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Tripura election: The two faces of Bijoy Hrangkhawl
G Vinayak in Agartala |
February 21, 2003 21:49 IST
He is a hero. He is a demon. Depending upon who is discussing him, Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl is a different personality to different people.
A militant leader who has made a successful transition as a politician, Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl is the most discussed personality in the in the run up to the 60-member Tripura assembly election scheduled for February 26.
For the ruling Left Front and especially to the Communist Party of India-Marxist Hrangkhawl is the devil incarnate, who is using his proximity to an underground banned militant outfit for electoral gains.
For the opposition Congress, he is a saviour who would help the party to regain power after a decade.
Whichever way you look at it, Hrangkhawl occupies centre stage in Tripura politics today.
Leading the recently formed Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura, Hrangkhawl was the leader of the underground Tripura National Volunteers in the early 1980s before he signed a pact with Rajiv Gandhi and came overground.
Although he entered politics soon thereafter, it was not until 1998 that this former underground chief became a Member of Legislative Assembly. Even then, he was not a force to reckon with in the polarised politics of Tripura.
In 2000, however, Hrangkhawl and several other seasoned tribal leaders came together, formed the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura and swept the election to the Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council, an administrative structure designed to give more powers to the indigenous people under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
The Left Front says the IPFT was helped by the banned National Liberation Front of Tripura in capturing the TTADC.
In the intervening years since then, the IPFT has reborn as INPT and Hrangkhawl has grown in stature. Today, the CPI-M sees him as the biggest threat to its hitherto hegemony over the 20 tribal seats in the 60-member assembly.
Little wonder then that from Chief Minister Manik Sarkar right down to the grassroots level CPM worker in the remotest area of Tripura, the constant refrain is the "unholy nexus" between Hrangkhawl's INPT and the Congress.
In meeting after meeting and speech after speech, Hrangkhawl's alleged links with NLFT comes up. But the former underground leader is hardly perturbed.
"All this is politically motivated. If the CPM believes in all that they say, why did not they arrest me?" Hrangkhawl asked. Sridam Deb Barma, assistant general secretary of the party, springs to Hrangkhawl's defence. "Why doesn't the CPM move the Election Commission, if it is so convinced about our links with the underground?" he asked.
Hrangkhawl is once again contesting from Kulai assembly constituency of Kamalpur sub-division in Dhalai district. Confident of retaining the seat he had won in 1998, Hrangkhawl takes time off from his campaign to help other INPT-Congress candidates. Unlike most other tribal reserved constituencies, Kulai -- dominated by fringe tribes like Hrangkhawls and Kolois -- was never a strong base for the Marxists.
In 1983 and 1988, the seat was consecutively won by former Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti leader Diba Chandra Hrangkhawl, though in 1993, CPM candidate Hashmei Reang managed to scrape through by a thin margin.
But the equations underwent a major change since, as did the reaction of voters to parties and candidates. This time, the Congress is hoping that Hrangkhawl will deliver at least 15 of the 20 reserved seats facilitating its ride back to power. A lot will depend, however, on how the Congress fares rather than just INPT's ability to win the seats.