Tripura elections: BJP’s star ascends in state, but CPM shrugs off the threat
Agartala: If the trends discernable in the run-up to the Tripura elections are any indication, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is poised to turn in its best performance ever in the northeastern state.
While it may not be enough to prevent the ruling Communist Part of India (Marxist), or CPM, from winning a record sixth term, it will be sufficient to establish the saffron party as the principal opposition. If this outcome does materialize, it will provide the BJP a firmer foothold in the northeast; it also creates a good launch pad for future expansion of the party in the region.
Indeed it will be a remarkable performance for a party which in the last Tripura elections managed to garner less than 2% of the votes, leaving it a distant third behind the Congress.
“The Congress never tried. They have been in the opposition for several years but were unable to compete with the Left Front. Tripura has always had a weak opposition but this election is different with the BJP giving competition to the Left,” said Birendra Debbarma, a 40-year-old who sells wood for a living in Mandai constituency in West Tripura.
“This time there seems to be a strong campaign for parivartan (change). There is a tough contest this time around, but with a new party in the opposition,” Debbarma added.
The change that Debbarma is referring to is also what the BJP’s election campaign in Tripura is based on—”Chalo Paltai” (Let’s change the government). The party which was once an inconsequential player in state politics is now looking to replace the Congress as the principal opposition.
In the 2013 Tripura elections, the BJP contested the polls in 50 of the 60 seats with a disastrous outcome: 49 of its candidates lost their deposit and the total vote share of the party was 1.54%. In comparison, the Congress managed a vote share of approximately 37% while the CPM ended with 48%. In the 2014 general elections, the BJP managed to increase its vote share to 5.77%.
Since then, with an eye to expand to the northeast, the party began working from the grassroots to compete against the CPM.
“This is the first time where the people of Tripura are seeing a cadre-based party pitted against another cadre-based party. The people of Tripura were in search of an alternative which could give a CPM a fight. The BJP has worked on its organizational structure from the ground up to match the CPM,” said a senior BJP leader from Tripura who did not wish to be named.
The party has also deployed volunteers from neighbouring states including Assam and West Bengal to work on the campaign in the state. The campaign has been focused on wooing disgruntled Congress and CPM voters with promises of development, jobs and better support from the central government.
Defections from the Congress have boosted the BJP ranks. Six from the party, including former leader of the opposition Sudip Roy Burman, first joined the Trinamool Congress and then the BJP in August 2017.
The Congress is conspicuous by its absence from the campaign. Party president Rahul Gandhi hasn’t campaigned even once so far.
“There is no doubt that the pace with which the BJP is growing in the state is a cause for worry. They are trying to divide the state. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been in the state for many years but could never make any significant political changes. But with the BJP at the centre now, it has expanded its presence,” said a senior CPM leader who did not wish to be named.
Ahead of the election, the BJP formed an alliance with Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), a tribal-based party. While the BJP is contesting 11 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes, IPFT is contesting the remaining nine.
“While IPFT has been around for many years, this is the first time that they have an opportunity to be represented across the state. Earlier they were focused just on the reserved seats. With the alliance their chances get strengthened,” said 27-year-old Lopsin Debbarma, who runs a grocery store in Ramchandraghat, a reserved constituency in Khowai district.
Analysts say multiple factors including anti-incumbency have made it possible for the BJP to gain in the state. “It is very clear in this election that BJP is the opposition to CPM. While we will have to wait for the results to tell us more, the party is likely to benefit from its alliance with IPFT,” said Gautam Chakma, associate professor, department of political science, Tripura University.
The state goes to polls on 18 February, with results expected to be announced on 3 March.