By Barun Das Gupta
Will the CPI-M be able to retain its twenty-five years of uninterrupted rule in Tripura or will the BJP upset all calculations and prove every electoral arithmetic wrong by dislodging Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and his party? The answer will be diametrically opposite depending on whether the person questioned is pro-red or pro-saffron. But one thing nobody will deny: Tripura has never seen so much money flowing during elections. Resource-wise, the CPI-M is no match for the BJP.
The saffron party is using every trick in its bag to bring Tripura under its rule: from giving ‘inducements’ to Congress leaders to cross over, to remaining eloquently silent on whether it supports the creation of a separate State for tribals. Its ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, has been demanding separation of the tribal-dominated parts of Tripura to form a separate tribal State. For the Bengalis, who constitute the majority of the electorate in Tripura, it is a vital question. The nightmarish memory of the Mandai massacre of 1980, when armed tribals went on a rampage and killed many Bengalis, still haunts them.
This scribe still remembers an incident when he visited Tripura just after the massacre. A tribal in his early fifties, kept in the police lock-up, fuming at the CPI-M leadership and uttering profanities, accusing the party of having first instigated them to turn against the Bengalis and now arresting them and starting criminal cases against them. Indeed, the Mandai massacre was a turning point in Tripura politics, which created a deep division between the Bengalis and the tirbals. Ghettoization of the two communities started then. Today the CPI-M stands alienated from the tribals. The BJP has made deep inroads among them. The BJP is dreaming of conquering Tripura with the help of the tribal communities.
But the BJP’s spectacular growth in a comparatively short time is not without its attendant risks. Most of the new entrants to the BJP are from the Congress. Many of them first deserted the Congress to join the Trinamool Congress believing that the TMC would emerge as the potential contender for power against the CPI-M in Tripura. Then the BJP stormed into the scene and most of the Congress legislators who had joined the TMC left it to swell the ranks of the saffron party for the same reason: that the BJP with immense resources will be able to throw the CPI-M out.
The problem for the BJP is that if the party does not do well in the coming State Assembly elections, especially in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and if doubts arise about its ability to return to power at the Centre in 2019, the army of defectors may start thinking whether to go back to the Congress again. These people are not committed to the saffron ideology or ever had any connexion with the RSS. Only the prospect of power has brought them to the BJP.
Pradyot Deb Barma, the acting chief of the Tripura Congress and a scion of the royal family of Tripura, has told a news agency that the BJP had persuaded him to join the saffron party and promised to make him the chief minister or send him to the Rajya Sabha. He declined the offer and remained loyal to his own party.
The Tripura CPI-M’s greatest asset is its chief minister, Manik Sarkar, a man who lives a simple life and scrupulously avoids all the pageantry and paraphernalia of power. No accusing finger has ever been pointed at him for corruption. If he ceases to be the chief minister, he will have to live on his wife’s pension, he says. The problem that the CPI-M faces in Tripura is the same problem that it faces elsewhere in other States: it is losing its connect with the younger generation and does not know how to attract the new generation to the communist movement.
As far as the Congress is concerned, the elections have given an impetus to its demoralized workers and geared them into action after a long time. It is contesting 59 of the 60 seats. Rahul Gandhi is coming in the last phase of campaigning to enthuse the party workers. The Congress may not be able to win very many seats but the party workers have plunged headlong into the campaign to shake off years of inertia and rebuild the organization. The grassroots level Congress workers are disgusted and disappointed with their venal legislators who are prepared to desert the party at the drop of a hat to further their personal prospects. The younger generation wants their party to emerge as a credible alternative to the Left rule.
If the BJP fails to get a majority on its own and the CPI-M is returned to power, albeit with a reduced strength, it will be interesting to see how many of the Congress and Trinamool defectors cling on to the BJP. The BJP’s political culture is so different from other democratic parties that without tasting power, the deserters from other parties may abandon the BJP with as much ease with which they crossed over to it. In any case, Tripura will show whether money power alone can determine elections. (IPA Service)