Manik Sarkar never hesitates to put people’s priorities before his. He did not think twice before meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the state’s issues, despite his party’s anti-Modi stand. Now he wants to retire and bring in a new face, but the party wants him to continue. Excerpts from an interview:
Tripura was regarded as a special category state by the Planning Commission. Are you getting the funds?
This is a relevant issue. Not only Tripura, but all the northeast states are reeling under financial crisis because of the stands taken by the Narendra Modi government. They have not declared that the special category status has been withdrawn, but it is not there. Various funds we used to get from the Planning Commission or Finance Commission have been curtailed or withdrawn. Their argument is that under the 14th Finance Commission recommendations they have increased Central assistance from 32 per cent to 42 per cent. Though it looks like a huge amount, there are anomalies. There is a big mismatch between what they give and what we get. Under the 13th Finance Commission we used to get Rs 500 crore annually which has been stopped. Under special category state, we used to get Rs 2,500 crore. Now it has become hotchpotch. Also, various government sponsored schemes have been withdrawn or state contributions have been raised.
Is this the reason Tripura’s development has taken a back seat?
Yes, we are facing huge difficulties. But we are trying our best.
But the development is slow.
How could you say that? Just compare our state with what it was 25 years ago. Starvation deaths were regular then. Today, do you see any beggar on the streets?
Teachers and government employees are paid low salaries. You don’t reach out to investors.
Who told you that? Just ask him [points at his stenographer]. My problem was my predecessors had agreed to pay dearness allowance at Central level, which we could not pay due to financial constraints. But now we are releasing regular DA, but the gap is 32 per cent.
Why should I go to investors? They will come to us as we are building infrastructure. Today we are connected with railways. We have a good airport. Our per capita income [Rs 70,000] is the highest in the northeast; gross state domestic product is higher than national level. What could be a more lucrative environment for investors than this?
You worked in tandem with Modi to get railway projects done.
I may have played my role but that is on behalf of the people of the northeast. History had a role to play as well. Railway projects were the fallout of a mass struggle of the northeast people. When I was chief whip in the assembly in the late 1970s, I raised this issue first. Dasarath Deb, MP, raised it in Parliament. I spoke to prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and railway minister Madhavrao Scindia. Both of them smiled but did nothing. Where does Modi stand in it? Nowhere.
In a few years, you will break the record of Jyoti Basu as the longest serving chief minister.
Please don’t equate me with Jyoti Basu. He was the greatest. In fact, a person is not important. The programme is important and always remember it is not the person but people who create history.
How long do you intend to continue?
I have been asking my party to relieve me. I asked during the last election as well. But they are not doing that. Being a loyal soldier of the party I have to accept that.