After 25 years, Left out of Tripura

Pratim Ranjan Bose Kolkata | Updated on March 05, 2018 Published on March 04, 2018

BJP-IPFT alliance changes the political narrative dramatically in the north-eastern State

Ebar Palte Jabe (the government will change this time),” 56-year-old Kartik Singh, a traditional Congress supporter from Nabinpara in South Tripura district, told this correspondent in mid-February. For him, the BJP offered the only opportunity to end the 25-year-old rule of the Left parties.

One-and-a-half months later, Singh’s belief has come true. Congress supporters voted for BJP lock, stock and barrel. BJP wrested at least three out of the seven seats in south Tripura district where they didn’t expect more than one.

Congress supporters were no exception. A majority of the Scheduled Tribe population – constituting nearly one-third of the State population – responded to the call by the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), led by NC Debbarma, to give up their internal rivalries and vote for the IPFT-BJP alliance.

The result is before our eyes. Left got a humiliating defeat while the BJP got a clear majority, and the BJP-IPFT alliance ended a little short of the Left front’s tally of 50 in 2013. And surprisingly enough, the change took place despite a fall in the polling percentage from 92 per cent in 2013 to nearly 79 per cent in 2018.

Shift of votes

The shift of vote base can be proved in many ways than one. In the 2013 Assembly election, Congress got 36.5 per cent votes in an alliance with Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhwal’s Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT), the oldest tribal force in the State.

INPT – which is strong in the three Assembly segments in the Ambassa region – got 7.6 per cent of the polled votes in 2013.

Jump cut to 2018 and the story changes dramatically. Congress, which was literally fighting alone (except for support of some insignificant parties), got barely 1.8 per cent votes with most candidates losing security deposits. INPT, which was fighting alone, too, got 0.7 per cent votes.

As if that’s not enough, CPI(M)’s vote share is down from 48 per cent to 43 per cent. Combining the share of its top three allies – CPI, RSP and Forward Block – the Left vote share is down from over 52 per cent to 45 per cent.

The benefits were accrued by the BJP-IPFT alliance. BJP got a 43 per cent vote share, up from barely 1.5 per cent in 2013 when it didn’t get a single seat. In a dramatic change of fortune, BJP got a comfortable majority in the 60-seat Assembly (polling was held in 59) in 2018. IPFT contested in nine seats and won eight of them and secured a 7.7 per cent vote share this election. It got less than 0.5 per cent votes in 2013.

Coalition politics

When the BJP was trying to stitch together a grand coalition of all tribal parties to stop vote division in January, CPI(M) worked overtime to spoil the effort. “We are playing our cards to keep tribal votes divided,” a senior party leader, from Tripura, told this correspondent.

BJP was not successful in its coalition attempt. In the end, BJP could rope in IPFT and merged a dissident group of IPFT. IPFT’s rival, INPT, and another tribal party, decided to stay away and play spoiler.

In the end, BJP-IPFT had the last laugh. BJP won Ambassa seat in Dhalai district at INPT’s backyard as IPFT could garner support of a majority of the tribals. The alliance secured all the six seats in Dhalai district. As on Sunday night when results were withheld in couple of seats, at least 16 out of the 20 seats, reserved for ST candidates, were pocketed by BJP-IPFT. In 2013, CPI (M) got 18 of them.

The results were most evident in Scheduled Tribe-dominated West Tripura district. In 2013, out of the 15 seats in the district, CPI (M) pocketed nine and Congress bagged the rest six (out of the State-wide tally of 10). In 2018, BJP got 14, IPFT one, and CPI (M) one. Mrinal Kanti Deb, a BJP spokesperson in Tripura attributed the dramatic win to their successful alliance with IPFT and the magic touch of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

There is no doubt that Modi’s campaigning helped the BJP to get the important swing. But equally important was the touch of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the former chief priest of the Gorakhnath Math in UP.

The Scheduled Caste (SC) population in Tripura is dominated by the Debnath community. And most of them owe their allegiance to the Gorakhnath Math, which is run by the ‘Nath’ monastic group. Yogi was roped in for campaigning to convert this connection into votes. As the results were declared on Saturday, BJP was found to have bagged eight out of the 10 seats reserved for SC candidates.

Interestingly, the Left would have received a more humiliating defeat if the BJP had not failed to live up to its expectations in North Tripura and adjoining Unakoti districts. Party insiders expected BJP to sweep 10 seats in these two districts, riding on strong organisation base. The expectation was belied. Out of the seven seats in North Tripura district bordering Assam, BJP-IPFT could get three.

Published on March 04, 2018
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