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Infighting weakens BJP in Tripura

Pratim Ranjan Bose Guwahati | Updated on April 10, 2019 Published on April 10, 2019

General elections were a one-sided affair in Tripura till 2014. File Photo

Cong in resurgent mode; CPI(M) still unpopular

Traditionally Tripura and most North-Eastern States witness low public interest in Lok Sabha polls. In view of the landslide win for the BJP in the Assembly elections last year, the Lok Sabha elections in the State should have been a one-sided affair, but it is not.

Indeed, general elections were a one-sided affair here till 2014 when ruling CPI(M) won both the seats by nearly five lakh margin.

However, this election will be different for many reasons: First, there is a clear three-way contest between the CPI(M), BJP and a resurging Congress under the leadership of the royal scion Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma, who is focussed on consolidating tribal votes following the Citizenship Bill controversy.

Tribal votes to Congress

Tribal population constitutes 30 per cent of Tripura’s electorate.

The proportion is as high as 40 per cent in reserved Tripura East constituency where ‘Princes’ Pragya Debbarma is contesting. The royal family won this seat for Congress a few times in the past.

Pradyot, who became Pradesh Congress Committee President recently, is also winning over Congressmen who joined the BJP.

The Congress candidate from Tripura West, Subal Bhowmick, was Vice-President of State BJP.

Meanwhile the ruling BJP-IPFT (Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura) coalition is looking fragile. IPFT fielded candidates in both the seats to corner tribal votes. Party president and State minister for fishery, NC Debbarma is contesting from Tripura East.

A four-way contest for tribal votes could have helped BJP but, the fact that IPFT is also looking fragile.

A good part of the party’s aggressive cadres and senior office bearers, including the Vice-President, Ananta Dedbarma, fell for Maharaja’s (as Pradyot is popularly referred here), call: “community first, and then the party”.

Infighting in BJP

There is a third factor which should trouble BJP. There is a section within party, including senior ministers, that fell out with Chief Minister and State party president Biplab Deb and silently waiting for him to falter.

This coupled with normal anti-incumbency following one-year rule might see a flight of votes from the BJP to the Congress. Incidentally, Tripura is probably the only BJP State where both the top posts are held by the same person.

The combination might have worked for the bureaucrats, who are enjoying a free run often at the embarrassment of the minister, but the party might suffer in the election.

The state BJP spokesperson, Ashok Sinha doesn’t admit in-fight but he admits that a section of votes that came from the Congress will go back.

Considering Congress always had 42-45 per cent votes in the State, the crucial question is how much votes will BJP lose.

The party says the loss will be neutralized as many from principal Opposition CPI(M) joined BJP, over last one year.

From Left to Congress

While the CPI(M) leadership claims they would retain both the seats, the popular perception is the party’s vote share will slide this election.

The only hope of the party is, siting MP Jiten Choudhury, who is contesting from Tripura-East.

It is to be seen, if Choudhury, can restore some respect for CPI(M) but otherwise, their loss will be Congress’s gain.

“Left is out of favour. Congress is coming up and expected to attract a section of the Left voters this election,” said a Agartala-based noted intellectual, on condition of anonymity.

Published on April 10, 2019
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