Tripura Polls: Tribals, Jobless Youth Help BJP Win Left Bastion

As BJP ousts Left ‘Sarkar’ in Tripura, fear of the revival of tribal insurgency emerges, due to alliance with IPFT.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Manik Sarkar’s unexpected defeat in Tripura marks the fall of the Left; anti-incumbency seems to have favoured the BJP. 
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The Left's most reliable bastion in India has fallen. Tiny Tripura, ruled by the CPI(M)-led Left Front since 1993, has gone to the BJP-IPFT alliance.

"This is a historic win", said Bharatiya Janata Party General Secretary Ram Madhav . "We are not surprised because Tripura wanted a change."

In fact, the Left has been in power in Tripura since 1978 with the exception of 1988-1993, when it was ruled by the Congress-TUJS government. The fact that the BJP has got a majority on its own means it would not concede to its ally IPFT’s demand for a separate ‘Twipraland’.

So, the majority Bengali-speaking population would have voted decisively for the BJP to ensure the IPFT does not have its way.

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BJP Wins Tribal & Bengali Hindu Vote

Since the BJP has strongly pitched for the Bengali Hindus’ quest for citizenship, even those coming to the country after 1971, through the amendment of the Citizenship Bill, the Bengali Hindus (comprising the majority in the state) seem to have reacted favourably to the ‘saffrons’.

The only issue that had them worried, was the party's alliance with the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), but when the BJP leadership refused to endorse the separate ‘Twipraland’ demand, the Bengali Hindus – especially those seeking change – would have reckoned that giving the BJP a clear majority was a viable option .

The new generation of both tribals and Bengalis seem to have voted for the BJP because they are upset with the Left’s abject failure in attracting investments. Agartala is India’s third Internet gateway since 2015 but not a single IT major has moved into the state. The key to the BJP-IPFT victory was the alliance that helped make a clean sweep of the 20 seats reserved for tribals. In 2013, the Left made a clean sweep of these 20 seats, one third of the total in the 60-member Assembly.

"That bag has been wholly taken away, so we can say the alliance worked", said Tripura-based psephologist Jayanta Bhattacharya.

Tribals make up 28 percent of the state’s population but the tribal reserved seats constitute 33 percent of the total Assembly seats. Out of the 20 unreserved seats, tribal vote is important in at least eight. The BJP’s clean sweep in Agartala also proves that middle-class Bengalis, fed up with the lack of job creation by previous governments, also voted decisively against the Left.

However, the Left managed to hold on to the rural lower-caste Bengali vote. Poor farmers live in fear of the revival of a tribal insurgency and credit CM Manik Sarkar for tackling it in the last decade.

"Chief Minister Manik Sarkar can’t use use a smart phone. He refused to meet CEOs of top IT companies that we mobilised during the 2015 Tripura conclave just before Agartala became India's third gateway", says Saumen Sarkar, Vice President, Bank of America (IT solutions), who hails from Tripura.

Sarkar organised the one-day brainstorming session, that is, the Tripura Conclave, and his efforts to mobilise several top IT majors went to waste when the state government did not play ball.

Snapshot
  • BJP-IPFT win is historic, says Ram Madhav, National General Secretary, BJP
  • The Left’s safest bastion Tripura is gone, questions on the future of Left arise
  • Manik Sarkar’s defeat weakens Prakash Karat faction of CPI (M)
  • Tribal insurgency may get a boost because IPFT, an ally of BJP, is close to underground and separatist NLFT guerrillas

Left’s Dismal Development Stats Helped the BJP Win

Saumen Sarkar went on to debunk the old Left model of employment generation by creating government posts with funds from the Centre and endorsed BJP leader Sunil Deodhar’s stress on the Left's abject development record and the failure to meet the aspirations of more than 7 lakh unemployed people, as the main reason behind a BJP victory:

We could have created 10,000 jobs by now at the very least. In the neo-liberal economy, this archaic attitude won’t work, and Manik Sarkar is now paying for it.

So how did the BJP emerge as party number one with 50 percent vote share from zero seats and one percent vote share in the 2013 Assembly elections?

In Tripura, the politics is always Left versus anti-Left. The complete decimation of the Congress created the space for a new party to muscle its way in. The BJP displayed such ‘fire in the belly’ with Amit Shah and party-minder Sunil Deodhar taking the lead.
Pranab Sarkar, Managing Editor, local TV channel Headlines Tripura

The fact that the Congress vote share is down to one percent from over 30 percent in the 2013 elections proves Pranab Sarkar’s point. The alliance with IPFT drew a huge tribal vote to the saffron cause .

The Left has lost 4 percent of its vote share, down to 46 percent from 2013’s 50 percent . "That may make a huge difference in seats but the Left remains a strong political force", says Sitangshu Dey of Tripura's top daily Dainik Sangbad.

A BJP Win Could Potentially Revive Tribal Insurgency

However, the Left’s defeat may not be good news for the BJP in a way. Dethroned Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar belongs to the Prakash Karat faction of the CPI(M), which pitches for Left unity and equi-distance from both BJP and Congress.

"His defeat will weaken the Karat faction and strengthen the Yechury group that is backed by the Bengal CPI(M) that wants an alliance with the Congress and other regional parties”, says CPI (M) party worker Suchetna Majumder, a Bengal Marxist activist.

The downside of the BJP-IPFT victory is that it could provide a fillip to the dying embers of tribal insurgency, which was crushed by the Manik Sarkar government through determined covert action including attacks on rebel bases in Bangladesh.

The IPFT is close to NLFT (National Liberation Front of Tripura) which still has some bases in Bangladesh. They may now be emboldened enough to resurface. 
Subir Dutta, Ex-Intelligence Bureau Official 

"We believe we will deliver on our promise of development for Tripura", said the probable chief minister-in-waiting, Biplab Deb. Deb, in Delhi until four years ago, is a hardcore Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh organiser who hails from Udaipur town in South Tripura.

"Putting him at the helm of a party, most of whose legislators are Congress deserters, sends a clear message. The RSS and BJP High Command will run Tripura by remote control", said Dey.

(The writer is a veteran BBC journalist and an author. He can be reached @SubirBhowmik. 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.)

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