The Left bastion—Tripura—will go to polls on February 27. The CPI(M)-led Left Front has been ruling the state for the past 25 years. It is for the first time that the state is witnessing a direct fight between arch-ideological-rivals—the BJP and the CPI(M). Union Minister of State for Social Justice Vijay Sampla said Tripura is in turmoil and that the law and order situation in the state has completely failed.
The minister spoke to THE WEEK after visiting Tripura on January 16. Sampla said the Manik Sarkar-led CPI(M) government was doing nothing to prevent atrocities against the weaker sections of society. Said Sampla, “The situation is very bad in Tripura. How long can the state remain isolated from rest of the country? Many BJP workers are being selectively beaten up and, in some cases, killed. It is a different matter, though, that most of these workers who get injured are dalits.”
While in Agartala, Sampla visited a hospital to meet some BJP workers who were injured in a clash with the CPI(M) workers. “I was surprised to see them not being treated properly, as if there was some instruction from the state government. I made it a point to wait till the doctors came and saw them. It was only because of my presence there that the doctors came and treated the BJP workers.”
Sampla said he was not sure how many seats the BJP will win in Tripura, “But, the anger against the present government is palpable in the state. People are fed up with the communist government and are desperate for change. I am sure the BJP will perform well in the assembly elections” he said.
Take it from me the Left Front will comfortably win in Tripura, said S. Ramachandran Pillai, senior politburo member, to THE WEEK. “The BJP, on its own, has never done well in Tripura. Also, it is wrong to say that it is a direct battle between them and us. The Congress and the Trinamool Congress have sizable presence in Tripura. The BJP is doing everything to attract members from these parties, and they have succeeded in it. But it doesn’t bother us. We will not only win the elections, but also improve our position,” said Pillai.
In August 2016, seven Trinamool Congress legislators—led by Sudip Roy Barman—defected to the BJP. Said Barman to THE WEEK, “Manik Sarkar and his government are having sleepless nights. The Left Front, after many years, is facing a stiff challenge from a single political party—the BJP. We are confident that we will form the government in Tripura.”
Barman said voters in Tripura never had the confidence earlier in opposition parties like the Congress and the Trinamool Congress. “In the 2013 elections, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi did not even visit the state. That is no longer the case today. All senior BJP leaders, including the prime minister, will be visiting Tripura soon. For the first time in the history of the country, it will be a direct fight between the left and the right,” said Barman.
On January 18, the Election Commission announced the dates for elections in Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland—it will be held on February 27. Counting in all three states will be held on March 3. Tripura has 60 assembly seats.
The BJP is in talks for an electoral alliance with the tribal front, Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura. IPFT is an ally of the BJP’s larger coalition in the northeast—North East Democratic Alliance—which was formed in 2016. The other parties in the NEDA include Asom Gana Parishad, Sikkim Democratic Front, People’s Party of Arunachal, Naga People’s Front and Bodoland People’s Front. The IPFT wants a separate state called Tipraland, which they say can be carved out from the tribal areas of Tripura. The BJP has not yet agreed to the demand.
In Tripura, the BJP claims, that on an average, there are 1,500 false, fake or dead voters in every constituency, even after publication of the final voters' list. The party has requested the EC to correct the voters' list.
After Kerala, Tripura is the only state where the communists are in power. It has a population of over 30 lakh, with close to one-third being Scheduled Tribes. Since the past two decades it is a single-man show in the state. The Sarkar-led Left Front government in the state got 55 of 60 seats in 1998, 49 in the 2003 elections, 46 in the 2008 elections and 49 in the 2013 elections. In 2013, Sarkar became the chief minister for the fourth consecutive term. Sarkar, a very senior yet humble leader of the CPI(M), is the poorest chief minister in the country. He donates his full salary to the party and gets Rs 5,000 as monthly allowance.
Last month, at a rally in Kolkata, Sarkar admitted that the BJP is the main rival of the Left Front in the state. But he said the Left Front will not leave space for the BJP in the state. Said Sarkar, “The people of Tripura have been living in harmony for decades. The BJP cannot divide them for narrow political gains.” He alleged that the Union government was blocking funds
The BJP is giving importance to the elections in Tripura, as it believes, that a victory in Tripura will give huge momentum to the party for its preparations in West Bengal, a state where the CPI(M) has been a strong force.
The BJP will never come to power in Tripura, said Tripura’s PWD Minister Badal Choudhury to THE WEEK. “People are fed up with the Union government and its policies. The Left Front government in the state has been taking care of the basic needs of the poor. We are a state known for its social harmony. The BJP has even gone to the extent of allying with extremist forces in the state for its selfish gains.” Choudhury said he was confident that the Left Front government will come to power in the state.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh will flag-off the BJP’s Tripura campaign in Agartala next week.
It is unlikely, though, that the BJP will form a government in Tripura. In the 2013 elections, when the Left Front won 49 seats, the Congress won 11 seats. The BJP did not manage to win any seat. But six legislators from the Congress switched over to the Trinamool Congress in 2016 and later, in 2017, they joined the BJP. In the by-elections to two assembly constituencies, held in 2016, the BJP’s vote share increased sharply.
Sources in the BJP say it is only bidding for the opposition space in Tripura.