Tripura: Surprising challenge in Left bastion

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recently became the primary opposition in Left-ruled Tripura, without having won a single seat in the 2013 assembly election.

Six Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislators, expelled by party chief Mamata Banerjee, joined the BJP. Among those at at the function were Dharmendra Pradhan, Union minister and Himanta Biswa Sarma, finance minister of Assam. The TMC legislators, led by Sudip Roy Barman, met BJP chief Amit Shah in Delhi and finalised their entry. At a time when Tripura, with Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya, is preparing for assembly elections in 2018. 

Shift in voting share

Till the 2013 legislative assembly election, the BJP was a non-entity in Tripura. However, its vote share rose in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, as that of the Congress went down.

In 2015, the Left swept the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council poll, winning all seats. However, the BJP was ahead of the Congress, finishing second in five seats, with a vote share of nearly eight per cent. It also ensured the Left’s vote share was less than 50 per cent (a decrease of more than 10 per cent), which had never happened in the past 20 years. 

In the same year,  during by-elections to two Assembly constituencies, Pratapgarh and Surmah, the BJP finished second after the CPI(M) in both, ahead of the Congress, which had earlier held second position.

The came the by-election to two assembly constituencies in 2016, confirming the BJP’s forward trajectory. The CPI-M managed an average in the two of 52 per cent of the votes, the BJP got 21 per cent vote and the Congress shrank to a little over two per cent. Compared to the 2013 assembly elections, when the difference between the two parties stood at 47.1 per cent, the gap between the two had shrunk to 21 per cent.

The BJP feels confident. “We have worked very hard, and with more people understanding the dangers of voting again and again for the CPI(M), we hope to make a turn-around for state politics in Tripura in the 2018 assembly election,” said Biplab Deb, state BJP president.

As reported by news agency IANS, CPI(M) state head Bijan Dhar admitted the BJP was able to attract a sizable number of voters. “We concede the BJP is the main opponent now,” said Dhar. “The BJP is on a winning spree everywhere in the country. They are at the Centre and we are aware we cannot underestimate them.”

Primary opposition

The recently inducted TMC legislators had left the Congress in June last year, to protest at its electoral alliance with the Left for the 2016 West Bengal assembly election. Sudip Barman said, “We joined Trinamool to strengthen Mamata Banerjee’s hand, to fight against the CPI (M)-led Left parties. But, Didi has changed her stand and now become soft on the Left Front”.

According to sources, former leader of opposition and Congress MLA Ratan Lal Nath is also slated to join the BJP, though this could be delayed due to legal issues. Nath voted with the six TMC rebel legislators for the National Democratic Alliance's Presidential nominee, Ram Nath Kovind. 

Biplab Deb, the state BJP head, says: “None of the parties have played the role of the Opposition in Tripura. We have simply occupied that vacuum.”

After the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP says it has seen a surge in membership, from only 15,000 earlier to an astonishingly high figure. As many as 16 out of 65 state committee members of the TMC, including its former head, Ratan Chakraborty have joined it. Also, says Biplab Deb, 5,000 from the communist cadre.

Ahead

In the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, the northeast gave the Congress eight of its 44 Lok Sabha seats. The CPI(M) won two and the rest went to regional players. The BJP is eyeing around 20 of the 25 seats in the 2019 election. It has formed a North-East Democratic Alliance with regional players, headed by Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Carrying forward the central agenda, Amit Shah visited Tripura with much fanfare, doing a five-km road show from the airport to the city, concluding with a ‘parivartan sankalp rally. Shah said conquering Tripura was one of his party’s big priorities. “Our next target in the region is Tripura. Manik Sarkar’s government has done little beside indulging in corruption, organising political attacks and facilitating infiltration” he said.

The CPI(M) has dominated Tripura for two decades, with Manik Sarkar at the helm. Could the current BJP surge change these dynamics. Time will tell.


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