The Trinamool Congress failing to win a single seat in the recently concluded Tripura bypolls comes as no surprise to anyone who is willing to look beyond the hype. But coming fourth in all four seats and losing their deposit spells red flags for the party in the state.
In the four seats that went to polls, TMC got 2.1%, 2.98%, 3.3% and 2.96% vote share. This comes after a sub-par performance in the civic polls that were conducted earlier this year. But they had at least managed to come second in the Agartala Municipal elections.
The party’s state unit chief Subal Bhowmik admitted that “organizational weakness” and “issues of continuity” were the key factors that led to their defeat. One can say that the TMC made the same mistakes in Tripura that the BJP did in Bengal, during the 2021 Assembly elections.
No Local Face and Grassroots Strength
The party severely lacked organisational strength in the state. One would assume that a party like TMC which is so big on “Bangla” and "Bengalis" would enjoy an advantage in Tripura which has a significant Bengali-speaking population, but no!
Their biggest problem was the lack of a prominent local face with a mass appeal. TMC did not have a single mass leader in the local party administration for the longest time. It was only until much later that Subal Bhowmick was made the state unit president and was the only local face in the top brass.
The affairs of the party in Tripura were mostly managed by leaders from West Bengal. Initially, Sushmita Dev was given the task to strengthen the party in Tripura along with Assam. Tripura was later given to Rajib Banerjee. Dev was from Assam while Banerjee was from Bengal, and both failed to build a proper organization even in the Bengali-speaking areas.
This also led to them not attracting local leaders and losing whoever they had. Hardly one or two leaders would join the party in the run up to the elections.
Experts have opined that the party should have done everything that it could to retain Sudip Roy Barman and Ashish Saha who had joined the party in 2016, and later moved to the BJP within a year in 2017.
Both Barman and Saha joined the Congress earlier this year. Barman was the only non-BJP winner in the bypolls this time around, having won the Agartala assembly seat by a margin of 3000 votes.
TMC failed to capitalize on was the Tribal population of Tripura. Tribals account for 31 per cent of the population and have their own rich culture, one that is very different from the population. The Tribal population can influence around 35-36 assembly seats in the state, and 20 are reserved for them.
TMC is almost non-existent in the tribal belt and their best effort was to try and ally with Pradyot Debbarman’s Tipra Motha, which didn’t materialize. Hence, they get no votes from the tribal belt.
Lack of Sustained Effort And Strategy
Another mistake that the TMC made when in the state was the lack of sustained campaigning, especially after the civic polls. The TMC brass immediately focused on the Goa polls and left Tripura in the dark, and thereby lost whatever little momentum they had built.
The TMC went on a campaign marathon one month before the elections, bringing in several prominent leaders and celebrities from West Bengal, but that wasn’t enough. What they needed was to continue campaigning for much longer periods of time, to build an impression among the locals.
Campaigning only before the elections and using faces from West Bengal to campaign in Tripura didn’t help TMC shed their outsider image. Which is why their campaigns and road shows saw underwhelming attendance and response. Even TMC national general secretary’s roadshows didn’t have enough attendance.
What the TMC really needed was sustained ground presence. The party and the cadre failed to be on the ground and dominate the news cycle. Tripura and Bengal share an acute similarity when it comes to grassroots influence. The TMC failed to replicate what they did in Bengal, in Tripura. A good grassroots influence can help them a long way.
TMC state president Bhowmik claimed that voters wanted to “consolidate” opposition votes and that such a move happened because it was the bypolls, where the government wouldn’t be changed anyway.
The TMC has been suffering from the same problems in most of the states that they are trying to venture into with Goa being another prime example. The loss in Tripura should serve as a wake-up call for the party to up their ante, if they want to create a national presence and have a fighting chance in 2024.