Modi in Tripura: Anti-Incumbency, Cong Turncoats Boost BJP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held two rallies in Tripura in Sonamura and Kailashahar and urged people to overthrow the 'purana manik' and adopt H for Highway, I for Internet, R for Railway and A for Airway’ 'HIRA'. #TripuraWithModi was trending on Twitter at number one spot for most of the day.
Tripura votes on 18 February to elect a new government. The CPI(M) has been ruling the state for the past 25 years since 1993, Manik Sarkar has been the CM since 1998.
BJP’s Edge Over Left in NE
The BJP smells a good opportunity to continue with its victory march in the Northeast because of the following seven reasons:
Twenty five years is a very long period to develop strong anti-incumbency, regardless of how good the performance of the government in power is. The state was ‘painted red’ in 1978 around the same time as West Bengal. The Left Front ruled West Bengal for 34 years after which it was dislodged by Mamata Banerjee. In Tripura, the Left has been in power for more than 34 years, and the trend suggests that the CPI(M)’s time in the state is up.
Decline of the Left
The average age of the CPI(M) Politburo is 60 years, while India’s average age will be 29 by 2020. The constant infighting between the Kerala and Bengal factions have not helped matters. Its hobnobbing, love-hate relationship with the Congress party is also partly responsible for its downfall. From a peak of 43 seats in 2004, the CPI(M)’s tally declined to single digits for the first time in electoral history.
CPI(M)’s Performance in LS (1967-2014)
Of New Alliances & Increasing Reach in NE
BJP’s Increasing Reach in Northeast
The BJP now rules 5 out of the 8 Northeastern states, including Assam. Its allies Sikkim Democratic Front and Nagaland People’s Front are in power in Sikkim and Nagaland respectively. The party won Assam and Manipur after Lok Sabha elections.
It managed to dislodge the Congress government in Arunachal and install its own through jod-tod and jugaad. Under NEDA’s umbrella and Himanta Biswa Sarma’s leadership, party’s influence has been increasing in the Northeast. People could be swayed to vote for the party the entire region is embracing. Slogan ‘same government in the state and at the Centre will ensure development’ may work in the BJP’s favour.
Strategic Alliance with INPT
BJP has formed an alliance with Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura which has been fighting for the cause of tribals in the state. They were alliance partners of the Congress in 2013 elections bagging 7.6 percent vote share and switched sides recently.
Tribals account for 31 percent of population and have been demanding a separate state. Twenty seats are reserved for the community in the Assembly having a strength of 60. One of the TMC rebels who joined the BJP, Diba Chandra Hrangkhawl, is an MLA from a ST reserved seat of Diba Chandra Hrangkhawl.
Cong Turncoats Strengthen BJP
BJP, the Main Opposition in the State
BJP received a big boost to its claim to the hot seat when 6 TMC legislators joined the party in August 2017. These legislators were originally elected on Congress tickets in 2013 and switched sides to the TMC in June 2016.
Here Himanta’s maneuvering skills came in handy. One more legislator from the Congress, Ratan Lal Nath, joined the saffron party in early 2018. This makes the BJP the principal opposition party in Tripura. TMC which had done well in Lok Sabha 2014 bagging 9.7 percent vote share has received a jolt through these defections.
Even CPI(M) Politburo member Prakash Karat admits the main contest is with the BJP.
“All the earlier elections in the state were fought between the Left Front and the Congress but this time, it is a contest between the BJP and the Left Front as Congress leaders and supporters have joined the saffron party,” Karat said at an election meeting in south Tripura on Friday, 2 February.
BJP Reaping Benefits of State’s ‘Underdevelopment’
Economic Track Record
The BJP is trying to exploit the disillusionment amongst youth and public over the lack of development in Tripura. The state’s per capita income is 17 percent lower than national average at Rs. 71,666 (2014-15 at current prices).
While the nation has moved to a 7th Pay Commission, government servants in the state still are at the scale of 4th Pay Commission only. PM Modi emphasised in the rallies that the BJP will be focusing on 3Ts for Tripura — Trade, Tourism and Training of the youth. Although the state is landlocked, there is good potential for trade with Bangladesh.
State fits into BJP’s Presidential-Style Campaign
Tripura is a very small state with around 25 lakh voters. This is similar to the voter base of a Lok Sabha constituency of a metro city. The BJP has not projected any leader as it is trying to make this a Manik Sarkar vs Modi contest. The small population helps this presidential style format. Northeastern politics has centered around personalities – Pawan Kumar Chamling, Gegong Apang, Lal Thanhawla to name a few.
Manik Sarkar too has been ruling the state riding on individual popularity, and an honest, simple and down to earth image. BJP hopes the prime minister’s popularity ratings will help it sail through. A fascinating contest is on the anvil in Tripura. Though BJP strategists feel the party has a good chance, it will not be a cakewalk.
The state has done well on human development indicators, ranking 6th in India. Sarkar is credited with controlling insurgency and bringing stability and peace to the region. High leadership ratings of Sarkar pose a risk to the BJP’s mission. Bengalis represent 70 percent of the state population and Bengali is the most widely spoken language. This means the TMC cannot be ignored and could make the contest triangular.
(Amitabh Tiwari is a corporate and investment banker turned political commentator, strategist and consultant. He can be reached @politicalbaaba. 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.)