By Ashis Biswas
In Tripura, with only 48 hours before the scheduled Assembly polls on February 16, the state Congress unit has been left to fend for itself by the party high command in carrying out its pre poll campaign. Despite earlier assurances by local Congress leaders, neither Mr Rahul Gandhi nor his sister Priyanka or other senior leaders, bothered to visit the state, ignoring frantic requests from the state leaders.
Their apparent lack of interest in seriously contesting Assembly-level elections have come as a major shock to hard-core party supporters/followers and not only in Tripura , Northeast-based media reports now suggest top Congress leaders may find it difficult to lead the party’s campaign for the Meghalaya and Nagaland elections scheduled for Feb 27 also. The reason: the long awaited Congress Plenary Session at Raipur will be held around then.
State Congress leaders and supporters have expressed deep disappointment to media persons over the indifference of National-stature leaders towards the Northeast region as a whole. Political analysts too find the failure of top Congress leaders to provide much needed material support and encouragement to their state units engaged in a difficult political battle, no less puzzling.
Senior state Congress leaders pointed out that even 10/15 years ago, the Northeast, along with certain pockets of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, was generally regarded as relatively ‘safe territory’ for the party in terms of potential electoral support. The dominant Christian population in some states always voted for the Congress in large numbers. Even aspirant tribal youths had no problems supporting Congress Party’s secular ideals or the modern economic policies pursued by the Congress government.
Tripura Congress has suffered major desertions in recent times as some supporters and district-based leaders joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC) or the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) .Apparently they sought to retain minimal political relevance in the rapidly changing political scenario. Even the most prominent state party leader, the veteran Mr. Sudip Roy Burman had switched over to both the TMC and the BJP before achieving a rare, triumphant return to his former party.
But it remains to be seen whether even his heroic example in winning from an apparently hopeless situation, swimming against the current as it were, will bring in many votes this time. Most observers agree that this was a critically important time for the party headquarters to help the state party, currently fighting for its survival in a desperately difficult situation.
Naturally the ruling BJP and the TMC have mercilessly ridiculed the demoralised Congress leaders and their ever dwindling support in their campaign. The BJP particularly has targeted Mr. Rahul Gandhi, alleging that he clearly has no stomach for a hard electoral battle. It was out of the question for him to take on the mantle of a national-level leaders, never mind his ‘Bharat Jodo yatra’. No one really saw him as a serious challenger to Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi, who actively participated in the Tripura campaign despite his party ruling both there and at the Centre.
The TMC too questioned the commitment of major Congress leaders in the Northeast Assembly polls, adding that they had written themselves off!
Reports reaching from Agartala suggest that the leaders of CPIM)-led Left Front , as pre-election alliance partners of the Congress are upset over the lukewarm efforts put up so far by the state Congress. Even during the seat adjustments talks, matters had not been settled agreeably. Initially, the LF had left 13 out of 60 seats for Congress to contest. However, after a formal announcement had been made, the party went back and put up four additional candidates, declaring that the contests would be ‘friendly’ and not affect the agreed seat adjustment!
Most media analysts strongly criticised the insistence shown by Tripura Congress in asking for so many seats, which it had no means of winning. It even asked for seats where its candidates in 2018 won only 400 or so votes, while the BJP and the Left candidates had won in excess of 13/14,000 votes!
Naturally such moves, clearly made by Congress leaders in order to avoid a ruinous pre-election split among party ranks, angered and embarrassed Left leaders. As things stand , the CPI(M) still remains the most organised and active political force in Tripura to take on the BJP’s challenge, despite its loss in 2018 elections.
Not surprisingly, the bulk of physical side of the campaigning has been carried out by the LF so far, for both Congress and LF candidates. In terms of providing either manpower or material support, the local Congress has not done very well, lacking a dependable organizational base. The state unit itself, as stated before, has been left in the lurch by its central leaders.
It was also generally agreed that in comparison with the more determined Left cadres, the average Congress campaigner was not hard working enough. The LF would also make an all out effort to involve as many supporters/activists as possible in poll-related work on election day. The same could not be said for Congress and its supporters, most people felt. (IPA Service)