Agartala, March 6 (IANS) 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 spartan lifestyle.
"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 happiness."
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 IANS.
"Manik's another deferential aspect is that he gives importance and liberty to leaders and legislators of the opposition parties," he added.
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 email@example.com)