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The Rediff Election Special/G Vinayak in Agartala
Casting their revenge
February 28, 2003 20:32 IST
In Tripura, perhaps the most politically aware state in India's northeast, voting in elections is seen as a means of retribution among a certain section of the population.
Held under the threat of large-scale violence, polls to the 60-member state assembly on Wednesday were also an occasion for many poor people to get one back against the militants, who have been killing villagers regularly.
And so it was at Mandai Choumuhani, not very far from the state capital Agartala. Exactly a month ago, on Republic Day, militants of the National Liberation Front of Tripura had raided this village and killed 11 villagers, all Communist Party of India-Marxist supporters.
On the day of the polling they suppressed their emotion and voted. And when the vote was cast, many of them broke down. And yet, the villagers appeared determined to take ‘revenge' for the ‘political' killings that were done.
Both the ruling CPM and opposition Congress party had accused each other of masterminding the killings in the village dominated by the CPM supporters.
While the CPM said Congress candidate Dipak Nag used the militants to create a sense of panic by selectively killing their party cadres, the Congress accused the CPM of playing a dirty game by killing their own men and then putting the blame on the them.
But people like Santosh Shil (38) and Namita Goswami (30) do not care about the politics behind the killings. Although their grief is personal, both voted publicly.
Shil, a barber by profession and owner of a saloon, had been away from home when the killer squad of NLFT struck to kill his children, Lipika (3) and Prabir (6), and their grandfather Pranamoy Shil (70). The trauma of losing his children and father notwithstanding Santosh Shil cast his vote. "I have been a committed supporter of the CPI-M like my father since school days and that is why I lost my children," he said weeping.
Namita Goswami's loss was equally tragic. Her husband and full time CPI-M worker, Madhusudan Goswami (38), also fell to the NLFT bullets on January 26. "He had been collecting donations for the party fund from the afternoon and I was cooking. Suddenly my uncle came rushing in say that my husband needed to be taken to hospital," Namita recalled. Her husband died on way to hospital. And yet she voted. Left alone with her father-in-law and two children, a tearful Namita said: "I have voted for my party and I am sure the party will help me survive."
The 2003 elections are in fact a tragic reminder of the 1988 assembly polls, in some ways regarded as a watershed in the state's politics. On February 2, 1988 the villagers of the nearby Gabardi had also voted with tears in their eyes -- only two day after militants had killed 11 of their kin.
Despite the killings and the stark political polarisation, the voting percentage in the northeastern state is consistently high. A senior bureaucrat said defiantly, "The more the militants kill, the larger is the turnout in the state."
Whether these committed CPI-M supporters will be rewarded with their own government retaining power for a third consecutive term will be known only by Saturday noon, but for them the satisfaction is in having participated in what is regarded as a sacred right.