The 60-assembly seats in the state of Tripura go to polls on 18 February. One of their last bastions in the country, the state has been ruled by the Left since 1978, except for five years from 1988 to 1993, when the Congress was in power. The present Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who has been in office since 1998, has earned the distinction of being the country’s poorest chief minister.Known to not avail any governmental perks, his election affidavit shows a net worth of only Rs 26 lakhs. The opposition to the Left has traditionally been the Congress. However since 2014, the BJP has seen a surge in its membership, helped by defections from the Congress and the Trinamool Congress (TMC). The surge seems to have unsettled the Left, which too, in no uncertain terms, sees the BJP as its prime threat. Here’s a look at the key factors that will decide the fate of Tripura this election.As is usual in any dispensation that has served so long, the Left has seen both good days and bad. It has been lauded for investing heavily in local police, which got the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) removed from the state. It has also massively reduced militancy by increasing security in the border area. In terms of other social indices like health and education as well, the state is ranked very high. Literacy rate in the state increased from 73.2 percent in 1998 to 97.2 percent presently, making it the most literate state in the country.However, issues of employment generation and the government’s stance on Tipraland – a demand for a separate state to be carved out of the tribal areas –may be the Left’s Achilles heel.In March 2016, nearly 18.7 percent of the state’s population of 3.7 million were unemployed, according to the state’s economic survey 2015-16. The youth in the state have been migrating to cities like Kolkata, Chennai, Pune, Bengaluru etc, in search of better job avenues. The numbers are more dismal in the tribal areas.To make matters worse, in December 2017, the government received an additional setback after a Supreme Court order upheld a Tripura High Court verdict, terminating the jobs of 10,323 government school teachers, citing irregularities.CPI(M) leaders have, time and again, said that in order to solve the issue of unemployment, a domestic market needs to be created in the state. However, they’ve always cited lack of funding from the Centre as an impediment to their plans.Even in the manifesto released by the party this election, employment generation has found no mention.The biggest political move this election has been the BJP’s alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT). The IPFT, which has supported the NDA government before, has been at the forefront of the Tipraland movement. The tribal areas of Tripura are administered by an independent council called the The Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC). The IPFT wants the areas under the TTAADC to be carved into a separate state for indigenous people.In January 2018, members of the IPFT met with Home Minister Rajnath Singh to discuss the issue. They were promised “a high power committee to discuss modalities of forming a new state”. Their stance vis-à-vis Tipraland in this election has been unclear, but the BJP’s north-east in-charge Himanta Biswa Sarma has said that the party has given up the demand. The IPFT is yet to publicly corroborate this.The IPFT holds considerable sway in the TTAADC areas, and has been placed second in the 2015 elections to the Council. The BJP is looking to capitalise on this popularity to win the 20 reserved tribal seats in the state. The tribal population of Tripura, comprising over 19 tribes, forms 31 percent of the state’s population.The saffron party will share nine seats with IPFT, and contest in 51 themselves.That apart, the BJP’s entire electoral campaign in Tripura has been focused almost entirely on winning tribal votes, specifically on the issues of employment generation. Some of the key points in their manifesto include providing SEZs for bamboo, and smartphones to the youth.The party has seen a phenomenal growth in membership from about 15,000 during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls to over two lakh by the end of 2016. It has also strengthened by key defections from both the Congress and the TMC.Defections have been an important part of Tripura politics this election season. In 2016, six MLAs from the Congress joined the Trinamool Congress after the party allied with CPI(M) for the West Bengal Assembly polls. This made the Trinamool the principal opposition in the state.In July 2017, however, these six MLAs went against the party line and supported Ram Nath Kovind for President, while the party supported Meira Kumar. Mamata Banerjee immediately asked for the MLAs to be sacked. They then joined the BJP in August, giving the party entry into the state assembly. About a 1,000 workers, who had accompanied the MLAs from the Congress to the TMC, later shifted back to the Congress.While Mukul Roy’s sway (while he was with the TMC) was instrumental in bringing the MLAs into the TMC, his shift to the BJP has led to a shift in erstwhile Trinamool votes too, as has been accepted by Mamata Banerjee, who said that her party’s chance in Tripura was destroyed by “a traitor”. As of now, the Trinamool has fielded candidates in 24 seats.The Congress too, has not put up a very tall front. After talks of an alliance with the Trinamool Congress and various tribal parties failed, the Congress fielded candidates in all 60 seats. However, one of their candidates has withdrawn their nomination. The party won 10 seats in the last election and is now left with just two after defections. It lost considerable ground after the tie-up with CPI(M) in the West Bengal Assembly polls.Amidst all this, the larger background to Tripura politics still holds. The tribal population in the state has been on a constant decline since the 1940s. While they formed 53 percent of the population in 1941, they have now dropped to a little over 31 percent. While hilly areas of the state remain largely tribal-populated, the plains remain largely dominated by Bengali population.Election strategies in these two areas are thus different. The BJP is banking on IPFT support to penetrate the tribal belts. Moreover, small parties like the Indigenous Nationalist Party Of Twipra (INPT), National Council of Tripura (NCT) and Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) hold sway over various small pockets in the hills and can be a huge determinant factor in case a clear majority does not emerge.The weakening of the Congress and TMC in the plain areas, meanwhile, have meant wins for the BJP. Experts in Tripura say that with the entry of the saffron party, this elections seems to be a stiff challenge for the Left that is eyeing an unprecedented sixth term. We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.