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Tripura To Witness Bypolls for 4 Assembly Seats Today: Why Are They Crucial?

Assembly polls are merely eight months away and the bypolls have come days after BJP changed the CM of the state

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Tripura To Witness Bypolls for 4 Assembly Seats Today: Why Are They Crucial?
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The northeastern state of Tripura is going to witness multi-cornered by-elections for four Assembly seats on Thursday, 23 June. These bypolls assume much significance as they are happening days after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) changed the chief minister of the state and at a time when the Assembly elections are barely eight months away. They will test the saffron party’s organisational strength and its ability to minimise the damage of rising anti-incumbency.

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Town Bordowali and Agartala Bypolls

These two constituencies had always been the traditional bastions of the Congress. It won both the seats continuously from 1998 to 2013 elections. Later, the Congress MLAs of these constituencies – Sudip Roy Barman of Agartala and Ashish Kumar Saha of Town Bordowali – left the party to first join Trinamool Congress in 2016 and then BJP in 2017 and finally returned, after resigning from the Assembly, to Congress this year. Once again, both are the candidates of the grand old party for the bypolls.

The ruling BJP became victorious in both these seats in 2018 – and also in other parts of the state – due to en-large shift of Congress votes to the saffron party’s kitty only to defeat the CPI(M)-led Left Front. In the last two-three years, it has been observed that a section of these Congress voters are disillusioned with the BJP and are no longer interested to vote for the lotus.

Sensing the present situation, Congress is hoping to open its account in the Assembly by banking on its old warhorses. But the ruling party is in no mood to leave an open space for the grand old party – and has fielded new chief minister Manik Saha from Town Bordowali, making it the most prestigious constituency. While Ashish Saha as an MLA maintained a distance from the BJP, the saffron party kept building the organisation on the ground – and now with CM himself the candidate, the saffron party has the advantage.

The challenge for the BJP is to again ensure the victory of its candidates from the two constituencies, particularly from Agartala seat, to convey the message ahead of the polls that the desertion of Sudip camp hasn’t weakened the party. In Agartala, BJP fielded Ashok Sinha, party’s spokesperson and a former Congressman.

A major claim often heard is that the Sudip camp had played the main role in bringing BJP in power in 2018. The BJP is aiming to make the camp irrelevant ahead of the Assembly polls and also deal a blow to the resurgent Congress. After all, the revival of the grand old party isn't good news for the saffron party, which has grown by almost decimating the former.

Amid the BJP vs Congress battle, in Agartala, CPI(M)’s Krishna Majumder and in Town Bordowali Forward Bloc’s Raghunath Sarkar, are also in contest under the Left Front banner. While traditionally the Left is weak in these constituencies, it is also in the campaign. Both Agartala and Town Bordowali fall under Agartala Municipal Corporation (AMC). In the last civic body elections, the saffron party swept the 51-member AMC, dealing a big blow to the Sudip camp.

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High Stakes in Surma and Jubarajnagar

The Surma (SC) seat was a CPI(M) bastion but it lost the seat in 2018 to BJP’s Ashish Das, who was later disqualified for joining TMC during Abhishek Banerjee’s Agartala rally last year. Now, Ashish has even left TMC, which had included him in the six-member core committee of the newly formed state party committee.

The battle in this constituency with 37 percent tribal population is turning out to be more interesting with the entry of Pradyot Debbarman-led Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) Motha’s Baburam Satnami – supported by Congress. This development can harm BJP’s prospects as the tribals, mostly youths, who voted in majority for the saffron alliance in 2018 have turned Motha supporters. Motha is likely to be a challenge for the Left too.

The CPI(M), however, is also determined to wrest back its old citadel. That the party is giving much importance here can be seen by the campaigning done by the party and the presence of state party secretary, also the president of party’s tribal wing Ganamukti Parishad (GMP), Jitendra Chaudhury, during the submission of nomination by the party’s candidate Anjan Das, a former MLA.

Stakes are high for CPI(M), in Jubarajnagar, a red bastion. The party has been winning the seat continuously since 1993. However, after the 2018 polls, the Left’s organisation started to decline here. This time Left has made Shailendra Nath, a new face, candidate of the constituency and has started the campaigning to retain the seat.

The ruling BJP, which lost the seat narrowly in 2018, has increased its organisational strength over the last four years. That Jubarajnagar is crucial for the saffron party became clear when both present CM Manik Saha and former CM Biplab Deb were present during the filing of the nomination papers by party’s candidate Malina Debnath.

In the plains, barring some seats, the BJP sees CPI(M) as its main opposition. The BJP is aware that the Left – which has already intensified its political programmes across the state, both in plains and hills, by focusing on burning issues of common people like price rise, unemployment etc – still has a committed base, despite a significant chunk of its base joining the saffron camp after the 2018 polls. The saffron party, which has lost a section of Congress voters, can’t afford to lose the Left voters it gained.

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Is TMC 'Helping' BJP by Eating Congress’ Votes?

After a state of inertia post the civic polls, TMC has reactivated itself in the state with the announcement of a full-fledged state committee with former Congress and BJP leader Subal Bhowmik as the state president. The party, trying to revive again, is contesting in all the seats.

At a time, when a section of traditional Congress voters who voted for the BJP in 2018 are returning to the grand old party, the activeness of TMC is quite interesting. In the last civic polls, it was seen that TMC mostly got the votes of Congress supporters.

What Do the Data of the Past Bypolls Say?

It was seen in the past that bypolls were mostly won by the ruling party in the state, though there were some exceptions. One such was the 2009 bypoll of Town Bordowali seat, which was retained by the Congress even at the peak of the Left era. During the tenure of the last Assembly, a total of six bypolls were held from 2014 to 2016 where the then ruling party CPI(M) won all of them, but the Left lost the assembly elections in 2018.

In addition to these bypolls, there was the bypoll of the Badharghat (SC) seat held during the present Assembly. The bypoll results indicated the declining support of the BJP and the growing support of the CPI(M) – and also Congress. It was held four months after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls where CPI(M) and Congress increased their votes by 13 percent and 2 percent respectively while BJP, despite retaining the seat, lost 14 percent votes in comparison to the Lok Sabha polls.

True that the results of the bypolls do not always agree with the results of the Assembly polls but at the same time it can't be denied that they do also give important indications about the near future.

(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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