The Northeast very rarely grabs national attention, in the media as well as in the political discourse, because of its geographical remoteness and minuscule numbers in Parliament. But for the past month or so, Tripura has grabbed headlines, caught the attention of courts and become the subject of political polemics. The first occasion was when mobs protesting against attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh, during Durga Puja and after, allegedly vandalised mosques and went on the rampage against minorities last month. While there was clear evidence of the violence and the targeting of Muslims, the state government not only went into a denial mode but also victimised those who dared to expose the cover-up or express their solidarity with the victims.
The latest incident is the result of a confrontation between a resurgent Trinamool and the BJP over the upcoming municipal polls. After having vanquished the BJP in West Bengal, the Trinamool has set its eyes on the northeastern state. With a large Bengali-speaking population, the Trinamool feels Tripura is a natural breeding ground for its expansion. While there is nothing common between the attack on the minorities and the Trinamool-BJP tussle—the first is the result of religious intolerance and the other is a political battle—the response of Tripura’s government in both was the same: intimidation, vindictiveness, abuse of state power and information clampdown.
However, the Tripura government’s tactics and methods, unfortunate and reprehensible as they are, are not surprising as they come right out of the playbook adopted by many state governments towards their critics and opponents. The slapping of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or other such tough laws, foisting baseless charges and use of mob terror have become the norm to browbeat political rivals, tame an unfriendly media and delegitimise civil rights activists. The BJP could argue that the Trinamool has no right to cry hoarse. While in its home turf, the Trinamool uses political violence to silence opponents, the Bengal party finds the shoe on the other foot in Tripura. Such tit-for-tat actions will only worsen the institutional backsliding on democratic values, liberal thought and space for dissent.