Guwahati: In his first election rally in Tripura, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today launched an attack on Chief Minister Manik Sarkar right in his own backyard. Punning on the name of the Chief Minister, he told the crowds that Tripura is wearing a wrong "Manik", meaning gem, and it was time to take it off and wear a Hira, a diamond.
Hira was another of his acronyms - standing for Highway, Iways, Roads and Airways. Soon, Manik was trending on Twitter.
Manik Sarkar has been governing Tripura for 20 of the 30 years the CPM has been in power in the state. Known for his scrupulous honesty, Mr Sarkar was recently found to be the poorest Chief Minister of the country. In his election affidavit, he said he had Rs 1,520 in his wallet and about Rs. 2,410 in his bank account. He does not own a car, house, or any other assets and has never filed an income tax return, the election affidavit revealed.
Speaking in Sonamura, which slightly overlaps Mr Sarkar's assembly constituency, Dhanpur, PM Modi said under the Chief Minister's white kurta, there is a "dark side".
The Left government, he said, "cheated the people by giving poor wages" when people in other parts of the country got paid more. "The Manik Sarkar government is unable to spend Central money properly. The Left government is looting the money of the poor. Out of every Rs 100 spent in Tripura, the central government is giving Rs 80," the Prime Minister said.
Promising Tripura "Three Ts - trade, tourism and (skill) training for the youth -- the Prime Minister raised the BJP slogan of "Chalo Paltai", meaning "Let's bring change".
The party's local leaders say the slogan has caught the attention of tribals - who are 32 per cent of the state's population and have 20 reserved seats in the 60-member assembly. The change is expected to make this the toughest election in three decades for the Left, which has lost its two key bastions - Bengal and Kerala.
The BJP is contesting 11 of the 20 tribal seats, leaving nine for its alliance partner, tribal party IPFT or Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura. Tie-ups with regional parties have been used with great effect by Himanta Biswa Sarma, the architect of the BJP's success in the north-east.
The CPM says it is not worried. Naresh Jamatia, its candidate in Bagma, said, "We are confident that we will face these IPFT forces in tribal areas". IPFT, formed in late 90s, demand statehood for tribal areas and has the support of some of the indigenous insurgent groups.