UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!



At least 76% of over 25.73 lakh voters exercised their franchise for the Assembly polls on 18 February 2018 in Tripura, where the BJP was trying to dislodge the Left Front after an unbroken 25-year stint in power. The polling for 59 seats of the 60-member Assembly was peaceful with thousands of central paramilitary forces fanning across the northeastern state. In the last Assembly elections, the voter turnout was recorded at 91.82%, while in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, it was 84.32%.

In Tripura, where the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) had been in power for 25 years, the Congress’ vote share of 36.5% had been the second-largest in the 2013 elections. The election results saw the party’s vote share plummet 34.7 percentage points to 1.8%. In 2013, the party had won 10 seats; this year it has won none. The BJP’s vote share in Tripura in 2013 was even lower, 1.3%, but has now grown 41.7 percentage points to 43%, more than that of the CPM’s 42.6%, allowing the party to form the government with 35 seats (it had none in 2013) and in alliance with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (which has won eight).

By uprooting the CPI(M), which had been ruling Tripura since 1993, the BJP's Sunil Deodhar pulled off a victory that was thought to be impossible. For the CPI(M), the defeat in Tripura is especially crushing, since this was the party’s first head-to-head battle with the BJP in an assembly election. Unlike in West Bengal, where a series of administrative missteps ended the left government’s 34-year rule in 2011, the Manik Sarkar government in Tripura was perceived to have performed well. The tribal protests that broke out early last year were taken lightly by the government and the party. The BJP capitalised on it, even though it did not publicly support the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), which led the protests. Tribals make up around 42 per cent of the population in the state.

In Tripura, the electoral contest has always been bipolar, as the aggregate vote share of the Left alliance and the Congress alliance had been more than 90 percent and sometimes around 95 percent. BJP seems to have substantially captured the anti-Left vote. Frustration with the Left stem from its party cadre which guarantees a biased distribution of benefits to their own party supporters — patronage politics.

The CPI(M)-led Left Front had remained unvanquished in the last five Assembly elections. Manik Sarkar, one of the most enduring icons of the CPI(M), had helmed the state for the last four terms (the third longest serving chief minister after Jyoti Basu and Pawan Kumar Chamling). Sarkar was always seen in public in the Bengali Hindu middle class man’s trademark uniform, a white cotton dhoti kurta. Sarkar, known for leading a frugal life and the considered the “poorest” of chief ministers in the country, tried to defend his ‘Red fort’ against the saffron challenge. The Congress, which has been marginalised in Tripura, was last in power between February 1988 and March 1993. BJP forged an alliance with Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), an anti-Left party.

Like other states in the North-East, Tripura had a history of insurgency. But the Manik Sarkar regime established peace and stability in the state. The chief minister broke new ground by making Tripura the first state to lift Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in 2015. The AFSPA had been promulgated in 1958 after violence became the way of life in north-eastern States of India. State administration became incapable to maintain its internal disturbance. But there is a long tradition of violence between the Left and Congress cadres. Those not with the Left had been continuously targetted and harassed by the Left cadres and that the Congress had failed to protect them. According to State Election Commission sources, 2.5 million voters would decide the fate of 297 candidates contesting in the Tripura Legislative Assembly polls. 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.

The coming Assembly elections in Tripura is likely to be a fight between the CPI(M)-led Left Front and the BJP. In the past, the electoral battles in the State had been between the CPI(M) and the Congress. Sudip Roy Burman, the former State Congress president and MLA who had joined the BJP, said: “The Congress was not serious about fighting the CPI(M).” He claimed that the BJP would defeat the Marxists in the Assembly poll.

Hundreds of such Congress workers joined the BJP in the sincwe 2016, providing experienced muscle power for hooliganism and for terrorising the common people. The BJP has also embraced several leaders and activists from different extremist tribal outfits that keep appearing, merging, splitting and disappearing in Tripura. In 2016, prominent IPFT youth leaders David Murasing and Pabitra Jamatia, joined the BJP, although David Murasing left it in 2017 to form Twipra Dophani Sikla Srwngnai Motha (TDSSM). BJP sealed a deal with the IPFT – known for its violent past - for contesting the elections together. People still vote on the basis of ethnicity and language here. And the Bengali middle class is uncomfortable with the IPFT [Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura] because they see it as an extension of communal insurgent groups. So that is going to go against the BJP.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who started the BJP’s campaign for the Assembly polls in Tripura on 03 February 2018, alleged that Chief Minister Manik Sarkar was a “non-performer” and the 25-year Left rule in the State had led to a rise in corruption, crime and unemployment. “The State is dependent on the Centre for 90% of its funds and can add only 10%, while other States are progressing fast. I want to ask Manik Sarkar how many years you need to make an advancement … it’s a shame,” Mr. Singh said. Singh said the people of the State were suffering from underdevelopment, unemployment and security threats, but the CPI(M)-led Left Front government had been only giving them fake assurances for years.

On the other hand, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar left no stone unturned to ensure his reelection as he was also found focusing his campaign against the BJP and its wings – Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) – at a rally. “India is a secular country and that means people are free to follow their religious beliefs without any fear and interference. But what is happening in the country is really worrisome with the minorities feeling unsafe,” he said. Sarkar added that at least 43 persons belonging to the minority community were killed in the name of cow vigilance during the last few years.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 10-03-2018 19:04:21 ZULU