By Sagarneel Sinha
The joining of two BJP rebel MLAs — Sudip Roy Barman and Ashish Kumar Saha — to the Congress has, no doubt, given a boost to the grand old party in the north-eastern state of Tripura. It is a homecoming for the two leaders, as they were associated with the Congress for a long time in the past. This is a jolt to the ruling BJP. Only one year is left for the assembly elections in the state. In fact, some more saffron party MLAs are expected to join the grand old party.
Sudip has been a well known leader of the state. He along with 5 other MLAs had left the grand old party in 2016 to join the Trinamool Congress as they were unhappy with the Congress for striking an alliance with the CPI(M) led Left Front in West Bengal. At that time TMC, after returning to power under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee with a majority of its own, was looking to spread its foothold in other states too. Tripura, being a Bengali majority state, was the immediate target of TMC and Mukul Roy, who was then second-in-command in the party, was given the charge of the state. In fact, Mamata’s party has always targeted the north-eastern since 1999. TMC was successful in poaching Sudip, the then main opposition leader of the state, and 5 MLAs of the grand old party as the former has a history of often poaching the leaders of the latter in West Bengal. Thus TMC without even contesting elections became the main opposition party in the state assembly.
However, Sudip Barman and the other 5 MLAs couldn’t stay more than a year with TMC. It was said that one of the main reasons was the differences of the Sudip camp with TMC, which is actually a West Bengal based party. The leaders felt that the leadership of TMC didn’t understand Tripura’s politics. Another main reason was, of course, the growing popularity of BJP in the northeastern state and thus joined the saffron party, just months before the 2018 assembly polls. Sudip camp particularly has a good following in Agartala and neighbouring areas. As a result, their joining came as a boost for BJP, which swept those areas and the party that suffered the most was the Congress, which got even less than 2% of vote share in 2018 polls. It was because most of the Congress voters voted for the BJP to bring an end to the 25 years of CPI(M) rule in the north-eastern state.
Coming to the present, Sudip camp felt that they were ignored by the BJP. So, it was expected that the Sudip camp would leave the saffron party. True that BJP itself has ignored the rebel leaders. But the saffron party can’t deny the fact that this desertion is likely to hurt its prospects. The joining of Sudip camp has made the beleaguered Congress relevant in the state politics. And this is not good news for the BJP just one year ahead of the assembly polls.
Already a chunk of BJP voters, who went from Congress, are dissatisfied with the saffron party. This was seen in 2019 Lok Sabha polls when the grand old party sprang a surprise by pushing CPI(M) to the third place and garnering a vote share of 25%. However, this euphoria didn’t stay long with the Congress and it got a big jolt when the then party president Pradyot Debbarman left the party over differences with the party high command on the issue of implementation of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Tripura.
Congress, no doubt, has been able to give a jolt to the BJP. But this is a big jolt for TMC, which had been wooing Sudip camp since it came to power in West Bengal for the third time. In the recent Tripura civic polls, TMC got 16% vote share and the party became so overconfident that it started running propaganda of coming to power in the 2023 polls. The fact that got hidden in the propaganda run by pro-TMC media was that the party got help from the backdoor by Sudip camp, whose aides became TMC candidates in Agartala Municipal Corporation, where Mamata’s party emerged as the second largest party. A large section of TMC’s votes in the civic polls came from traditional Congress voters. Now with the resurgence of the Congress, any party that is likely to suffer the most is, undoubtedly, TMC. It can be said that here Congress has dealt a big blow to TMC, whose supremo Mamata Banerjee, after becoming chief minister for the third time in Bengal, has been trying hard nationally to take the place of the grand old party. Another party that is likely to benefit from the internal crisis of BJP is the CPI(M), which is still the main opposition party in the state. The Left has a committed vote bank and this was evident in the recent civic polls, where it improved its performance compared to the 2019 polls.
In the 2018 polls, the grand old party failed to open its account in Tripura. Last time it was in 1977-78 elections when the Congress failed to open its account. In fact, the Congress was completely ruled out for 2023 polls. But now, with the returning of the Sudip camp to the Congress, TMC is slowly losing its relevance while the grand old party is back in the game for the battle of 2023, where the other major players are BJP, CPI(M) and Pradyot’s TIPRA Motha. (IPA Service)