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The Rediff Election Interview/Manik Sarkar
'The biggest challenge is to raise the standard of living'
March 01, 2003
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar had it dead right when, on the eve of voting for the 60-member state assembly, he said the Left Front would not only retain power but would improve on its tally in the House. March 1, when the results started coming in, his prediction proved to be on target.
The Left Front has not only retained power for a third consecutive term; it has proved all the sceptics wrong by nearly surpassing its previous tally. A jubilant Sarkar spoke with G Vinayak within hours of leading the Left Front to an impressive victory.
Were you worried at any stage that the Congress-Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura alliance would oust the Left Front from power?
No. If you remember, I kept saying it was an unholy alliance and people would see through it and so they have. After all, the INPT is nothing but a mask for militants. I was surprised the Congress was so desperate for power it chose to align with an organization with its roots in insurgency.
But was that the only reason people voted for the Left Front and not the alliance?
No, no. Definitely not. The main reason was, of course, our performance in the past five years. Despite so many constraints, we have tried our best to uplift the rural poor. Clearly, people know we will deliver and so they have voted for us.
There is a theory non-tribal Bengali voters voted for the Left Front since they were afraid of tribal-based parties coming to power. How true is that?
To a certain extent, yes. The fear psychosis created by the INPT in interior areas did more harm to them since people chose to vote deliberately against the Congress-INPT alliance. People have not forgotten how the INPT (in their earlier avatar) had rigged elections to the Autonomous District Council. This time, because of an adequate level of security forces, rigging was prevented.
Having retained power what would be your priority areas in the next five years?
The biggest challenge is to raise the standard of living of our people. Although we have done a lot of work in the last five years, a lot remains to be done. Agriculture will have to be developed and modernized. Once agriculture is developed, industrialization will follow. We also have to build a lot of infrastructure and give attention to human resource development. And as you know unemployment is one of our biggest problems. Unemployment has led to frustration, forcing youth to take up arms. So we will have to create more jobs. Giving government jobs, of course, is not the answer. We will have to create self-employment opportunities. For that we will need a lot of help from the Government of India.
Finally, what would be your message to the insurgents in Tripura?
My message has always been: come, talk, solve your grievances through negotiations. Throughout the campaign for these elections I have been appealing to them to come forward for negotiations. Unfortunately, the insurgents are not interested. I have even said if you don't want to talk to us, talk with the Centre. There has been no response from them.