Walk The Talk with Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar

Shekhar Gupta: Hello and welcome to Walk The Talk. I am Shekhar Gupta and in a place that most of you are not likely to have come to and in fact, many of you may not even have heard too much about it. It is Agartala, the
capital of Tripura, a state of not even 40 lakh people and my guest today – a really unusual personality for many reasons, but two outstanding reasons. One, he is the most successful Chief
Minister in India, now in his fourth term and 18th year, most successful in a very long
time. And second, for the Left in India – Mr Manik Sarkar, you are the last man standing. Welcome to Walk The Talk. So are you aware of this distinction that you have, which may
not be the most flattering distinction that Indian Left has only one man standing, one
Chief Minister standing. Manik Sarkar: That is correct. But I am hopeful in the coming days, I shall be going to get my colleagues from some other states who will also join with me. At this moment yes, this is the only Left lit state. Shekhar Gupta: But Sir, if you look at West
Bengal and Tripura, there is not that much difference in population based demographics, although there is tribal population in Tripura, but large majority is still Bengali. How come the Left is so successful in Tripura but not quite so in West Bengal now?
Manik Sarkar: With regard to? Shekhar Gupta: Not so successful in West Bengal
now. But it continues to be totally the dominant force here. No competition. Manik Sarkar: You see in West Bengal in the last Assembly elections, the Left lost. There are reasons. Every state has its own specific characteristics. So at that point of time, the national level reactionary forces and
from within the West Bengal, all non-Left political parties, they clubbed together creating a lot of problems there. Because of all these things, actually some confusion got created among the minds of the people and they are there for 34 years. The state government could not fulfill all the aspirations of the common people of West Bengal. This is quite likely.
So because of these things, they lost. But here in Tripura, we have been trying our level best. First, we are trying to maintain unity between tribals and non-tribals. Shekhar Gupta: There was a particular incident
when a big massacre took place of Bengalis, almost on the eve of elections. What happened?
Did that massacre turn the elections? Manik Sarkar: Yes, that created a lot of problem. Particularly, they confused the urban Bengali people. That was a calculated thing. You see
just on the eve, 6 or 7 days earlier, of the elections, 93 Bengali people were killed. Old, women, children. All these things created a lot of problems. Shekhar Gupta: But was it part of what you
just called a conspiracy? Manik Sarkar: Yes, that was a part of conspiracy.
We’ve talked about it. Shekhar Gupta: And who carried it out? Enough time has passed now Sir. Manik Sarkar: At that time, I should
say Raj Bhawan was also involved. Mr Santosh Mohan Dev was there. And on the eve of these elections, no less than 8 to 10 Union Ministers were campaigning in the state guesthouse, that is called Circuit House. They even, what should I say, controlled the Election Commission here in Tripura. Shekhar Gupta: So there was a history of massacres.
Two sides of it – one the tribals feeling that they had become minorities in their own
state because Bengalis have come from all over, but mainly from East Bengal after partition. And second, tribals organising themselves in armed groups and then carrying out these massacres against the Bengalis to drive them away. How did you repair that situation?
Because that’s where your success lies? I have been a critic of the Left. I have argued
with the Left for a long time including in 10 years of UPA but I speak with you in admiration. Manik Sarkar: Our party CPI (M), right from the beginning, we have been trying our level best to maintain unity between tribals and
non-tribals. Dasarath Deb, he belongs to a tribal community but it was actually called by the tribal people that he is our crownless king. So right from the beginning, we have
tried our level best to make them understand… Shekhar Gupta: He had a very unfortunate death. Manik Sarkar: Unfortunate? Shekhar Gupta: I think he had hypoglycaemia?
Manik Sarkar: All these things were there. He was suffering. So the unity shall have
to be maintained; that is what is our appeal. In Tripura, tribals cannot survive without
the help and cooperation of the Bengalis. Bengalis cannot survive without the help and
cooperation of the tribals. Shekhar Gupta: Sir, I can understand tribals
needing Bengalis because they are such a majority and the elites – government officers, doctors,
journalists are mostly Bengali. But why should tribals be so important for the Bengalis’ survival? Manik Sarkar: Because actually Tripura was tribal dominated. They were majority. Because of the influx of non-tribals, Hindu Bengalis, they have been converted to minorities. Thereby, the demography of the state changed. It is
a qualitative difference. So in this situation, if you fail to maintain the unity between
the tribals and non-tribals… Shekhar Gupta: Then even Bengalis will not be happy.
Manik Sarkar: Exactly. Then how will the state go forward? Keeping that in mind, to develop
the democratic unity between both tribals and non-tribals, right from the beginning
we have been trying our level best to maintain this unity. But on the other hand, contrary
to that, Congress party here in Tripura, they actually survived by creating divisions between
tribals and non-tribals. Shekhar Gupta: Sir, when I said you are a
remarkable person for two reasons, I deliberately held back the third one because I knew the conversation will shift immediately to that, so one reason was that you are the last Leftist standing in power in India, although there is one more exception, the Mayor of Shimla is strangely
from your party. Number two, you are a fourth term Chief Minister and so popular. But third, that you are one Chief Minister in the North East who has on his own withdrawn the AFSPA. So how do you gather the courage to do that and why did you do it? You are going against
the current stream of thought. Manik Sarkar: Because you see, the situation has improved. That’s why we have taken this decision. But all of a sudden we have not
done it because this AFSPA was introduced in the year 1997. At that time, Dasarath Deb was the Chief Minister. Government of Tripura sought help from the Central government and
asked for Army. Because without Army at that point of time, the problem of extremist activities was not in the position to be tackled. Shekhar Gupta: Your groups were getting mixed
up with the other groups from neighbouring states at that point. Some of these coalitions had started coming up – Nagas, Tritpuris. Manik Sarkar: They were helping. Behind them ISI was there and they were using the soil of Bangladesh at that point of time. Our state police strength was very very limited. They used 3.3… Shekhar Gupta: Sir, I remember, when I used to come to see Mr Nripen Chakraborty, his guard outside had a 3.3, which I don’t think had
been cleaned for 50 years. Something like that. It was full of rust. I thought if he
fires it somewhere, it will harm him. Manik Sarkar: So these extremists, they were possessing most sophisticated arms. But the state police, numerically, the strength was
very limited and firepower was also very limited. At that point of time, there was no other option but to go to the Government of India and ask for the Army. At that time, they insisted that the Army cannot operate until and unless AFSPA is introduced. So there was no other option,
the Dasarath Deb government was forced to clamp this AFSPA. So anyhow at that time, you see more than half of the state was covered by AFSPA, this disturbing act. At that time, our number of police stations was only 40. Now of course it is 74, we have increased
this number. So then gradually what we have done – we have tried our level best to rouse
the people of our state, both the tribals and the non-tribals against these extremist
activities. Peace is the most important thing. Without peace, there cannot be developmental activities. These are very much interlinked. For development, peace is needed and for peace, development is very essential – interlinked. We have been able to make our people aware and conscious that yes, extremists are creating a lot of problems, particularly among the tribals actually. We
tried our level best to make them understand, because these extremist outfits, they have been formed and misleading the tribal youth in particular. Shekhar Gupta: Sir, I believe that the Prime
Minister asked you for a paper for a study on how Tripura had handled this situation? Manik Sarkar: Present Prime Minister? Yes. Shekhar Gupta: Yes, present Prime Minister Mr Modi. You wrote one for him, your government had sent one for him because they want that
to be a model for others states. Manik Sarkar: I do not know, he asked me that
and I have actually sent a small note of our experiences. So after that actually, we started our political and ideological campaign. The extremist outfits raised some political questions; they raised some ideological questions. Until and unless we answer all these questions, they cannot be fought back. That is what we have done. Second most important thing, developmental
activities. They used to say where are we, the tribals – no roads, no schools, no hospitals, no drinking water, nothing is there, no irrigation. So what’s the use of keeping ourselves with India? Let us leave India. Their main slogan was Independent Tripura. That is a citizen’s slogan, not terrorist alone. This is a citizen’s slogan. So in this situation, we have undertaken developmental activities. Shekhar Gupta: To that extent, they
were totally different from Maoists in Chhattisgarh. Manik Sarkar: Yes, totally different. Shekhar Gupta: So Sir, when did you come to the conclusion that now I can withdraw AFSPA? Manik Sarkar: With these activities, we have approached them; the extremists, we approached them. Please come to hold a dialogue, talk to us. If you don’t like to talk to us, you can talk to the Government of India. We shall not oppose to that, rather we shall try our level best to make Government of India convinced to talk to you. Shekhar Gupta: And you did not get the state
government indulging in dirty tricks with them. As I am afraid some of your neighbouring
state governments do. Manik Sarkar: That I don’t like to pass any
comment on. But one thing I must tell you very clearly, if the government involves with these extremist activities covertly or overtly, then how can this problem be solved? This cannot be solved.


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