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Tripura Polls: CPI(M) Relies on Ex-CM Sarkar, BJP Banks on Modi

TIPRA Motha, approached by the Left-Congress combine and the BJP for a pre-election alliance, hopes to play the kingmaker.
Manik Sarkar

Kolkata: Several interesting developments have recently occurred in the poll-bound tiny state of Tripura with 60 Assembly seats.

With CPI(M) stalwart and former four-time Tripura chief minister (CM) Manik Sarkar not contesting the election for the first time in 25 years, the party’s new face in the campaigning is its state secretary and candidate Jitendra Chaudhury. Sarkar is campaigning extensively for Left Front candidates.

Meanwhile, Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) Motha chairman and former royal scion Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma has fielded candidates in 42 seats at the eleventh hour with the hope of playing the kingmaker. Twenty of the seats are within the jurisdiction of the tribal-dominated Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), where the party won 18 out of 28 seats in April 2021.

The Left Front and the Congress have reached a seat-sharing understanding to dethrone the BJP, which formed its first government in Tripura in March 2018.

The BJP, which is aiming to retain power and has retained the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) as a junior partner, and sprung a surprise by fielding Union minister of state for social justice and empowerment Pratima Bhoumik as a candidate. The party hasn’t assigned election responsibility to its first CM and experienced RSS member Biplab Kumar Deb, who was suddenly ordered last year to make room for Manik Saha.

The BJP is again banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to sway the public mood despite party president JP Nadda, several Union ministers and Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath among the star campaigners.

The BJP is highlighting Modi’s handling of COVID-19, his “success” in diplomacy and the Look East policy. The Opposition sees this as the admission of the party top brass that its maiden government has fallen much short of even their own expectations.

The sudden decision to shift Deb to New Delhi, according to the Opposition, also lends credence to the belief that the party leadership was not satisfied with the government’s performance.

State BJP spokesperson Nabendu Bhatacharjee, however, claimed that the government had “done good work” in the distribution of essential commodities through fair price shops and “improvement” in civic amenities in urban areas. “The allegation of below-par performance is not true,” he said.

As for Bhoumik being in the fray, the state leadership has said that she is more interested in state politics. But sources claim that the BJP wants to have someone who is capable and locally acceptable as CM should circumstances warrant. It is also a message to Saha to deliver.

With several defections leaving the IPFT considerably weak, the BJP has decided to contest 55 seats as against 51 in 2018, out of which it had bagged 36 seats. The IPFT had won eight out of nine seats it had contested. IPFT spokesperson Amit Debbarma admitted to “erosion in the party’s ranks and the “resultant loss of bargaining power” with the BJP.

Left Front convener Narayan Kar is confident that the BJP’s “non-performance” in the last five years and its 2018 vision document just being a “statement of pious intent” have caused discontent among large sections of the electorate.

“The failure of law and order, misuse of government machinery and unemployment are the main election issues. We will highlight these issues. We are also telling the people how the Left Front provided a stable political leadership with Manik Sarkar at the helm,” Kar said.

“The understanding with the Congress is the Left’s response to the needs of the state. The Congress acknowledges that it has become weak. Consolidation of anti-BJP votes is the need of the hour; therefore, both sides are serious,” he added.

The CPI (M) is contesting 43 seats, Congress 13 and CPI, Revolutionary Socialist Party and Forward Bloc one each. One independent candidate is being supported both by the Left and the Congress.

The CPI (M) has fielded new faces in more than 20 constituencies. Out of 43 seats,18 are in tribal-dominated areas and 23 in areas with is a concentration of SCs and middle-class voters.

After the drubbing in last year’s by-elections, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) has decided to contest only 28 seats.

Asked why the party is contesting only 28 seats despite West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s repeated claims of the TMC having created a base of its own in the state, state party president Pijush Biswas said, “We are comfortable in the seats we have selected. In other constituencies, our supporters may extend  tactical support.”

According to sources, having decided to go ahead full throttle during the February 27 Meghalaya Assembly election in the hope of a good show, Banerjee opted for a limited fight in Tripura. Sarkar sees her decision as an attempt to cut into the vote share of anti-BJP parties—massive defection from the Congress had made the TMC the main opposition party in Meghalaya.

Pursuing his demand for a written assurance of support for greater Tipraland within the constitutional framework, Debbarma has had talks both with the Left-Congress combine and the BJP. The Left-Congress alliance supports the demand as long as it does not disturb the state’s territorial compactness. While the BJP has rejected the idea terming it “divisive and not justifiable in a sensitive border state”.

The TIPRA Motha’s importance has increased after both the Left-Congress combine and the BJP approached it for an alliance. Which explain the political significance of Tipra and Deb Barman. He is now trying to make a mark with 18 candidates in the TTAADC and 24 in SC and general category constituencies.

“Pradyot’s pre-poll exercise did not bear fruit. It seems that even while campaigning for TIPRA candidates, he is trying to assess what opportunities will come his way after the results are announced. I guess Pradyot will keep his options open,” said professor Anindita Ghosal, who teaches history at the state’s Diamond Harbour Women’s University and tracks political developments. As for the show by the parties, Ghosal believes that the Left will fare better.

TIPRA president Bijoy Hrangkhawl is optimistic. “Our chairman is fighting for a cause—the welfare of Tripura’s people. The condition of tribals, who account for 31.8% of the state’s 36.74 lakh population, warrants special attention and concerted action to improve their lot,” he said.

The writer is a Kolkata-based senior freelance journalist. Views are personal.

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