Sweating it out

Agartala, Feb. 8: He was in Tripura Engineering College when his father was appointed a minister in the Congress-TUJS coalition government (1988-1993) and was a law graduate when his father became the chief minister in 1992-1993.

As a student, Sudip Roy Barman had been affectionately advised by a family friend to pursue academics in the US but his first love stood in the way. Today, he is thick in the heat and dust of politics.

His first foray into the electoral arena in 1993 had come a cropper as he lost convincingly against CPM stalwart and former chief minister Nripen Chakraborty. But Sudip stuck on and won three consecutive Assembly elections from Agartala (No. 6) between 1998 and 2008.

Currently, as PCC president, Sudip is locked in what looks like the "toughest electoral battle of his life" against a young Citu leader Shankar Prasad Dutta who is the sitting MLA from neighbouring Barjala (now SC) constituency.

As state Youth Congress president a few years back and now as PCC president, Sudip has not been able to nurse his constituency as much as he would have liked and now he faces an uphill task.

"Because of delimitation, the shape of my constituency has changed beyond recognition. The ruling CPM has morphed it in such a way that I had to begin anew here. But, hopefully, I will retain the constituency," he said.

He pointed out that many areas, known as his strongholds, had been tagged with neighbouring Ramnagar and Barjala Assembly constituencies while certain areas, known as the CPM's vote bank had been incorporated into Agartala (No. 6) to put him in trouble.

"Ultimately I will win. They cannot block me this way. I have to work harder this time. This is good in a way as I am coming in touch with more and more people," he said.

For Sudip's rival Shankar Prasad Dutta, winning the constituency against the PCC president is a mission. His wife Krishna Rakshit, a senior leader of the CPM's women's front, had lost to Sudip in 1998 and is now working day and night along with her husband to avenge the defeat.

The fight for Agartala (No. 6) has reached a fascinating stage with the rivals leaving nothing to chance. The deciding factor will be the constituency's 30 per cent indigenous votes.

Shankar Prasad is hoping that a majority of the 30 per cent indigenous voters will cast their ballots in his favour because they constitute the traditional base of the CPM.

"I am confident but ultimately the people of my constituency will decide the winner and the loser. But I must say that I am getting good response from the voters," he said.

He said the Congress has never won in the constituency without "corruption and bribing" but this time the people "have risen against such corrupt practices".

A posh aristocratic locality of Agartala town, Agartala (No. 6) also accommodates Tripura's royal family, the Ujjayanta palace and the indigenous nobility.

"Recently, the voter profile has changed. Many have converted and Kokborok-speaking indigenous people have settled down here. Their loyalty will be a key factor in the election," indigenous poet Ratul Debbarma said.

Tripura goes to the hustings on February 14.

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