By Sagarneel Sinha
Despite a few stray incidents, the bypolls for the four assembly seats in the northeastern state of Tripura have seen a voter turnout of more than 78%. The four seats where bypolls were held are — Agartala, Town Bardowali, Jubarajnagar and Surma (SC).
The assembly elections in the northeastern state of Tripura are only eight months away. And just a month ago, the ruling BJP had to change its chief minister Biplab Deb and appoint state party president ManikSaha to the post. The new chief minister, who isn’t a member of the state assembly, himself was one of the candidates in these bypolls from the Town Bardowali constituency. All these circumstances made these bypolls crucial — as they are expected to give indications about the upcoming 2023 fight. The results would be declared on June 26.
The BJP’s campaign was led by ManikSaha himself. The former Chief Minister Biplab Deb too joined the campaign. Apart from them, Assam chief minister and BJP’s strongman in the northeast Himanta Biswa Sharma too campaigned for the saffron candidates. BJP’s Tripura-in-charge Vinod Sonkar, an MP of the Kausambhi constituency of Uttar Pradesh, also participated in the saffron campaigning. Not only this, the saffron party had even appointed three observers — party general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and the two cabinet ministers of Assam, Ashok Singhal and Jayanta Malla Barua — for the bypolls in this northeastern state.
The main opposition CPI(M) led Left Front too was not in a mood to leave any open space for the BJP. Former chief minister and leader of the opposition Manik Sarkar and CPI(M) state secretary Jitendra Chaudhury led the Left campaign in the four constituencies.
For Congress, the campaign was led by state unit president Birajit Singha and by former state president Sudip Roy Barman, who himself was a candidate from the Agartala constituency.
Trinamool Congress’ second-in-command Abhishekh Banerjee too campaigned for the party candidates. Royal scion Pradyot Debbarman too campaigned in the Surma (SC) constituency, where the tribal party was in the fray to test its strength in the non-ST reserved seats having a chunk of tribal votes.
The most prestigious constituency was Town Bardowali, where the candidate himself was the new BJP chief minister Manik Saha. The candidates of Congress, Left Front and Trinamool Congress were Ashish Saha, Raghunath Sarkar (AIFB) and Sanhita Banerjee respectively. In the Agartala constituency, BJP’s Ashok Sinha contested against Congress’ Sudip Roy Barman. The Left’s candidate was Krishna Mazumder (CPI-M) while Panna Deb was TMC’s candidate.
In the Surma (SC) constituency, BJP’s candidate was Swapna Das Paul while former MLA Anjan Das (CPI-M) was the Left Front’s candidate. Pradyot Barman’s TIPRA Motha’s candidate was Baburam Satnami while the TMC candidate was Arjun Namasudra. In the Jubarajnagar constituency, BJP’s candidate was Malina Debnath while Sailendra Chandra Nath (CPI-M) was the Left Front’s candidate. The candidates of Congress and TMC were Sushmita Debnath and Mrinal Kanti Debnath respectively.
The BJP has been losing a section of traditional Congress voters, who opted for the saffron party in 2018 to defeat the Left Front. That was seen first in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, where Congress emerged second pushing the CPI(M) to the third position and later in the civic polls held last year, where the organisationally non-existent TMC came third by fetching 16% riding on the support of most of these disillusioned Congress voters. These voters have now started trusting the Congress again as the grand old party has gained strength with the joining of former party president Sudip Roy Barman, who was in TMC and BJP for a brief period.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, there was erosion in BJP’s base in Agartala, Town Bardowali and Surma — barring Jubarajnagar — in comparison to the 2018 state assembly polls, where the BJP under the leadership of prime minister Narendra Modi was successful in ending the 25-year long rule of the CPI(M) led Left Front. Particularly, in Agartala and Surma, BJP didn’t even reach the 50% mark in 2019. Notably, Agartala and Town Bardowali were bastions of Congress while Surma was a stronghold of CPI(M) before the 2018 polls.
Only in Jubarajnagar, a CPI(M) bastion, the BJP, which narrowly lost the seat in 2018, made gains in 2019. In the four constituencies, Congress made gains while CPI(M) led Left Front declined more in 2019. Out of these four constituencies, the Left came second only in the Jubarajnagar seat in the 2019 polls.
Interestingly, this time in the Surma constituency, where the Congress got 30% votes in 2019, there was no candidate from the grand old party. It indirectly supported TIPRA Motha — a significant development given the fact that the Motha is the current dominating party in the tribal belt.
However, drawing conclusions based only on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls would be politically incorrect. Four months after the 2019 polls, there was a bypoll in the Badharghat (SC) constituency where the CPI(M) made considerable gains in comparison to the Lok Sabha polls. Congress also made small gains.
The political situation on the ground has changed a lot since the Badharghat seat bypolls. The CPI(M) has intensified its political programmes across the state — both in the plains and hills. Congress has also been able to strengthen itself, though not in all parts of the state. At the same time, it would be naïve to ignore the organisational strength of the BJP, which has only strengthened itself after the 2018 polls with the help of Left voters. That’s why despite losing a section of Congress voters in 2019, the saffron party was able to win the Lok Sabha polls.
Although the Left has intensified its political programmes across the state, still it is not yet clear how much the Left has been able to recover its lost base from the BJP. Apart from that, a relief for the saffron party is the reactivation of TMC post the civic polls. The BJP is hoping that the TMC may help the saffron party by eating into a portion of the Congress votes, particularly in Town Bardowali and Agartala. The upcoming political developments of the state would be decided by the results of these bypolls on June 26. (IPA Service)