Agartala: Leading the Left government since 1998, Manik Sarkar is eyeing a fourth successive victory in poll-bound Tripura. He is also possibly India 's poorest chief minister. His declared assets mention an inherited property worth Rs 2.5 lakh and less than Rs 10,000 in a bank. "Manik Sarkar is like a god for us and our children," says one of his supporters.
The 64-year-old donates his entire salary to the CPM, managing on a Rs 5000 allowance from the party. "In our state there is no secret, no mystery. We conceal nothing from the people. If we face any problem to implement any programme related to people's benefit, we immediately take all these things to the people telling all these things to them without concealing anything."
Subir Bhaumik, an Northeast affairs expert, says, "Tripura is the least corrupt government in the northeast where the governments are famous for corruption. The lifestyle of the CM and senior party colleagues give people a lot of faith in senior leadership of Marxists in Tripura, that these are people who are not corrupt.. not making money.. not buying property elsewhere, not into all these things."
Addressing voters in his Dhanpur constituency, Sarkar sticks to the basics - sticking to his achievements, making only measured promises, to ensure the Left does not suffer the debacle it did in West Bengal two years ago. Sarajit Sinha, a CPI-M supporter, points out, "There is a difference between West Bengal and Tripura. Here we are united, so the Left will not lose here."
But the Opposition argues that Left rule, handicapped by an outdated ideology, is failing to address the aspirations for change in Tripura. "While Manikbabu is a very honest man and clean man, the party is not progressive. Students are now travelling to Bangalore, Delhi.. Shillong. They see the change outside the state and they want it here. Left rule has been largely peaceful but not pro-development," says Congress General Secretary Pradyot Burman.
Riding on a heavily polarised pro-Left sentiment in Tripura, Chief Minister candidate Manik Sarkar believes that his party will not only increase its vote share but also improve the number of seats. Many here, of course, believe that the gaping cracks in the Opposition camp are as much a reason for Left domination as some of the achievements of the government in the past few years.