In the last elections held in 2018, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) created history by coming to power for the first time in the northeastern state of Tripura where it had never won any Assembly seat. However, this time the situation is different as it is battling to retain power in the state. It is contesting 55 seats and has left five for its ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura.
Focus on New Faces and Women Candidates
The BJP has nominated 12 women candidates, including Union Minister of State for Social justice and Empowerment Pratima Bhoumik. The central minister, an OBC, will be contesting from the Dhanpur constituency, a seat where she had contested last time against former Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and lost.
Some of the women faces contesting for the first time are the party’s general secretary Papiya Dutta in Agartala, Swapna Majumdar in Rajnagar (SC), Suchitra Debbarma in Ambassa (ST), and Minarani Sarkar in Badharghat (SC).
The decision of the party to field Bhoumik as the candidate has once again led to speculations that she is also in the race for the chief minister’s post if the party returns to power. It has to be mentioned that last month in a rally, Home Minister Amit Shah declared Manik Saha as the chief minister’s face. There is another prominent face in the race, Rajib Bhattacharjee. The party had made Biplab Deb the chief minister but four years later, it removed him suddenly.
Some of the old-timers contesting as candidates are Rajib Bhattacharjee, Tarit Debbarma in Mandaibazar (ST), Debbabrata Bhattacharya in Sonamura, and Malina Debnath in Jubarajnagar. This time the party has nominated two Muslim candidates – Toffajal Hussain (new face) in Boxanagar and Moboshar Ali in Kailashahar. Ali won his seat last time as the CPI(M) candidate but quit the Left party last month after his seat was given to Congress.
Factionalism Worries the Saffron Party
After the party announced its candidates, there were protests against the candidates in many places. In the northern part of the state, there were protests against the official candidates in Chandipur, Kadamtala-Kurti, Bagbassa, and Jubarajanagar. In Chandipur, the party’s state committee member Ranjan Sinha, an old-timer, left the party after being denied a ticket and is now the TIPRA Motha’s candidate from this seat making the fight difficult for the saffron party.
In the Krishnapur (ST) seat of Khowai district, the party’s sitting MLA Atul Debbarma, an old-timer, left the party after being denied ticket and is in the fray as an independent candidate.
Badharghat’s sitting MLA Mimi Mazumdar is unhappy after being denied a ticket. Despite party leaders going to her home to placate her, she and her supporters have been avoiding the party campaign in the constituency. In the bypolls of 2019, although BJP’s Mimi Majumder won the seat, the party’s vote share was less than that of Left and Congress combine. This time both the parties have come together and their joint candidate is Partha Ranjan Sarkar of Forward Bloc. This has left the saffron party worried.
Apart from this, the local leaders and supporters of the saffron party are unhappy with ally IPFT’s candidates. In the Kanchanpur (ST) seat of North Tripura, party’s rebel Bimanjoy Reang is in the fray as an independent against IPFT’s candidate Prem Kumar Reang who is the working president of the party.
In Ramchandraghat (ST) seat of Khowai district, party’s rebel Sanjit Debbarma is contesting against IPFT’s candidate Prasanta Debbarma, the sitting MLA. In Jolaibari (ST) seat of south Tripura, three rebel BJP candidates had filed nominations but one of them was rejected during scrutiny. Later, the party was successful in persuading the two rebel candidates to withdraw from the contest. Despite no rebel candidates, some of the BJP workers and supporters aren’t joining the campaign for IPFT’s Shuklacharan Noatia.
Anger Against the State BJP Government
The BJP came to power by promising to control unemployment which was one of the reasons for the end of the CPI(M)-led Left Front’s rule of 25 years. Despite promising to solve the problem of the retrenched 10,323 teachers, the saffron government failed to restore their jobs. The teachers had organised protests and even had to face lathicharge. This time these teachers are campaigning against the BJP in the election.
Many state government employees, another important section that voted for BJP in large numbers last time, are also unhappy with the saffron government. The saffron party had promised to implement 7th Pay Commission before the last elections but after coming to power, the saffron government only increased the basic factor by 0.32 (from 2.25 to 2.57).
Not only this, the present government only gave DA three times in their tenure of five years – still 18 percent DA is remaining. Also, the party didn’t regularise the contractual employees, despite promising before the 2018 elections.
Apart from this, law and order is a big issue in this election. Despite BJP’s propaganda that it has ended political violence in the state, the truth is that there have been strong allegations of attacking leaders, workers, and supporters of Opposition parties like CPM and Congress. The statement of BJP leaders including central leadership, that it brought peace to the state isn't true as peace returned to this northeastern state during the Left rule, which played a critical role in ending the insurgency by the late 2000s.
Desperate BJP Is Banking on Modi Card
If one listens to the speeches of the saffron party leaders, one would wonder if Modi is the chief minister of the state! The party leaders are campaigning by mostly talking about Modi’s welfare schemes and how Modi cares for all sections of people.
Some of the schemes that the party is focusing are Awas Yojana, Janaushaudhi Yojana, Ayushman Bharat, PM Ujjwala Yojana, construction of toilets under Swachch Bharat scheme, Kishan Samman Nidhi yojana, free supply of grains and accessibility of drinking water.
Party leaders are also highlighting how Modi ensured free delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and his government's focus on connectivity and building highways. To be fair, the central schemes and developmental projects are visible on the ground, and as a result, Modi has his own popularity. Also these schemes have reached to all sections of the people, including tribals, scheduled castes, and also Muslims. In his election rallies at Ambassa and Udaipur, Modi himself focussed on the welfare schemes of his own government.
Despite being in power, the saffron party failed to expand in the tribal belt, where royal scion Pradyot Debbarma’s TIPRA Motha remains the dominant party. Motha has been a big worry for the saffron party as tribal votes are crucial for the party's success. By playing the Modi card, the party believes that it will be able to win their votes. Importantly, Modi several times in his rallies, mentioned how his government’s welfare schemes have reached the tribals.
The party’s manifesto promised that if BJP comes to power, Rs 2000 will be added to the existing Rs 6000 given under Kisan Samman Nidhi to farmers per annum. The manifesto also promises to provide Rs 5000 per annum to tribal families, two free LPG cylinders to PM Ujjwala Yojana beneficiaries, meals at Rs 5 thrice a day through Ananda canteen, greater autonomy to Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council, social pension of Rs 5000 for Samajpatis of the ST communities, a bond of Rs 50,000 to each family of weaker sections on the birth of a girl child and free scooty to meritorious female college going students.
While the party’s manifesto is silent on employment, 10,323 teachers and government employees, the saffron party is busy in attacking the Left-Congress alliance. They are calling it unholy and a significant time of the speeches of the party leaders are spent only on criticising the Left-Congress alliance. They are targeting mainly the Congress voters by reminding them of the past rivalry they had with CPM. Even Modi himself was critical of both the parties in his two rallies.
Earlier the party leaders used to claim that BJP would get all 60 seats but now they aren’t making such claims. They say that the party will get more seats than last time. This time, however, the battle is tough and the BJP is also aware of this. So, it is banking on Modi’s welfare schemes and his government’s development projects, and the negative votes of the Left-Congress alliance to return to power in this Northeastern state.
(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.)
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