Will Jitendra Chaudhury’s Elevation Help the CPI(M) in Tripura?
CPM’s decision to elevate Jitendra signals its efforts to be an inclusive party and shed the 'Bengali party' tag.
At a time when Trinamool Congress is desperately trying to gain a foothold in the northeastern state, the main Opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist) finally decided to go for a change in the party leadership by choosing a 63-year-old tribal leader, Jitendra Chaudhury. He is also the president of the Ganamukti Parishad (GMP), party’s tribal wing in the state.
Also referred to as Jiten, he was a minister in Manik Sarkar’s Cabinet before being sent to the Lok Sabha by the party in 2014.
State secretary post, equivalent to the president post of other parties, became empty after the passing of veteran leader Gautam Das, who was elected for the post in the 2018 Party State Congress.
CPM’s Challenge: Shedding the 'Bengali' Tag
One of the major reasons for CPM led Left Front’s defeat in the 2018 Assembly polls was the erosion of a large section of the tribal votes, who shifted towards Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura of NC Debbarma, the alliance partner of BJP, as the Left managed to win only 2 ST seats out of 20 — a huge reduction of 17 it had won in 2013.
IPFT (NC)’s separate Tipraland demand attracted the tribals, already feeling alienated by CPM's politics.
This year Left got a little more than 14 percent votes and for the first time failed to open its account in TTAADC elections, where royal scion Pradyot Debbarma led TIPRA Motha won a clear majority.
CPM’s decision to elevate Jitendra signals its efforts to be an inclusive one by shedding the tag of being only a 'Bengali' party.
It knows that without the support of the tribals, who once constituted the party's strong vote bank, the dream of regaining power is a distant reality.
In fact, Jitendra becomes the second tribal leader to be elected to the party’s topmost post in the state after Dasarath Deb (originally Debbarma), one of the founding members of the state’s communist movement and also the state’s first — and as of now the only — tribal chief minister.
In the Hills, Jitendra’s Main Rival is Pradyot’s TIPRA Motha
Elevating Jitendra to the topmost post won’t automatically bring back the tribal votes to the party.
CPM’s strong base in the hills was based on the strength of GMP, which has now declined largely. Jitendra, being a long associate of GMP, can’t escape from the blame.
To be fair, it has more to do with Bengali dominance within CPM resulting in a disconnection with the tribals.
Although in recent times, Jitendra and the GMP leadership have started their organisational activities by raising the demand for more empowerment of the ADC body and targeting Pradyot’s Motha for raising emotional demands like Greater Tipraland.
After witnessing IPFT(NC)’s quick rise and decline, the Left party is hopeful that emotional demands like Tipraland won’t keep attracting tribals for a long time.
Apart from Motha, BJP, the second-largest party, is also a barrier to CPM’s revival in the hills.
Pradyot has always been a bitter critic of CPM and GMP as the Left often in the past had criticised the regime of the tribal kings for lack of development.
Significantly, Jitendra was invited by Pradyot this year to attend the 113th birth anniversary programme of his grandfather Maharaja Bir Bikram Deb Barman held at Khumulung, headquarters of TTAADC.
Although he failed to attend the occasion but surprisingly praised the holding of such ceremonies.
CPM’s Growing Political Activities Against BJP
Keeping aside the narrative spread by TMC leaders, CPM suddenly didn’t start its activities against BJP.
It gradually started to come out of the political wilderness after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls debacle.
With TMC entering the state’s politics again, the Left has only intensified its political activities, learning from the bitter experience of losing the Opposition space to BJP in West Bengal.
The increasing violent clashes with the saffron party in recent times is a clear indication of CPM’s growing political activities — and this should be a worrying sign for the ruling BJP and also the emerging TMC.
The Challenge to Give Space to Young Leadership
Currently the Left party is facing leadership issues with many senior leaders failing to be constantly active for party programmes due to old age-related issues.
In this scenario, the elevation of Jitendra, a popular Left leader cutting across sections, has come at the right time for the party, which needs rejuvenation from bottom to top level with new faces, including women, to attract the young voters from every section.
The Left party has already started the lower level conferences in the state keeping in mind the upcoming State Party Congress to be held this December.
It is expected that some changes will be made keeping in line with the party's national decision to give spaces to young faces in all units.
However, in a party like CPM with a rigid internal structure, change isn’t easy and often meets with stiff resistance within the party. It now remains to be seen whether the elevation of Jitendra is just a symbolic gesture or a part of CPM’s genuine efforts to rebuild the party and take it to the masses keeping in mind the 2023 state Assembly polls.
(Sagarneel Sinha is a freelance writer from Tripura who writes on politics, foreign affairs and Indian mythology. 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.)
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