By Ashis Biswas
In Tripura, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), eager to consolidate its traditional Bengali Hindu support base, revved up its pre-poll campaign by launching two major Rathyatras from Sabroom and Dharmanagar areas of Agartala. Union Home Minister Mr Amit Shah, who specially flew in for the programme, launched the programme.
State Chief Minister Mr Manik Saha told mediapersons the party expected to establish contact with at least 10,00,000 people through its new initiative., as leaders and party workers would cover a large area around Agartala town and beyond through this initiative. There would be a series of meetings and processions, the programme scheduled to end on Jan 13. Many of the 60 constituencies would be covered during the march.
There were mixed feelings within the opposition Left front(CPI-M), Congress and Tribal leaders in the fray, who saw nothing new in the BJP’s campaigning style. During the early nineties, veteran leader Mr L.K. Advani had started the practice of taking out Rathayatras, a move reminiscent of similar forays carried out by religious/mythical leaders in ancient India seeking to expand areas under their control and win over common people.
Congress leaders felt the BJP had been panicked into adopting this mode of campaigning not least because of the nation-wide success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra launched by Congress leader Mr. Rahul Gandhi, mostly derided by the saffron party as a Pappu (incompetent person).
Others said this was also the BJP’s way of achieving effective mass contact, the party’s main objective being the consolidation of non-tribal Hindu votes in the state. With only weeks left for the elections scheduled for some time in February, it was the strong new tribal entrant Tipra Motha(TM) that was causing concern among state BJP leaders.
The major problem with the state BJP is that despite its impressive victory in 2018, upstaging the well entrenched CPI(M)-led Government, the party lacks local leaders of major dimensions. No one in the BJP’s Tripura unit measures up to the political stature of Mr. Manik Sarkar, former Chief Minister, the late Nripen Chakravarty or tribal leader Dasarath Deb. Luckily for the BJP, only Mr Sarkar in the opposition still remains in contention as it goes into the 2023 polls.
The party never had a sizable base in the state in recent years. Among current leaders, many had crossed over from the Congress party, dissatisfied with their status.
For the BJP’s significant growth and success in recent years in Tripura and other areas of the Northeast— Assam for instance — Tripura-based BJP leaders owe much to the spectacular election victories in recent times by their party at the centre and many states where it had never won before. There can be no denying that Mr Narendra Modi’s leadership, and the organizational abilities of leaders like Mr Amit Shah and Mr, J.P. Nadda had contributed significantly towards the BJP’s achieving its present stature in the NE states.
However, the emergence of the TM has put a spanner in the works not only for the BJP but for other major contenders like Congress and the CPIM)-led Left forces. Indigenous tribals in Tripura account for around 30% of the state’s population. Out of the 60 seats to be contested, 20 will be reserved for tribal contenders. Given the present support for the TM among tribals, most expect the TM to win a major share of these seats.
The BJP’s ally, the tribal IPFT (Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura), had won 8 seats in the dissolved house. However, its recent defeat to the TM, led by the young popular Mr. Pradyot Manikya Deb Burman, in the recent Tribal autonomous council elections, strongly indicates that among younger tribal votes, the older IPFT had lost its earlier support.
The state BJP made no efforts to establish ties with the new emergent tribal group and will contest the polls with old ally IPFT. The TM has also stayed away from alignments with major parties, but generally welcomes any outside support by not insisting on its tribal identity. It has positioned itself as an outfit for people of Tripura in general and clarified that in pressing for a larger Tripura state, it is not seeking new territory.
In making such an assertion, the TM has emphasized its fundamental difference from with other NE tribal outfit that only speak aggressively for the specific demands for one particular group — only their own
As one analyst explains, the TM derives its confidence from its performance in the Autonomous council election polls. It hopes to bag close to around 18/19 out of 20 seats for tribes people. If it succeeds, then the remaining 42 or so general category seats would go up for grabs among the BJP, Congress, the CPI(M).and Trinamool Congress. This should effectively divide the 70% or so of Bengali voters, who consist the major support base for the bigger non -tribal parties.
With each of these parties fighting on its own, it remains to be seen if any of them can end up bagging 18 seats or more.
Being the ruling party and pushing its pro-development narrative, together with the resources at its command, the BJP does remain the front runner among the non tribal parties. There can be no argument that during its tenure, Tripura has received hundreds of crores of rupees by way of investments in infra development, IT, rubber cultivation and tea plantation schemes.
Even so, the BJP cannot take the possibility of its success for granted. Party insiders admit that the TM’s emergence has made the going more difficult. Even the BJP-sponsored allegation of financial corruption against the TM for its allegedly poor governance in the tribal council does not cut much ice. The TM is a new unit and has just begun to run the council !
As for the prospects of the other non tribal entrant the Trinamool Congress(TMC), observers do not expect it to do very well, judging by its blitz-style campaign led by Mr Abhishek Banerjee MP during the civic poll. The party ended winless as most candidates lost their deposits. But this time, TMC is looking for alliance with the Congress, though the Congress is reluctant. The BJP’s fortunes will depend on the alliance of the non tribal parties
Inside reports from the state BJP indicate that the BJP is apprehensive of a total alliance of the non-BJP parties in the state against it and the party is trying it best to ensure that this does not happened. Next few weeks are crucial in determine the course of outcome in the assembly polls. (IPA Service)