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The 28-year-old reporter was returning to Agartala after covering a rally by Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura in Mandwai when he was attacked

A 28-year-old television journalist, Santanu Bhowmik, was beaten to death by activists of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) on Wednesday. The killing has sparked widespread protests in the state and forcing the district administration to impose a curfew in and around Agartala.

Bhowmik, a reporter with local television news channel Deen Raat which is known for its Left-leaning editorial stance, was returning from Mandwai in the West Tripura district to the state capital on Wednesday afternoon when he was allegedly abducted by the IPFT activists. However, there have been some local reports claiming that Bhowmik was beaten up by agitated IPFT activists when he was trying to cover the outfit’s road blockade in Mandwai as the protestors did not want reporters and camerapersons to record the events.

Police sources, however, claim that Bhowmik’s body covered with severe injuries and stab wounds was found between Mandwai and Jirania towns, some 25 kilometers from Agartala. He was rushed to the Agartala Government Medical College and Hospital by the police and workers of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) but was declared dead on arrival.

The IPFT has been fighting for a separate state for indigenous Tripura tribals for several years and has often been engaged in violent clashes with CPM cadres as the party’s government under chief minister Manik Sarkar has always been against the idea of bifurcating the state. With Tripura due for Assembly elections later this year, these clashes have intensified in recent months.

The murder of Bhowmik has triggered massive protests, allegedly with the tacit support of CPM cadres, across Tripura and Left leaders have sought to blame the BJP for orchestrating the IPFT movement in a bid to make political in-roads in the state that has seen Manik Sarkar firmly in the chief minister’s saddle for four consecutive terms.

Some local media reports suggested that IPFT supporters at the Mandwai rally called Bhowmik a “CPM activist working against their party” while they assaulted him and his camera person who managed to escape and report the incident to the police at Jirania. Bhowmik and his camera person reportedly had footage of IPFT supporters attacking the CPM office at Mandwai.

Pranab Sarkar, secretary of the Tripura Journalists’ Union, said, “Bhowmik was assaulted in front of police personnel, who remained mute spectators.” Later, media personnel blocked a road leading to chief minister Manik Sarkar’s official residence and sat on a dharna, demanding action against all people, including abettors, who killed Bhowmik.

Meanwhile, the Left has sought to draw parallels between the recent killing of senior journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru by suspected right-wing radicals with the murder of Bhowmik.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said that Bhowmik’s murder was indicative of the “RSS-BJP’s time tested recipe of preparing for elections through murder”.

The BJP has however sought to pin the blame for the murder on the deterioration of law and order in Tripura under Manik Sarkar’s rule.

Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP’s leader from Assam who has been charged with ensuring that the party wins provincial elections in all north-eastern states over the next two years, condemned the killing and said that the Tripura government had “much to answer”.

The CPM hit back at Sarma claiming that the IPFT had the support of the BJP.

The CPM also took to Twitter to post documents and claim that the BJP had been funding the radical IPFT activists.

In a series of tweets, the party also said that the Manik Sarkar government had ordered a probe into the murder.

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