Sudip Roy Barman, Agartala MLA since 1998 and former Leader of the Opposition leader in Tripura, is seen as the main face of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is determined to oust the Manik Sarkar-led CPM government that has been ruling the state for 25 years.
In 2016, he defected along with five other senior leaders from the Congress to the Trinamool Congress, alleging the party high command was unwilling to listen to the genuine grievances of the party’s Tripura unit. In 2017, he and his team joined the BJP. In a telephonic interview, Barman told this newspaper that the people of Tripura were fed up with the “fascist” ways and “corruption of CPM” and the BJP would come to power in the northeastern state. Excerpts:
Q: Will the BJP, which has ascended to power in Assam and Manipur, win Tripura? What is your main election plank?
A: India is fast developing under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but Tripura is left behind. We are not at par with the other states in the country as far as the pace of development is concerned. This is due to rampant corruption going on in every department. This government has failed to deliver good governance. In the name of government and administration, you see only handpicked people who get jobs and who are the beneficiaries of the panchayat. Only those who will walk along with them (CPM, the ruling party), only those who believe in their ideology get all the priorities, right from socio-economical to political privileges. It is a government not for the people of the state, but for a section of society.
People have also seen the Congress join hands with the Left. They have made up their mind that enough is enough. People have decided that since the Congress is hand in glove with the Left parties, they would go with a party that is determined to fight tooth and nail against the Left Front. The rank and file of the Congress, its leaders and supporters have switched over to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
There is defection in the CPM also, its grassroots workers are joining the BJP. We are going to the hustings with the promise that we would give good governance and work for all. We want to ensure that the pace of development of Tripura is at par with what is being seen in other states.
People have now started believing that the BJP can really oust the Left and bring about a change in the politics of the state. They have started opening their mouth against the CPM. The BJP has induced confidence in the minds of the voters that it is their best alternative.
Q: The Northeast is a priority for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. Which Central leaders of your party will be campaigning in Tripura?
A: The hon’ble Prime Minister has assured us that he would be coming here to do three rallies. The first is scheduled to be on 8 February wherein he would address one rally in North Tripura and one in South Tripura. And in the second phase, in between 13 to 15 February, he would be attending one rally in Agartala. Apart from that, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath would do four to five rallies across the state. BJP president Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh would join us too in the campaign.
Q: Amit Shah is known for his deft election strategy and last minute surprises that help the BJP trump its opponents. What is his game plan for Tripura?
A: He has instructed us to be in touch with the common people and to toil hard and ensure that our organisation is well placed, and we have done that. We have prishtha pramukhs at all booths.
We are focusing on an efficient booth level micro-management. For the first time, in every polling booth, we have placed one worker to look after one page of the voter list which carries 60 names. The prishtha pramukh will be in contact with the 60 voters he has been made in-charge of. We have built that kind of volunteer-strength at the grassroots.
Q: The BJP’s alliance with the Indegenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) has attracted criticism from Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar. He said that the IPFT is nothing but an overground wing of the militants and that your party has joined hands with separatists. Your comments.
A: The Chief Minister is the in-charge of all the departments of the state, including law and order. Why is he going around fooling the people? If he has any sort of information or evidence against any IPFT member, then why doesn’t he or his government arrest or take action against those individuals in the party? Not a single case has been registered against any individual. What is the use of uttering all these things? The fact is whosoever challenges the CPM’s authority, whosoever poses a threat to them, they term that political party to be separatist or the agent and abetters of extremism. Such nonsense is not being believed by the people. The IPFT’s demand for a separate territorial land is within the ambit of the Constitution.
Q: Does the BJP support the demand for a separate state for the tribals?
A: The BJP stands for a united Tripura. The IPFT’s demand for Tipraland is impractical.
Q: Have you made your point clear to the IPFT?
A: Yes, of course. We were very clear about it from the beginning. Whatever agreement we have made is for the socio-economic, cultural and linguistic betterment of the jan jatis.
A committee has been formed and the Central government would look into that matter. The development of the tribals, the socio-economic, linguistic and cultural uplift of the jan jatis, should be at par with the other residents of the state of Tripura. As of now they are lagging far behind.
Q: The Congress, which was being written off by the press, got a shot in its arm after about 1,000 members of the Trinamool Congress as well as BJP leader Tapan Datta returned to its fold. Is the fight in Tripura still between the Congress and the CPM, or is it between the BJP and the CPM?
A: The Congress is just trying its best to cut our votes and help the CPM. People have realised that the Congress is the Team B of the CPM and the two have a covert arrangement. They are not going to waste their votes. I believe the Congress will not be able to extract even 2% of the votes. The Congress is practically non-existent in Tripura.
Q: A regional face is important in any state election. People want clarity about the Chief Ministerial face. Are you the BJP’s Chief Ministerial face?
A: No, not at all. This point has been made clear by our party president who said that the top slot is open to all. It will be decided only after the outcome of the elections.