As Tripura goes to polls, spotlight on 'poorest CM'

Agartala, Feb 12 (IANS) He washes his clothes every morning, has just over Rs.10,000 in his name and owns neither house, mobile nor car. Tripura's Manik Sarkar is probably India's poorest chief minister and that rare politician whose honesty is extolled by his staunchest political opponents.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader, described by political pundits as the defender of the last red bastion, says his wife's pension sustains both of them. His wife, Panchali Bhatacherjee, a retired central government employee, declines the use of a government vehicle and commutes by rickshaw or walks.

At 64, Sarkar, who is leading the CPI-M in making another bid for power in the Feb 14 assembly elections in this border state that is surrounded on three sides by Bangladesh, had just Rs.16,120 in 2008. In 2013, according to his election affidavit, he has less: Rs.10,800.

In line with CPI-M policy, Sarkar gives his salary to the party, which pays him Rs.5,000 per month.

He is India's only chief minister who does not own a home, a car or a bank balance worth mentioning. He does not even have a mobile phone and has never used the red beacon on his official car.

Sarkar's wife, a retired central government employee, has Rs.22,015 in cash and Rs.24,52,395 as savings. The couple has no children. Bhattacharjee, 62, who retired in 2010, was a welfare officer of the central social welfare department. She said her husband "still washes his clothes every morning".

"My wife's pension can sustain us. My expenses are a small pot of snuff and a cigarette a day," Sarkar said. He added that the Left Front is confident of returning to power in the Feb 14 polls for a seventh time.

After the death of his mother Anjali in August 2009, Sarkar inherited a small house worth Rs.200,000 in Agartala. He donated it to his only younger sister Ratna. Sarkar's father Amulya was a tailor and mother Anjali was an employee of the state health department.

Tripura's chief minister for 15 years since March 1998, the longest term for any chief minister, Sarkar says firmly: "We do not make any false promises. What we cannot deliver we do not claim to do."

Sarkar said: "Actions speak louder than words. Work and performance are more important than talks and speeches. A sincere attempt has been made for all-round development of Tripura."

As campaigning gathers steam, even the opposition Congress doffs its hat to his personal honesty, transparency and in ambiguity.

"We could not raise any questions against Manik Sarkar's honesty and integrity. There might be some misdeeds in his government, but Manik is absolutely honest," state Congress leader Tapas Dey told IANS.

He said: "Manik's another deferential aspect is that he gives importance and liberty to leaders and legislators of the opposition parties."

"The value of his movable and immovable assets are less than that of a rickshaw puller. He is obsessed with the happiness and well-being of the people. He is not concerned about himself," political analyst Sekhar Datta told IANS.

"His spartan lifestyle, extreme honesty and sincerity are the hallmark of the ruling Left Front," Datta added.

Sarkar joined politics in 1967. He was elected secretary of the CPI-M's Tripura unit in 1993 after state party chief and legendary Marxist leader Dasaratha Deb became chief minister (1993-1998).

A bachelor of commerce from Calcutta University in 1971, Sarkar was first elected to the state assembly from the Agartala constituency in a 1980 by-poll and again in 1983.

He was re-elected to the 60-seat assembly in 1998, 2003 and 2008 from Dhanpur in western Tripura. This time he is seeking re-election from the same seat.

He twice unsuccessfully contested for the West Tripura Lok Sabha seat in 1989 and 1991. In 1989, he withdrew his candidature on polling day alleging widespread rigging by the Congress. He boycotted the 1991 election alleging a "reign of terror" by the Congress.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

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