The Communist Party of India (CPI(M))-led Left Front is contesting 46 seats in the Northeastern state of Tripura. Of these, CPM is contesting 43 while CPI, Revolutionary Socialist Party and Forward Bloc are contesting one seat each. It has left 13 seats to Congress and is supporting an independent Purushottam Roy Barman in the Ramanagar constituency.
Out of the 46 seats, 28 are fresh faces — contesting assembly elections for the first time. It means around 60 percent of the candidates of the Left Front are fresh faces. Many of the old faces are out of the contest this time. This includes former chief minister and CPM’s present stalwart Manik Sarkar and other senior leaders like Badal Choudhury, Manik Dey, Aghore Debbarma, Tapan Chakraborty, Shahid Choudhury, Bhanulal Saha, Narayan Choudhury and Jashabhir Tripura.
All of these veteran leaders barring Manik Dey and Aghore Debbarma — are MLAs who have retained their seats even in the BJP wave in 2018. However, it has nominated only two women candidates — sitting MLA Bijita Nath in Bagbassa and a new candidate Brinda Debbarma in Golaghati (ST) seat.
Left Turns Liberal by Welcoming Fresh Faces
This is a huge change as in the past, the Left had often been conservative when it came to nominating fresh faces. Even during the last elections, the Left relied mostly on old faces while nominating only 10 fresh ones and in the 2013 assembly polls, it nominated 12 fresh faces.
Manik Sarkar is in charge of campaigns across the state. In his Dhanpur constituency, young leader Kaushik Chanda is given a ticket. During the last five years, Kaushik’s house has been allegedly attacked by BJP supporters several times as claimed by CPM. He will be contesting against Central Minister Pratima Bhowmik of the BJP.
In its manifesto, the Left Front promised to create 2.5 lakh new jobs in government, semi-government and private sectors in the next five years, restore the jobs of retrenched 10,323 teachers, provide dearness allowance to government employees twice in a year, reintroduction of the old pension system, regularisation of contractual employees, free electricity upto 50 units per family, 200 days work to the poor under MGNREGA and social pension to senior citizens earning under Rs 1 lakh per year, better supply of drinking water and land allotment to landless people.
Despite promising before the elections, the BJP after coming to power didn’t regularise contractual employees and restore the jobs of retrenched 10323 teachers. The Left Front has nominated two candidates from the retrenched 10323 — Nayan Sarkar (CPM) in Bamutia (SC) and Satyajit Reang (CPI) in Santirbazar (ST).
Last time, a large section of government employees voted for the saffron party but after coming to power, the saffron government didn’t pay DA twice a year. Only last year, it paid DA twice. During the Left era, DA was often paid twice a year.
In 2018, one of the factors that contributed to Left’s loss was unemployment. But the saffron party, despite giving high promises, failed to control unemployment. Also, there has been an inadequate supply of drinking water in different places leading to road blockades by common people.
Left Trying To Win Back the Tribals
The Left’s manifesto has focused on the autonomy of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) and also the inclusion of the Kokborok language in the 8th schedule of the Constitution. It has promised an increase in stipend for tribal students and reservation in promotion for the tribals.
In the past, they had been a backbone for the Left in the state. However, it lost a large section of the tribal votes to the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT). Later from IPFT, the tribal votes turned towards the royal scion Pradyot Manikya Deb Barma’s TIPRA Motha which is currently the dominant player in the tribal belt.
There are 20 ST reserved seats and there are around 15-16 where tribals have a considerable presence. Last time, the Left was able to win only 2 ST seats — Jolaibari and Manu of South Tripura. It won 19 ST seats in the 2008 and 2013 elections. Later in the ADC polls, the Left was reduced to zero with a meagre vote share of only 14.51 percetnt. The Left knows that until and unless it gets back the support of the tribals, it is not possible to come to power.
Importantly, the Left’s face this time is CPM’s popular tribal leader Jitendra Chaudhury who is also the party’s state secretary. He also heads the party’s tribal wing Gana Mukti Parishad. He earlier had represented the Manu (ST) seat of South Tripura and had been a cabinet minister during the Left era.
This time he is in the contest from a general constituency, Sabroom of South Tripura, which was won by the BJP last time. Although the Left has been able to activate itself in the hills, it faces a strong challenge from Motha — and also from BJP in some areas. The Left, however, has been maintaining a soft approach towards Motha.
Left Took the Risk To Ally With Congress
In the 2019 Badharghat (SC) bypolls of West Tripura, the combined vote of Left and Congress was 52.91 percent while BJP’s vote share was 44.59%, which was 54.33 percent in the 2018 state polls. Based on such arithmetics, the Left and Congress came together, letting go of their old rivalry.
In West Bengal, in many seats, there were friendly contests between the Left and Congress in the 2016 state polls and as a result, vote transfer didn’t happen smoothly on the ground. But in Tripura, there will be no friendly contests. CPM even sacrificed its winning Kailashahar seat for Congress state president Birajit Sinha and as a result MLA Moboshar Ali, a young Muslim face, quit the party and joined the BJP which has nominated him as the candidate from this seat.
Last time, most votes of the Congress went to BJP’s kitty and as a result, the latter won with big margins in traditional Congress strongholds like Town Bardowali, Agartala, Banamalipur, Dharmanagar, Karmachara, Kamalpur and Mohanpur — and these seats are allotted by the Left to Congress. In recent times, a section of these Congress voters has returned to the party.
However, the major challenge between the Left and Congress is to ensure a smooth transfer of votes. That’s why the Left and Congress leaders — both at the state and local level — are working together on the ground, although animosity between both parties remains in some places. Apart from this, factionalism within Congress remains a problem as party workers and supporters are unhappy with candidates of Kamalpur, Matarbari and Dharmanagar where there is also a Congress rebel in the fray.
A Tough Challenge for the Left
Last time the Left Front got a vote share of 44.35% which is almost 8% less than its vote share of 52.33 percent in the 2013 elections. The Left failed to win a single seat in West Tripura and Dhalai districts — these two together have 20 seats. In Khowai and Gomati districts, out of 13 seats, the Left was able to win only two.
Only in Sepahijala and South Tripura districts, it was able to maintain a minor lead winning 9 seats out of 16. In the two northern districts, North Tripura and Unakoti, the Left somehow was able to challenge the BJP-IPFT combine. Out of 11 seats, the Left won five. In the 10 seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes, it was able to win only two — Kakaraban-Salgarh of Gomati and Rajnagar of South Tripura.
The base of the Left has eroded immensely after the 2018 elections and this was witnessed in the Lok Sabha polls where CPM-led Left Front didn’t have a lead in a single seat. It has rejuvenated itself by bringing in new faces from the bottom to the top level and is trying to recover its tribal base too along with non-tribal voters.
The Left’s activities have focused on issues of livelihood in the last two-three years and this is reflected in its manifesto and its campaigning. It has to be mentioned that these steps have helped the Left to regain its space as the main Opposition party, at least in the plains, it had lost in the 2019 elections.
(Sagarneel Sinha is a political commentator and tweets @SagarneelSinha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)