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  • Assembly polls 2018: Saffron Surge in Red Bastion

    Published on May 17, 2018

    In Tripura it is Modi’s BJP vsSarkar’s CPIM; Rahul’s Congress unseen

    Suresh Unnithan



    Exactly on the tenth day from today, on February 18, Tripura will march to polling booths. The mission is to elect 60 legislative members who would rule this North –Eastern state for the next five years. Tripura, the state that is well ahead of many others in literacy and education has set records in the percentage of polling in any election. In the 2013 Assembly polls over 93.57% of the electorate casted votes. This explains much on the political awareness of this tiny state.  Unlike the voters of the urbanized states, the rural dominated electorates here are passionate to participate in the democratic process to choose their representatives.

    The election campaign is progressing in high pitch across the state.  Even the remotest villages are flooded with flashy electronic boards, multi-color flex boards, and a host of publicity materials. The villages have suddenly become vibrant, thank to the crisscrossing vehicles of the candidates and loud speaker fitted vehicles blaring party slogans and well tuned songs eulogizing the candidates.

    This time the ruling CPIM has a surprise contender, the BJP. In this election it’s not the Congress party, but the saffron brigade is the prime opponent for the Left Combine.  The sudden surge of the BJP has considerably rattled the four time chief minister of the state ManikSarkar.The BJP, a party that ever had any visible presence in the remote state of Tripura is now challenging the hitherto omnipotent   political party in the state, the CPIM. The 69 year old communist patriarch and his cadre are hurriedly reorganizing resources to retain their unquestioned political supremacy over Red Bastion.

    Sarkar who has been ruling the tiny state of Tripura, with a population of little over 3.7million  for the twenty years as the unchallenged chief minister is facing a stiff challenge from the BJP, which was a non-entity  till recent past. The party ruling at the Centre has become aggressive with a determination to conquer the Read Bastion in the ensuing assembly election.

    To counter the high-pitch campaign of the BJP- the saffron party has deployed across the state over ten thousand volunteers drawn from different  parts of the North –Eastern – the CPIM cadre have arrived even far south state of Kerala to camping for Sarkar and his party.

    The electoral battle between the Red and Saffron looks ruthless.  Sunil Deodhar, the man in command of the BJP poll campaign is“ determined to dislodge the  CPI (M) government from the state.”Interacting with a group of visiting journalists from Delhi at Agartala, Deodharprofessed“a clean sweep” for BJP in the assembly poll. Tripura is going to polling booth on 18th of this month.

    Sunil Deodhar, a former RSS Pracharak in Meghalaya, and now a member of the BJP’s national executive,is made in-charge of Tripura election campaign.  

    Deodhar boasts “this time the Tribals will vote for the BJP. Having worked with the Tribals of North-East for nearly a decade I have a fair knowledge of their sentiments.” Out of the total 60 assembly seats in the state 20 are reserved for Schedule Tribes. Traditionally the trials voted for CPI (M) and the 20 ST reserved seats were perceived to be the fixed depost of the Red brigade.

    “In the past elections the communists used to count their seats starting from 21, for the CPIM considered the 20 reserved Tribal seats as their fixed deposit. But times I will make them start counting from one. The BJP has made enough inroads into the tribal constituencies,”   claims an ostensibly confident Deodhar.

    The presence of BJP is visible even in the rural belts of the state also. While travelling to Udaipur, a non descriptive village in Gomati district, we could see BJP flags on both sides of the dusty roads.  According to Deodhar, his party has workersassigned for all the 3214 polling booths. “We have carefully selected a capable party worker as booth in charge and we have covered all the booths. For every 60 voters we have deputed one worker separately to manage them (in favour of the BJP). Totally we have over 24,000 workers engaged.”

    Another plus point of the saffron party according to the former RSS pracharakis  the young leadership his party has in the state. Talking high about Biplab Kumar Deb, the state president of BJP Deodhar said “We needed a presentable face for our party Tripura.I found no one as smart as Biplab.” Elaborating his nearness to Deb, the former RSS pracharak said “in early ’90s, I taught him how to wield a dand (lathi) in the sanghshikhavarga (RSS training camp).  Before getting elevated as BJP state Chief Deb was working as personal assistant to a lesser known political leader in Delhi, Deodhar added.

    To capture Tripura “we will spare no efforts. Our aim is to dislodge the corrupt CPIM government” says Deodhar.  “”Our campaign exposes how it’s an illusion that ManikSarkar is honest. With the Modi wave sweeping across the country it is easy for BJP to win Tripura.  Once we win Tripura the entire North East is with the BJP” the saffron leader boasts.

    To garner the tribal votes the BJP has aligned with a faction of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), the movement that demands a spate Twipraland carved out of the tribal dominated districts of Tripura that forms over two third of the state.

    “It’s clear, for power BJP will align even with disruptive forces. IPFT’s slogan is to divide Tripura and create a separate state. Back in 2000, IPFT was formed by the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) extremists who wanted Tripura to secede from India.  BJP’s pseudo nationalism is exposed,” says a CPIM worker.

    “The BJP, for electoral victory will compromise even their ideology. In Assam they did not have any qualm to induct HimantaBiswaSarma, a suspect in the Sardha Chit Fund scam into the party and then make finance minster of the state,” a senior journalist observed.  

    In the 2013 assembly polls, the BJP contested in 50 seats and managed a meager 1.54% vote share; in absolute numbers, the BJP in all of Tripura received 33,808 votes.

    According to Deodhar in the current scenario it is advantage BJP. “The fight as of now is between BJP and the CPIM.  We could successfully sneak into the vacuum created by the Congress and other opposition parties.”

    Deodhar is true to some degree.  Congress that polled 804,457 votes, about 36.5 percent of the total polled votes in the 2013 election is seen nowhere in the campaign. In the last assembly election they had won 10 seats while the CPIM had in its kitty 51 seats, polling1,059,327 votes (48.1%).

    However his statement to the visiting journalists“you should not be surprised if the Chief Minister himself is defeated at his constituency.”  It seems this is a bit of overstatement. In 2013 Assembly election ManikSarkarhad won the Dhanpur Assembly seat defeating his nearest Congress rival Shah Alam by 6,017 votes. From the state formation in 1972 till 2013 Dhanpur never voted against CPIM. From 1998, in every poll Sarkar’s margin went up considerably.

    In fact the,  Left Front has been in power since 1978, barring one term during 1988 to 1993.

    But the mood of the mass indicates there is resentment simmering among the electorate against the CPIM rule. “ Manik Da (ManikSarkar) is known for his simplicity and we have nothing against him. But many of the ministers are not like him. The CPIM, has been ruling the Sate for over three decades plus, but no development here. Unemployment is growing, agriculture sector is in bad shape, and there is rampant corruption in the bureaucracy. This time we are voting for the Lotus for a change,” said Suman Dab, a cab driver.

    For Sudheep Das, a riksha puller, “Manik Da is our ideal. He is simple, humble and non-corrupt. We don’t support a party like the BJP led by corrupt people like the scam tainted HiantBiswaSarma”

    The BJP promises after coming to power, “We will give the 37 lakh people of Tripura, a state with law and order where everybody will be safe. We will give jobs to the youth.”  But many are unwilling to by this. “ How do we believe that a party with imported leaders and workers would do good for us,” as MadhebBiswas, a shop owner  near the Indo-Bangla boder.

    While the BJP is trying to cash in on the much propagated public appeal of Prime Minister NarendraModi, the Left is harping on Manik Sarkar and his clean image.  The saffron party is trying o project this election as a battle between Modi –led BJP and Sarkar-led CPIM. “ The ensuing (Tripura) election is a direct fight between a corruption free Modi and a corrupt tainted Manik  Sarkar” says Deodhar.

    “None will venture to question the credibility of ManikSarkar, who has been the chief minister of Tripura uninterrupted for 20 long years.  Sarkar has been declared as India’s poorest Chief Minister, with paltry Rs 1,520 cash in hand and Rs 2,410 in a bank account. He donates his entire salary to the party and takes in return a monthly honorarium of Rs 8, 000,” Says a senior scribe.

    According to another journalist Sarkar “is an enigma. The CPIM wins Tripura on his capacity as a mass leader who totally adheres to the communist ideology.”

    More than 80 % of the total 25.6 lakh voters are from the rural segment. About 32 % of the voters are tribals.  The CPIM has a vice-like grip on the rural electorate including tribals community. “ Due to the glitzy  campaign of the BJP, the visiting media may have the impression that the saffron brigade has an upper hand this time. But the reality is, CPIM cadre deployed already deployed in the rural and tribal village will ensure a safe sale for the party,” is the observation of a journalist working with a local news paper who has been covering elections in Tripura since 1998.

    But, according to a senior video journalist says “ this time Tripura is witnessing a close contest between BJP and the CPIM. However the CPIM may mange to sale through, thanks to the clandestine support of the Congress party to the Left to keep BJP at bay.”

    Being the ruling party at the Centre and most of the surrounding North-Eastern states of Tripura BJP has multiple resources a hand.  

    Apart from the Central Ministers, Chief Minister of the BJP-ruled neighbouring states are vociferously campaigning in Tripura..

    Speculations, permutation combinations and predictions in favour and against the Red and Saffron are echoing in the media rooms.  Pollsters and TV anchors are trying hard with own statistics and surveys to affirm their argument.  But in a democracy final decision is of the electorate. The voters will decide who should rule them, not the media or the poll pundits.

    “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” ― Abraham Lincoln