The Tripura Municipal Elections turned out to be a complete farce. The polls were marked by unprecedented violence and voter intimidation against opposition parties and their supporters. And yet the results of the rigged elections were sought to be projected by the BJP and the corporate media as a sweeping mandate for the last three years of BJP rule.
At the same time, the TMC with the help of the same corporate media were claiming that the results show that they have become the primary opposition in the state. But do the elections and their results bear out such tall claims?
The official tally shows BJP has won 329 out of the 334 Municipal seats, i.e. 98.5% of all seats, thereby sweeping all 20 municipalities. These numbers themselves betray the extent to which the electoral process was undermined. Even before the elections, the BJP goons with the active support of the state machinery ensured that out of the 20 Municipalities, the opposition could not field a single candidate in 7 municipalities and 112 out of a total of 334 seats were won by the BJP uncontested.
So, in one-third of the seats, there were no elections. In the seats where elections were held, voter intimidation and booth capture were rampant. BJP outsiders entered residential neighbourhoods on the day before the polls and targeted Left supporters, threatening them with dire consequences if they went to cast their votes. On the day of the elections, many booths were captured, polling agents and in some cases even reporting officers were thrown out of the polling booths. Even candidates themselves were unable to cast their own votes in many wards.
Both the Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPIM) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) moved the Supreme Court against this complete subversion of the electoral process which led the Supreme Court to order the State government to ensure adequate deployment of Central police forces to secure the electoral process. These directives were unfortunately ignored by the BJP government. After the elections, the CPIM demanded that elections be countermanded in 5 municipalities - Agartala, Dharmanagar, Khowai, Belonia and Melaghar. They also demanded repolling in many wards of the remaining 8 municipalities where elections were held.
Under such circumstances to claim that the election results demonstrated a sweeping mandate for the BJP Government as CM Biplab Deb did, borders on the surreal. In fact, the extent of the violence and the rigging show that there was panic in the ranks of the ruling BJP Government and so they did everything to ensure that the results wouldn’t reflect the people’s mandate.
Now, what about the claims the TMC has come to occupy the opposition space after campaigning for merely 3 months? The total vote share of the Left across all seats where elections were held is 19.65% compared to 16.39% for the TMC. The basis for TMC’s claims was its performance in the Agartala Municipal Corporation where it got more votes than the Left. The TMC got 20.14% votes compared to Left’s 17.94%. Agartala Municipality was especially targeted for violence and booth rigging by the BJP leading to CPIM withdrawing its polling agents on the day of the elections and not even fielding counting agents there on the counting day. Aside from that BJP didn’t let the Left put up candidates in 5 wards of this Municipality while TMC contested all the wards. In the wards where the Left put up a candidate in Agartala, the Left’s vote share is marginally more than TMC’s. Left got 19.76% to TMC’s 19.35% votes if only those wards are considered.
So, even in Agartala TMC wasn’t really the primary opposition. Outside of Agartala, TMC performed dismally getting 7.87% votes. Left vote share outside of Agartala was at 23.55%.
The Left vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections was 17.31%. So, despite the massive violence against the Left cadre, candidates and supporters, the Left managed to increase its vote share marginally. Congress vote share in the Lok Sabha elections was 25.34% which has now shrunk to 2.07%. So, a large section of the Congress voters seem to have shifted to the TMC and this is especially so in Agartala.
Without a ground organisation or presence, TMC relied almost exclusively on a high profile media campaign and tried to poach leaders from BJP and Congress. This seems to have made some impact on the Congress voters in Agartala. But based on this to claim that TMC has come to occupy the opposition space in Tripura is a bit too far-fetched and seems to be part of TMC’s media strategy to project this narrative.
The fact remains that despite continuous and vicious attacks on the Left cadres and their family members, leaders and even party offices, the Left has managed to retain its core vote base even in a massively rigged election. Also, the widespread rigging and violence demonstrate that the BJP is clearly rattled over its governance record of the last three years and the resultant anti-incumbency which seems to have built up very quickly.
In these circumstances, if the Left can mobilise their organisation to effectively resist the violence unleashed by the BJP on the ground and ensure that people get an opportunity to exercise their democratic rights, then we may very well see a change of government in the 2023 Assembly elections.