By Ashis Biswas
Pre-poll campaigning has reached its peak in Tripura, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting twice during the last three days for addressing election meetings in the state and the Home Minister Amit Shah holding road shows and meetings on February 6 and 7 and again on February 12. It was the biggest mobilization of the BJP of its leaders for helping the Party retain power for the second time beating the challenge of the Left- Congress alliance and the tribal outfit Tipra Motha.
Other major contending parties like the CPIM), Congress and the Trinamool Congress have also deputed their top leaders in the fray , with only three days left for the day of polling on February 16. They include Mr Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) General Secretary, Ms Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister and Mr Abhishek Banerjee, General Secretary of the Trinamool Congress.
State Congress leaders told Tripura-based media persons that party President Mr. Mallikarjun Kharge, Mr Rahul Gandhi and Mrs Priyanka Gandhi were expected to join the campaign.
With strong new tribal entrant party Tipra Motha contesting, observers expect the elections in 2023 to be a three-cornered fight, marking a departure from the past. The TM which unlike other tribal outfits like the more established IPFT is not part of any pre poll alliance, seems destined to play the kingmaker’s role in the post poll scenario, if there is a hung assembly.
Despite preliminary talks with both the ruling BJP and the opposition alliance of the CPIM()-led Left Front and Congress, the TM’s insistence on the creation of a larger tribal state prevented a larger pre-election understanding. But it also left the TM with the option of supporting either the BJP or the LF/Congress combine after the results are announced. No doubt there would be some hard bargaining involving all three parties/groups once the results are announced on March 2.
Despite a sustained energetic campaign launched by the TMC, kickstarted by Ms Banerjee and state leaders visiting from West Bengal to maintain the momentum, observers do not see it as an effective challenger in the polls yet. Most observers are convinced that but for major upsets, its success would not be at par with the other contending groups/parties.
As for the BJP, regardless of its strong campaign against what its top leaders including the Prime Minister describe as the propagation of a ‘freebies’ culture among voters by opposition parties, the saffron brigade could not live up to its own stand. The ruling party as it braces for the polls has ended up offering , among other items, a Rs 5 meal for people, free smartphones for students and free scooties for scholarship winning boys and girls These, in addition to more generous official loan/ insurance facilities for the electorate.
Naturally the party faces much flak from its opponents for its ‘retreat’, especially in the context of Mr Modi’s strong condemnation of the opposition. The TMC was targeted for making irresponsibly reckless populist promises which ended up hurting the national economy. Conservative economists and planners, had already denounced such electoral tactics as being ‘opportunistic’, a part of the current win-at-any-cost culture and the devil take the hindmost….
They cited the recent example of how Sri Lanka’s economy unravelled in the post covid period, in the absence of coherent economic policies in a difficult situation.
In Tripura, as might be expected, it has been the TMC to introduce the cult of freebies a la West Bengal. The TMC leaders make no bones about insisting that if elected their party would introduce welfare schemes similar to those in Bengal, in the Northeast as well. People would enjoy cost-free access to rations, medical treatment and education, along with a general Rs 1000 monthly allowance for every woman in the state!
Many surveys in west Bengal have already exposed how only a small part of the population actually enjoy such benefits, given the state’s wretched economic performance. But a popular obsession over promised freebies seemingly carries a stronger emotional appeal among the electorate’
For all their derision and disgust about such moves, parties opposing the TMC have not been able to ignore totally the electoral impact of such gifts, analysing the remarkable run of TMC’s election victories in West Bengal. Reports from Agartala suggest that the state BJP was divided on the issue, as some leaders felt it would have been better not to play the TMC’s game, as it were, by overstressing the dole-style public welfare side of their future political programmes.
Far more than the TMC, it has been the BJP that has been singled by its past failures to live up to tall pre-election promises and slogans. The party still faces scathing attacks from its critics and opposition parties for its pre-poll slogans promising 20 million new jobs annually or depositing Rs 15 lakhs to every bank account in India following recovery of Indian money illegally salted away abroad!
Nevertheless, in 2023, the BJP has taken no chance and decided to play safe, even appearing to follow the TMC’s example in the process.
In comparison, it is not surprising to find the LF/Congress combine not going in for such gimmicks in their pre-poll statements. The restoration of democracy, better governance, economic relief for hard-pressed peasants and steadily shrinking organised labour, are issues that dominate their discourse, as usual.
While the responsibility implicit in such an approach remains unexceptionable, observers wonder whether the rank and file among younger and hard pressed older votes, struggling to make both ends meet, would respond positively to such moves.
Apart from Mr. Modi, Mr Amit Shah, Mr. Himanta Biswa Sarma and Mr J.P. Nadda have already visited Tripura and participated in the BJP programmes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have taken Tripura as the prestige battle as this is the only state out of the three states going to polls in the first phase this year in the North East where the BJP has the potential to come to power and rule on its own. The BJP leadership can not afford to start as a loser in the first phase of assembly polls. (IPA Service)