By Tushar Singh
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah, last week, asked the people to oust Tripura’s “Lal Bhai” government, as he accused the left cadres of pocketing public funds meant for development and promised to make the state a model-one if his party was voted to power. With Shah challenging the 25-year old uninterrupted left regime, with a host of promises to the people of the state, Tripura has become a regular in national headlines and has also seen high profile visits by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
The rise of the BJP in Tripura
As Tripura’s 25.6 lakh people go to polls, BJP workers must be feeling satisfied by at least creating an image of a huge anti-incumbency/pro-BJP wave existing in Tripura. Pre-election opinion polls (keeping in mind that they can never be relied upon and are only a notional indicator based on a small sample size) suggest a BJP government in Tripura where CPI (M) has constantly been bagging 47-50 seats out of a possible 60 since 1993, which is no mean feat.
The BJP, who had a negligible vote share in the 2013 assembly (1.7 percent) and the 2014 general elections (5.7 percent) in Tripura, should be commended for turning the elections into a battle between the CPI(M) and themselves, throwing all other parties including the Congress into the background. Out of the 60 assembly seats, 36 are rural, 19 are semi-urban while only five are urban.
Therefore, for a party like the BJP which derives its major support base from urban cities to stake a claim on the throne in a largely rural state speaks highly of its poll strategy. “The Chalo Paltai (Let’s change) campaign has caught on because the people are fed up with Marxist control on their lives. We are confident of victory,” state BJP President Biplab Kumar Deb said. With Tripura facing an unemployment rate of 19.7 percent (highest in India), BJP’s promise of one job for every household seems to have given it a big boost.
The biggest reason for BJP’s meteoric rise seems to be Sunil Deodhar, BJP’s Tripura in-charge, who not only has targeted votes from the tribal regions very efficiently but also worked for the past two years to increase the BJP membership in Tripura. He believes that the presence of anti-incumbency since 2008 and Congress’ reluctance to anger their Communist allies, coupled with PM Modi’s pro-poor schemes like the ‘Mudra’ and ‘Jan Dhan’, in a state where 67 percent people belong to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) segment, has led to a step-by-step increase in the support for the BJP. And he seems to be right. The increase in BJP’s vote share from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 5.7 percent in 2014 to 18 percent in the 2016 panchayat elections explains the sudden prospect of a BJP victory in Tripura.
Lack of commitment from the Congress
While BJP stalwarts Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Smriti Irani, Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari and Yogi Adityanath campaigned in Tripura with the PM himself addressing four rallies, Congress seemed to have given up hope before the race even started as its marketing was not only subdued, but its President Rahul Gandhi campaigned only on the last day.
Sudip Roy Burman, who headed the State Congress during the 2013 assembly elections but later joined the BJP, accused the Congress of not being serious about the elections. He said, “In 2013, the CPI(M) faced strong anti-incumbency but the Congress’ central leadership helped the CPI(M) in the state clandestinely, for enjoying the party’s support in the Parliament.”
Sarkar’s take on BJP’s rise
Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, however, has accused the BJP of siding with separatists as it is in alliance with the IPFT (Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura), which was created by the NLFT (National Liberation Front of Tripura) extremists. IPFT is contesting for nine tribal seats out of 20 for the state’s 19 tribes and is backed by the banned NLFT organisation while demanding a separate state for the tribal people.
CM Sarkar, who takes away a monthly salary of Rs. 8000 and does not have a cell phone because according to him he can’t afford one (which gives an idea of the pro-poor image he wields in the state), believes that the BJP has become the main challenger because of a shrinking Congress (as 8 MLAs out of 10 left the party to join the BJP) and not the CPI(M). Countering BJP’s claims of anti-incumbency in Tripura, CM Sarkar has said that the BJP and its “Hindutva associates” are worried about nationwide protests in response to BJP’s attempts at a communal division of the country.
While it is difficult to buy into either side’s narrative, what seems clear is that after a long time in Tripura, the CPI(M) is facing a real threat and that too, from a party, considered to be a political outsider until very recently. It is as unpredictable as it gets! Is Tripura next to be painted saffron, after Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur? Hardly two weeks to go for the final verdict.
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