Prime Minister Narendra Modi held two rallies in Tripura in Sonamura and Kailashahar and urged people to overthrow the ‘purana manik’ and adopt ‘HIRA’. #TripuraWithModi was trending on Twitter at number one spot for most of the day. Tripura votes on 18th February to elect a new government. CPM has been ruling the state for the past 25 years continuously since 1993, Manik Sarkar has been the CM since 1998.
BJP smells a good opportunity to continue with its victory march in the North East because of the following seven reasons:
25 years is a very long period to develop strong anti-incumbency, however good the performance of the government in power. The state was painted red in 1978 around the same time as West Bengal. Left Front ruled West Bengal for 34 years after which it was dislodged by Mamta. In Tripura, Left has been in power for more than 34 years, trend suggesting, time is up for CPM rule in state.
- Decline of Left nationally
The Left Front is in power in only 2 states now – Kerala and Tripura. In West Bengal, the Communists are increasingly being relegated to the 3rd position by BJP. The party has failed to adapt its ideology with the changing times. The party has lost connect with the youth. Average age of CPM Politburo is 60 years when India’s average age will be 29 by 2020. The constant infighting between the Kerala and Bengal factions have not helped matters. Its hobnobbing, love and hate relationship, with the Congress party is also partly responsible for its downfall. From a peak of 43 seats in 2004, CPM’s tally declined to single digits for the first time in electoral history.
Performance of CPM in Lok Sabha over the years
|Year||Won||Party Votes %|
- BJP’s increasing reach in NE
BJP now rules 5 out of the 8 North Eastern states, including Assam. Its allies Sikkim Democratic Front and Nagaland People’s Front are in power in Sikkim and Nagaland respectively. The party won Assam and Manipur after Lok Sabha elections. It managed to dislodge Congress government in Arunachal and install its own through jod-tod and jugad. Under NEDA’s umbrella and Himanta Biswa Sarma’s leadership, party’s influence has been increasing in the North East. People could be swayed to vote for the party the entire region is embracing. Slogan ‘same government in the state and at the center will ensure development’ may work in BJP’s favour.
- Strategic Alliance with IPFT
BJP has formed an alliance with IPFT which has been fighting for the cause of tribals in the state. They were alliance partners of Congress in 2013 elections bagging 7.6% vote share and switched sides recently. Tribals account for 31% of population and have been demanding a separates state. 20 seats are reserved for the community in the assembly having a strength of 60. One of the TMC rebels who joined BJP, Diba Chandra Hrangkhawl, is an MLA from a ST reserved seat of Diba Chandra Hrangkhawl.
- Entry of TMC & Congress legislators made BJP the main opposition in the state
BJP received a big boost to its claim to the hot seat when 6 TMC legislators joined the party in August 2017. These legislators were originally elected on Congress ticket in 2013 and switched sides to TMC in June 2016. Here Himanta’s maneuvering skills came in handy. One more legislator from Congress, Ratan Lal Nath, joined the saffron party in early 2018. This makes BJP the principal opposition party in Tripura. TMC which had done well in Lok Sabha 2014 bagging 9.7% vote share has received a jolt through these defections.
Even CPM Politburo member, Prakash Karat admits main contest is with BJP. “All the earlier elections in the State were fought between the Left Front and the Congress but this time, it is a contest between the BJP and the Left Front as Congress leaders and supporters have joined the saffron party,” Mr. Karat said at an election meeting in south Tripura on Friday, 2nd of February.
- Economic Track record
BJP is trying to exploit the disillusionment amongst youth and public over the lack of development in Tripura. The state’s per capita income is 17% lower than national average at Rs. 71,666 (2014-15 at current prices). While nation has moved to a 7th Pay Commission, government servants in the state still are at scale of 4th Pay Commission only. PM Modi emphasized in the rallies that BJP will be focusing on 3Ts for Tripura – Trade, Tourism and Training of the youth. The state is landlocked, however, there is good potential for trade with Bangladesh.
- State fits into Presidential style campaign of BJP
Tripura is a very small state with around 25 lakh voters. This is similar to the voter base of a Lok Sabha constituency of a metro city. The BJP has not projected any leader as is trying to make this a Manik Sarkar vs Modi contest. The small population helps this Presidential style format. North Eastern politics has centered around personalities – Pawan Kumar Chamling, Gegong Apang, Lal Thanhawla – to name a few.
Manik too has been ruling the state on riding on individual popularity, honest, simple and down to earth image. BJP hopes Prime Minister’s popularity ratings will help it sail through.
A fascinating contest on the anvil in Tripura. Though BJP strategists feel party has a good chance, it will not be a cake walk. The state has done well on human development indicators ranking 6th in India. Manik is credited with controlling insurgency and bringing stability and peace to the region. High leadership ratings of Manik pose a risk to BJP’s mission. Bengalis represent 70% of state population and Bengali is the most widely spoken language. This means TMC cannot be ignored and could make the contest triangular.
(The article was first published in TheQuint.)