Can Dissatisfaction With BJP & TMC Help the Congress in Tripura?
The latest developments present an opportunity for the Congress in the state.
Given the present situation of the Congress, which has Chief Ministers only in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, it has become fashionable to dismiss the grand old party as a serious contender in any state. But that doesn’t exactly show the ground reality. Take the northeastern state of Tripura, where the party, in recent times, has been showing signs of regaining some lost ground.
Isn’t it true that in the civic polls held in November last year, the Congress party was almost absent from the race? Yes, it was not in the race and polled merely 2% votes. The Congress was in contest in the Kailashahar Municipal Council, the stronghold of party president Birajit Singha. It, however, performed badly in comparison to the 2019 polls, as the CPI(M) replaced it there as the main opposition against the BJP. The party wasn’t a favourite player in discussions for the 2023 state assembly polls.
Cong Voters Who Backed TMC are Losing Faith
Given all this, how has the Congress managed to be back in the game within a few months? The answer lies in the failure of the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in the state. Despite all the hype that Mamata’s party successfully generated in the media, Congress voters who voted for the TMC in the civic polls are now losing faith. This became evident when two rebel BJP MLAs – Sudip Roy Barman and Ashish Saha – joined the Congress this year. Two more rebel BJP MLAs belonging to the group – Burba Mohan Tripura and Diba Chandra Hrangkhawl – are also expected to join the grand old party.
Remember, last year, after the TMC’s third consecutive victory, there were rumours that the rebel BJP group led by Sudip was likely to join the TMC. Before returning to the grand old party, Sudip, who has been winning from the Agartala constituency since 1998, toured the state to meet his supporters.
After the addition of the rebel BJP group, the beleaguered Congress got a new lease of life in the northeastern state. The state party unit led by Birajit even gave a rousing welcome to both Sudip and Ashish. Since then, the old supporters who left the party have started to come back. That the party is gaining support was evident in late February, when the cadres of the BJP and the Congress clashed in Agartala.
Although the Sudip faction has supporters in parts of the state, it has a significant base in Agartala and neighbouring areas. Even at the peak of the CPI(M)-led Left Front era, non-Left MLAs (Congress) were elected from these areas.
In the recent Agartala Municipal Corporation (AMC) elections, it was believed that many candidates of the TMC were from the Sudip camp. Now, many of these candidates have returned to the grand old party.
It must be mentioned that the TMC emerged as the main opposition in the AMC elections by garnering 20% votes; a large section of these votes came from non-Left voters, who, in the Left era, had voted for Congress.
Bypolls are an Opportunity for the Congress
The state is likely to witness by-polls for four assembly seats soon — Agartala, Town Bardowali, Surma and Jubarajnagar. Agartala and Town Bordowali became vacant after the resignation of Sudip Roy Barman and Ashish Kumar Saha, respectively, while Surma, an SC-reserved seat, became vacant after sitting MLA Ashish Das was disqualified by the Speaker of the state assembly, Ratan Chakraborty, for joining the TMC and leaving the saffron party.
On the other hand, the Jubarajnagar seat became vacant following the death of CPI(M) MLA Ramendra Chandra Debnath, who was the speaker of the state assembly from 2003 to 2018. The interesting fact is that the speaker hasn’t yet disqualified the Simna (ST) seat’s MLA, Brishaketu Debbarma, who left BJP ally IPFT(NC) to join royal scion Pradyot Debbarman’s TIPRA Motha last year.
Of these seats, the most important ones for the Congres are Agartala and Town Bordowali.
Whether Sudip and Ashish will be contesting the by-polls remains to be seen. But for the Congress, which currently has no representative in the state assembly, the by-polls, no doubt, offer an opportunity to open its account and also energise the party before the assembly elections.
Will the Party Strike an Alliance With TIPRA Motha?
With the addition of Tripura People’s Front leader Patal Kanya Jamatia, a former ally of Pradyot, to the BJP, the TIPRA Motha has already said that its doors for an alliance with the BJP have been closed.
Pradyot has a Congress background and he is willing to ally with any national party that supports his Greater Tipraland demand. On this demand, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) state in-charge, Dr Ajay Kumar, has said that “the party will do whatever possible as allowed by the Constitution of the country”.
The Congress leadership has also hinted that it is in touch with Pradyot. But striking a pre-poll alliance with Motha is unlikely to be an easier task for the party due to the former’s Greater Tipraland demand.
The Congress lost non-Left votes to the BJP in the 2018 assembly polls. Although a section came back to the party in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, it lost a large chunk of whatever it gained to the TMC in the last year’s state civic polls.
With the TMC losing momentum in the state, a growing dissatisfaction towards the BJP, and with the Pradyot-led Motha closing the door for an alliance with the BJP, there is an opportunity for the Congress, which was earlier ruled out from being even a major contender in the upcoming state assembly polls.
How Cong's Disastrous National Performance Will Affect the State
Apart from the ruling BJP, the Congress is likely to face a challenge from the main opposition, the CPI(M), which still has a hold on its committed voters and is trying hard to get back the ground it had lost to the BJP and the TIPRA Motha. The Congress has very limited time to build the organisation on the ground.
Another major reason for the party’s inability to win elections in the state since 1993 has been the history of rampant internal groupism; even last year, this internal rivalry gave birth to a new party, the Tripura Democratic Front. The party faces a tough challenge in ensuring that its own internal groupism doesn’t come in the way.
State party leaders, including those of the Sudip camp, had hoped that the saffron party would lose the Uttar Pradesh election. Instead, the results underlined the continuing dominance of the BJP and the decline of the Congress across the country, along with the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). In addition to this, there is the internal crisis of the party due to the rebellion of G-23 leaders against the Gandhis. These developments, as of now, have demoralised the Sudip camp, the state Congress leadership and also its supporters. It remains to be seen whether the grand old party will be able to cross these hurdles in Tripura.
(Sagarneel Sinha is a political commentator. He tweets @SagarneelSinha. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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