" announces the huge hoarding at Congress Bhawan in the heart of the city. The Trinamul Congress in the state has, in tacit support to the Congress, desisted from fielding any candidate in these elections, despite its initial bravado of unseating the Left from power. Driving along the streets here, one notices the neat array of party flags along the kerb ' the Congress, CPM, Forward Bloc, BJP and INPT ' fluttering in amicable companionship.

The street-corner meetings are devoid of vitriolic rhetoric: the Left candidates are speaking of freedom from insurgency, peace and development, while the Congress is clamouring for change. "The Left has departed from West Bengal and Kerala. Now it is our turn," is the common refrain.

Given that the party could muster only 10 seats in the last Assembly elections, it would be a tall task for them to do a Mamata Banerjee.

Rajib Chakraborty, a local resident who has voted in the last three elections, said the Manik Sarkar government "has ensured better roads, streetlights, peaceful law and order situation. It is safe to walk on our streets even at midnight," he claimed.

The bevy of security forces seen patrolling the streets is indicative of any poll-bound state. Sharing a 856km-long border with Bangladesh and thereby apprehending infiltration of disruptive forces, the state has requisitioned the services of CRPF, CISF, Tripura State Rifles and forces from Assam, Gujarat and Punjab. Also evident are jeeps carrying election observers. It is because of their hawk-eyed scrutiny that no hoarding (except a few Congress ones) is taller than three feet, in keeping with the Election Commission directive. It is quite another matter that the jeep of an "expenditure observer" was parked outside the Tripura state emporium Purbasha on Tuesday evening, with the observer opening his expense account by splurging on northeastern textiles.

On the flight to this capital city, a veteran co-passenger recounted that the airport sports two runways heading in opposite directions. One ensures take-off into Bangladeshi air space. The other enables the pilot to detour over India and take the much longer route in times of conflict. Thank god for peace with this eastern neighbour, for it affords a shorter, direct flight between the capitals of West Bengal and Tripura.

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