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AGARTALA: Surrounded by Bangladesh on three sides, tiny Tripura will witness its biggest electoral battle of all time on February 18 when, in a first, the Left will come face to face with the Right for control of the state.
The Left is struggling to retain one of its last bastions it has ruled for 25 years. A defeat here would mean near-extinction of Left politics in the country. In Kerala, the Left has been in and out of power.
Compared to the Left and Congress, BJP is a much younger contender for power in the erstwhile Hindu princely state. In the last three years, it has not only pushed Congress to near political oblivion but has also emerged as the Left’s main challenger — a fact publicly acknowledged by CM Manik Sarkar some time ago in Kolkata. Congress, which ruled the state for four terms, had reduced itself to the status of an opposition in name alone.
Despite BJP being projected as a potent force, CPM looks upbeat. “This will be a fight between communism and communalism. This is what makes the Left and BJP arch rivals,” says Left Front convener and CPM’s state secretary Bijan Dhar.
“It’s an all-India struggle, not restricted to only Tripura. If we win, it would be a victory for democracy… where there’s freedom of speech and religion and way of life undisturbed by government,” says Dhar, refusing to concede that winning the election is an uphill task for his party. “Why do you think it’ll be a tough fight for us this time? Is it because a new party (BJP) is in the field? We take every election very seriously,” he says.
BJP has been fighting CPM slogan for slogan, flag for flag. BJP flags can be seen at every place where the hammer-and-sickle flag is planted. The saffrons, like the Left, have also come up with catchy slogans such as ‘Chalo paltai’ (Let’s change).
Confident of its strength, the Left has sounded a clarion call ‘Astham Bam Front sarkar gorhaboi’ (We’ll form Left Front government for the eighth time), dismissing the possibility of BJP making inroads by raising the issue of anti-incumbency. “It’s not yet noon for the Left in India… forget sunset,” Dhar says adding, “BJP knows its sun has begun to set in the west (Gujarat). That’s why they are looking for sunrise in the east.”
BJP seems dependent on PM Narendra Modi’s charisma. Sunil Deodhar, BJP’s state observer who has nurtured the saffron party in the Left-ruled state the last three years, says, “BJP, today, is here because of Modi’s performance as PM. People acknowledge this.” He adds, “Modi is popular. We’ve been able to create a Modi wave using his name, fame and achievements.”
On the surface, the Left and BJP are trying to sway the electorate by talking about the state’s development. But deep inside, the Left is concerned about survival, while BJP is keen on an electoral victory over the communists. The saffron party is trying to win over the tribals, 30% of the state’s population and with 20 of the 60 seats reserved for them. There are 19 tribes in the state.
The Left, too, had come to power here by first consolidating its base in the tribal belt. This time, BJP promises to upgrade the Tribal Autonomous District Council, set up by the Left in the 1970s, to an autonomous state council. It proposes to allocate a third of the state’s budget for tribals and protect their cultural identity. It has struck an electoral deal with the NC Debbarma faction of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) and has been able to convince IPFT’s Tipraha faction to merge with Debbarma’s. IPFT has been fighting for a separate state for a long time. CPM describes BJP’s deals with the IPFT factions as a ‘divisive tactic.’ This despite BJP making IPFT give up its statehood demand.
BJP here talks about a Left-mukt India. To make it a reality, Modi has already attended two rallies and will hold two more on Thursday. Amit Shah has been camping in Agartala since February
11. Many Union ministers and CMs of Assam and UP have campaigned here. While the Left continues with conventional ways of holding meetings and processions at the micro level and door-todoor campaigning, tech-savvy BJP also uses social media to attack the Left and attract voters’ attention.
With about 89,000 cadres, the Left has a strong organisational set-up. BJP has drafted hundreds of local volunteers and cadres from neighbouring Assam. There have also been several incidents of violence between BJP and Left supporters in the run-up to the election that many will remember as a fight between two cadrebased organisations.