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BJP Must Avoid Getting Overconfident in 2023 Battle for Tripura

The BJP has to be cautious and avoid repeating the Left’s mistake after its massive victory in 2015.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
BJP Must Avoid Getting Overconfident in 2023 Battle for Tripura
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2022 is just knocking at the doors. This year, Tripura witnessed two crucial elections — the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) election in April and the civic body polls in November. The civic polls were very noisy and even reached the doors of the Supreme Court. Currently, state politics, particularly in the plains, has been relatively calm. But is this the calm before the storm? After all, less than 14 months are left for the Assembly election in the northeastern state.

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2022 May Witness Another Battle in Hill Tripura

Before the 2023 battle, there is another battle likely to be fought – the village council elections of TTAADC. These elections would test the royal scion Pradyot Debbarman-led TIPRA Motha’s dominance in the hills. There are already murmurs of rising discontent against Motha, which recently organised a three-day sit-in at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar in early December with the demand of Greater Tipraland.

The dharna was also joined by BJP’s not-so-happy ally, Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), led by NC Debbarma, who is also the State Revenue Minister.

Although the IPFT(NC) is now a weak player, its growing bond with Motha isn’t a good signal for the BJP. This bonding can upset the saffron party’s steps to increase its foothold in the hills. The battle isn’t smooth for Pradyot, too, as Patalkanya Jamatia-led Tripura People’s Front (TPF), which once supported the royal scion, is now trying to weaken Motha’s dominance by raising the demand of National Register of Citizens in the state.

Recently, TPF and Motha supporters clashed with each other, with Patalkanya criticising Pradyot’s Motha for attacking her workers and supporters. On the other hand, the CPI(M), too, isn’t sitting quietly. The Left party under its new state secretary, Jitendra Chaudhury, is gradually trying to strengthen its organisation in the hills.

The Civic Poll Results Don’t Tell the Full Story

Since the declaration of the civic poll results in November, the ruling BJP has been riding high as it secured a gigantic mandate by winning 329 seats out of 334, of which 112 seats were won uncontested. However, it would be wrong to assume that the results say everything about the ground reality – it is quite natural for voters to favour the ruling party in local body polls.

Take the case of the 2015 civic body polls of the state. The then-ruling Left Front, led by CPI(M), won a decisive mandate by winning 291 seats out of 310. Although the opposition then had won 19 seats compared to only five this time, the vote share of the Left was higher than that of the BJP this time.

The Left had got just over 66% votes compared to the BJP’s 59% this time. But within three years, the Left was ousted from power after 25 years in the state.

In the 2018 Assembly poll, the saffron party secured around 43% votes, and this increased to 49% in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. No doubt that the BJP has been successful in strengthening its foothold by 10% in the state civic polls. This negates the commentary by a section of political analysts that the BJP mainly benefited due to the divide of the opposition, as the vote share of the party is largely ahead of the combined vote share of the Left and the TMC.

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Opposition Is Organisationally Weak, But Not Out of the Game

The TMC, which isn’t a new party in the state, gained ground – although not in the way a section of pro-TMC media tried to portray – in the civic polls, and this gain came mostly at the expense of the Congress, which used to get 35-36% votes even during the Left era. These votes shifted almost completely towards the BJP, contributing to the victory of the saffron party in 2018. Later, a chunk of these went back to the grand old party. It was evident when the grand old party got 25% votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll and came second to the BJP by pushing the Left to third place in the state.

This, however, didn’t dent the BJP’s prospects in 2019, as a major section of Left votes shifted towards the saffron party after the election outcome in 2018. To be fair, the Left votes had gradually started shifting towards the BJP before 2018, but after the results, a large chunk of the Left vote bank collapsed, and the BJP has been its main beneficiary.

The interesting fact is that despite the Left and the BJP being poles apart ideologically, it has been noticed both in West Bengal and Tripura that there has been a large shift of the Left votes towards the BJP.

Although the Left is being ignored in the well-orchestrated hype around the ‘BJP vs TMC’ contest, it got 19.6% votes, that is, 2% more than the share it got in the 2019 polls. The significant fact is that the Left reclaimed its position as the state’s second-largest party, which it had lost in 2019. It also somehow managed to increase votes in different parts of the state compared to its worst scenario in 2019.

BJP Needs to be Cautious

The only big advantage the BJP has in the plains is that both the Left and the TMC are organisationally weak. The TMC is yet to spread its organisation across all the plains of the state. In the hills, which have around 35-36 Assembly seats, the party isn’t in the race, either. On the other hand, the CPI(M) still has a pan-state organisation, although weak.

In recent times, there has been a sign of a reverse trend, although minimal, of the earlier phenomenon of Left voters moving towards the BJP in West Bengal. This reverse trend was seen in the Kolkata Municipal Elections and also in the Santipur by-election, where a small section of Left voters, who earlier sided with the saffron camp, returned to the red camp.

This reverse trend is alarming for the BJP in Tripura, too, as the party draws its current strength from a large section of Left voters who have abandoned the CPI(M).

Though it’s true that the dissident camp led by rebel BJP MLA Sudip Roy Barman, which tacitly supported the TMC, failed to shine in its stronghold Agartala and its neighbouring areas in the civic polls, the ruling party can’t ignore the fact there is discontent against Chief Minister Biplab Deb. Given the continuous twists and turns the state has been witnessing since the late 2010s, the BJP has to be cautious and avoid repeating the Left’s mistake of becoming overconfident after its massive victory in the 2015 state civic polls.

(Sagarneel Sinha is a political commentator. 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.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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