The alleged murder of a Bharatiya Janata Party worker in Tripura has given the saffron party fresh ammunition against the Left government in the poll-bound state. On Saturday morning, the body of Sunil Deb was recovered in Kanchanpur in North Tripura district.

The BJP’s state leaders now allege that it was a political murder carried out by Communist Party of India (Marxist) cadres. According to Mrinal Kanti Deb, spokesperson of the BJP’s Tripura unit, this murder is the fourth of its kind since July. The state police, meanwhile, suggest that the killing may not have been politically motivated.

Like Kerala?

Deb, likened it to the political murders in Kerala, also governed by the Left. “The murder reminds us about the killings of our Swayamsevak activists in Kerala by Left killers,” said Mrinal Kanti Deb. In Kerala, the Left and the Sangh Parivar – a network of Hindu rightwing groups loosely affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological parent – routinely trade allegations of murder against each other. Mrinal Kanti Deb claimed that political murders were unheard of in Tripura till recently.

In July, a BJP worker by the name of Nishikanto Chakma succumbed to injuries following clashes with Left cadres at Longtarai valley in Dhalai district. In the same set of clashes, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) worker, Babul Debnath, also lost his life. In October, another BJP worker called Birulal Sarkar was allegedly murdered in Kamala Sagar in West Tripura.

More recently, a BJP leader Gourhari Molsom was shot dead by unidentified miscreants at Killa in Gomati district on November 30. According to the police, though, Molsom’s murder wasn’t driven by political motives. Gomati police chief Bijoy Debbarma told that it was a fallout of a “personal enemity”.

‘Totally false’

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), for its part, denies that it has anything to do with any of the murders, including that of Sunil Deb. The party’s Tripura unit general secretary, Bijan Dhar, said the accusations were “totally false”, claiming that they were a deliberate ploy to seek Central intervention in the state ahead of the elections.

“They want to establish that Tripura has a law and order problem, and want President’s rule to be imposed,” said Dhar. “And actually, they are the ones who have been routinely targeting our workers of late without provocation.”

As Tripura readies for what is likely to be one of its most keenly contested elections in years, the state has witnessed several violent clashes between BJP and Left workers in the last few months. In May, in the days leading up to a major rally by BJP president Amit Shah, the two parties were involved in a series of violent clashes that left many injured on both sides. At the time, the two parties had traded charges about who instigated the violence.

In July, as clashes broke out again, the saffron party had asked the Centre to reimpose the Armed Forces Special Powers Act – which gives security forces overriding powers to arrest, search and even kill – in the state. In 2015, Tripura, which has seen decades of militancy, became the only state from which the act had been withdrawn after being in place for years.

Land dispute, say police

Meanwhile, the police have arrested a person called Kanchan Pal in connection with the alleged murder of Sunil Deb. Initial investigations, Tripura’s superintendent of police (control) in-charge Harkumar Debbarma said, pointed to a land dispute as the possible cause of the alleged murder. “We have been informed by the deceased person’s wife that the deceased person and the accused person had some land dispute,” he said, adding that there was no political angle, prima facie.

However, Debbarma said, the police would be able to ascertain whether “it is a suicide or homicide” only after the post mortem report was ready. According to the police officer, Sunil Deb’s body bore wounds on the legs and ankles, the official said. “Nerves near his ankles were cut,” he said.

Sunil Deb was employed as a jawan with the Tripura State Rifles till 2011, when he was dismissed for alleged disciplinary transgressions, said Debbarma.