Manik Sarkar assumed office as Tripura chief minister for a record
fourth successive term at the head of India's only Communist
government, the defender of the red bastion in a strategically
located state that was not too long ago in the grip of ethnic
unrest and secessionist militancy.
He is probably India's only chief minister who does not own a
home, car or bank balance worth mentioning. He does not even have
a mobile phone and has never used the red beacon on his official
car and washes his own clothes every morning.
India's second longest serving communist chief minister after West
Bengal's Jyoti Basu (June 1977-Nov 2000), Sarkar, 64, led a
coalition of the CPI-M and the CPI to a huge electoral win in
Tripura, the only state the Communists remain in power after their
electoral defeats in their long-held bastions of West Bengal and
Kerala in the last national election.
Tripura Governor D.Y. Patil administered the oath of office to the
64-year-old Left leader and his council of ministers at a function
at the Raj Bhavan here Wednesday afternoon.
Popularly known as 'Manik Da' among his partymen and others, he
was known as a firebrand leader here since early 1970s who
espoused popular causes.
Born at Udaipur in South Tripura on Jan 22, 1949, in a lower
middle-class family, Sarkar's father Amulya Sarkar was a tailor
and his mother Anjali Sarkar was an employee of the state health
department. His wife Panchali Bhatacherjee was an officer of the
central social welfare department.
Chief minister since 1998, Sarkar, who has a bachelor of commerce
degree from Calcutta University, is known as a honest man with a
"His realistic thinking and approach made him a commonly
acceptable leader among the middle-aged Communists in the state,"
said Samiran Roy, a close friend of Sarkar and editor of a leading
local daily Tripura Darpan.
"Manik was the closest follower of Tripura's first Left chief
minister Nripen Chakraborty (1978-1988), a father figure of the
Communist movement of Tripura. Thus he follows the life-style of
Nripen da, a versatile genius," Roy told IANS
Sarkar, the second longest serving chief minister in the
northeastern region too after Gegong Apang of the Congress who
ruled Arunachal Pradesh for 24 years over two periods (1980-99 and
2003-07), succeeded Dasratha Deb (1993-1998), another founder of
the Left base in Tripura along with Nripen Chakraborty.
Sarkar become a CPI-M politburo member at the party's 17th
Congress in Hyderabad in March 2002.
In the Feb 14 polls, Sarkar defeated his Congress rival Shah Alam
by 6,017 votes. In the last polls in 2008, Sarkar's winning margin
was 2,918. This is his sixth electoral victory.
In the polls, result of which announced Feb 28, the CPI-M alone
bagged 49 of the 60 seats while its ally Communist Party of India
won one seat. The Congress finished with only 10 seats.
It was the best result for the Left since 1978 when the legendary
Nripen Chakraborty-led CPI-M swept 56 seats. This time, Sarkar
helped the Left Front increase its 2008 tally by one seat.
"This is a verdict in favour of development, peace and stability
besides good governance," Sarkar told IANS.
He was first elected to the state assembly from the Agartala
constituency in 1980 by-election. He was then re-elected to the
house four times (1983, 1998, 2003 and 2008).
Undoubtedly the "poorest" chief minister in India, Sarkar,
according to documents filed with the Election Commission, has
Rs.10,800 in cash. In line with CPI-M rules, Sarkar gives away his
salary to the party, which pays him Rs.5,000 a month.
Sarkar's wife Panchali Bhattacharjee, 62, who retired as a
government employee in 2010, has Rs.22,015 in cash and
Rs.24,52,395 as savings. The couple doesn't have any children. She
said her husband still washes his clothes every morning.
"My wife's pension can sustain us. My expenses are a small pot of
snuff and a cigarette a day," Sarkar said adding: "We always
become happy when we see the people are laughing owing to their
After the death of his mother in 2009, Sarkar inherited a small
house worth Rs.200,000 in Agartala. He donated it to his only
sister, who is younger than him.
"Actions speak louder than words. Work and performance are more
important than talks and speeches. A sincere attempt has been made
for all-round development of Tripura," Sarkar once said.
Even the opposition Congress doffs its hat to his personal
honesty, transparency and in ambiguity.
"We could not raise any questions against Manik Sarkar's honesty
and integrity. There might be some misdeeds in his government, but
Manik is absolutely honest," state Congress leader Tapas Dey told
"Manik's another deferential aspect is that he gives importance
and liberty to leaders and legislators of the opposition parties,"
Tripura is India's third smallest state after Goa and Sikkim. The
state, which has a population of 36.71 lakhs, is surrounded on
three sides by Bangladesh.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)