In the crucial bypolls of Tripura, the ruling BJP has been able to retain the Town Bardowali and the Surma (SC) seats while seizing the Jubarajnagar constituency from the CPI(M). The saffron party, however, lost the Agartala seat to Congress. With the victory in the Agartala seat, the grand old party finally opened its account in the state Assembly. The strength of the BJP in the Assembly remains the same with 36 MLAs while the main Opposition CPI(M)’s tally is reduced to 15.
Results Strengthen the New Chief Minister
Clearly, when Assembly polls are a few months away, the change of the chief ministerial face only strengthened the allegations of the opposition parties that the saffron party has failed to deliver its promises.
On the other hand, Manik, also the state party president, wasn’t a member of the Assembly. He also had to contest the elections from Town Bardowali, a constituency which before the 2018 polls was a Congress bastion.
The contest wasn’t easy for him. In 2018 polls, the constituency was won by BJP due to en-large shift of the Congress voters, a section of whom are now not ready to vote for the saffron party again. Despite all these challenges, Manik Saha won this seat by securing 51.63% votes.
BJP’s margin indeed got reduced here in comparison to the 2018 state elections when the saffron party’s candidate Ashish Saha, who was the candidate of Congress this time, got 61.95% votes. In comparison to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, it, however, seems that BJP has been almost able to retain its vote share.
This is in contrast to the three other constituencies where the BJP’s vote share got reduced by 5 to 10% in comparison to the 2019 polls. That a chief minister was the candidate gave a clear edge to the BJP in a traditional Congress bastion.
BJP Sees Some Erosion of Votes
No doubt that the ruling party has been able to deal a blow to the main opposition CPI(M) by snatching the Jubarajnagar seat of North Tripura. The Left party had been winning the seat continuously from the 1993 elections to the 2018 elections.
The BJP’s Malina Debnath grabbed the seat by garnering 51.83% votes, an increase of 4.68% votes in comparison to the 2018 polls, when the saffron party narrowly lost the seat to CPI(M)’s Ramendra Chandra Debnath, who was the Speaker of the state Assembly from 2003 to 2018.
However, the BJP’s bypoll vote share is less in comparison to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when it garnered a huge support of 60.43%.
In the Surma (SC) constituency, although the BJP was able to retain the seat, the party sees a drop in its vote share in comparison to both the 2018 and 2019 polls.
However, it is the Agartala constituency, where the BJP suffered the most in terms of vote share. The seat was won by the saffron party back in 2018 polls but this time it lost to Congress. This has indeed been the bastion of former state Congress president Sudip Roy Barman, who has been winning the seat since 1998. In 2018, he was BJP’s winning candidate.
The saffron party, which is blaming the CPI(M) for transferring its votes to Congress, also has to accept that its candidate Ashok Sinha wasn’t a strong one. He, who was earlier the state party spokesperson, was quite inactive and even maintained a distance from the party for a period.
He again slowly became active in state politics only when he was made the state party vice-president this year. Not to forget that he wasn’t very keen to contest the bypolls. Although there is a silver lining for BJP here. Since the 1998 elections, Sudip had never secured less than 49% votes but this time he secured 43.46% votes.
A Wake-Up Call for BJP
There's no doubt that ahead of the state Assembly polls, the BJP has got a relief and a boost. But at the same time, the results indicate that the party has seen a drop in its vote share in comparison to both the 2018 and 2019 polls, although organisationally, as the bypolls indicate, the saffron party remains ahead of the opposition parties in the plains.
In comparison to the 2018 polls, the drop in vote share for BJP is near 10% and when compared to the 2019 polls, the drop is almost 7%. That everything isn’t well for the saffron party on the ground, despite winning Lok Sabha polls and almost a clean sweep in both the rural body polls in 2019 and the civic body polls last year, was known to the central leadership of the party.
So, they had to remove Biplab Deb from the post of chief minister and appoint Manik Saha, who was known close to the Biplab camp.
After becoming chief minister, it seems that Manik has been trying to bring a change to the state. That was seen when he appealed to his party supporters not to indulge in any kind of violence. This time the bypolls, despite the allegations of CPI(M), Congress, and TMC, were mostly peaceful, barring a few stray incidents.
The environment of these elections was quite different from the elections held when Biplab was the chief minister. Nevertheless, there have been cases of violence in different parts of the state after the declaration of the bypoll results. Law and order still remains a big issue.
There are challenges before Manik Saha and BJP. The crucial challenge is to reduce the rising anti-incumbency – as indicated by the bypolls – against the BJP government. The saffron party also has the challenge to redress the organisational loopholes. The results of the bypolls don’t always agree with the Assembly polls as seen in the past in this northeastern state and the BJP should view these polls as a wake-up call ahead of the 2023 battle.
(Sagarneel Sinha is a freelance writer from Tripura who writes on politics, foreign affairs and Indian mythology. He tweets @SagarneelSinha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)