BJP bagged Tripura, its most significant headway in its expansion into north east India, scoring a big win in what has been a formidable Left bastion for decades.
The sustained thrust in north east by RSS, with its sister concern BJP pitching in later, bore fruit. Starting with Assam, the victories in these assembly polls have established BJP’s presence in a part of the country where it barely existed till the previous elections.
Now, these victories add to the spread of BJP which already has governments in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in the northeast.
The three states that went to elections – Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya – have 60 seats each, however, elections were held for 59 seats. While a CPI(M) candidate died in Tripura, a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate was killed in Meghalaya. In Nagaland, former chief minister Neiphiu Rio won from one seat unopposed.
The win in Tripura, unseating the decades long reign of the Manik Sarkar-led Left front is seen as the most significant. It was a contest between two cadre-based parties from opposite sides of the political spectrum and has left the Left, so to speak, with a government in just one state in another corner of the country – Kerala.
Here the RSS has been work at the ground level for years, engaging with people, working in the society, participating in its affairs and building its organisation. It was a bottom-up approach, supplemented by wholesale defections from the Congress. In that sense, it wasn’t just Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal that was behind this victory.
As a report in The India Express said, the RSS’ role was very evident from the presence of Sunil Deodhar, the Sangh man assigned for Tripura. While Madhav and Sarma worked at the party organisational level, Deodhar stayed in the state for 500 days and worked at the ground level. Deodhar was the campaign manager of Modi in his election from Varnasi in 2014 and BJP president Amit Shah gave him the charge of Tripura in 2014 itself. A beaming Deodhar was seen on television channels explaining how the strategy of ‘Panna Pramukh’ – assigning a worker for each ‘panna’ or page of voters list, to work among them – yielded result in the state.
The strategy of joining hands with small parties or groups in the areas where it was weak also helped. The BJP had joined hands with Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) which had a considerable support in the tribal areas. The BJP got over 42 per cent votes and together with the nearly 8 per cent of IPFT, they won 50 per cent of the total votes in Tripura. It also managed a two-thirds majority. In 2013, the party had no presence in the state: it polled just 1.54 per cent votes, with almost every one of the 50 candidates it fielded losing their deposits while the Left won 50 seats.
Being in government at the Centre helped. PM Modi had asked ministers to pay special attention to the Northeastern states and the projects and schemes. The BJP threw in its bigwigs for campaigning with PM Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, BJP president Amit Shah frequenting the state in the past six months. The BJP harped on the unemployment scenario in the state, where with a literacy rate of nearly 97 per cent, almost 19.7 per cent of the 37 lakh population are unemployed, topping the list of states, according to the fifth employment-unemployment survey published in 2016 by the Labour Ministry.
BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, who addressed media along with chief strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma and the man-on-the-ground Sunil Deodhar, attributed the victory to the people of Tripura and Tripurasundari (Lalita Tripurasundari). He was quick to mention Prime Minister Modi’s rallies and the efforts the party has done for some time.
Ram Madhav called it a “revolutionary result” that was possible due to the hard work carried out by PM Modi and party workers. “This is a revolutionary result, all due to the blessings of Tripura Sundari Mata and people of the state and the hard work of PM Modi and party workers,” Madhav said.
The Left Front, which has been ruling Tripura for the past 25 years, was ahead in 16 seats, according to Election Commission website at 4pm. The Congress, which over the years has played the second fiddle in the state, has failed to open its account and its candidates are set to lose their deposits. The loss of six MLAs, including its former state chief Sudip Roy Burman, to the BJP just before the elections seems to have hit the Congress hard.
Acknowledging the poor showing by Congress, former Assam CM and Congress veteran Tarun Gogoi, according to media reports, said: “We knew we would perform poorly in Tripura and Nagaland. In Tripura, the BJP took away most of our strong candidates and in Nagaland, we weren’t as active in our campaigning as we should have been. We will score a zero in both states. We lacked in organisational skills, and one can’t achieve much at the last moment. The trends are not surprising. However, we were hopeful about Meghalaya, and the trends so far indicate we have a chance at forming the government, although I can’t be 100 percent sure.”
He added, “About the BJP emerging strong in these states, it is not a new phenomenon that North Eastern states have voted for the party in power at the Centre. Small states often do that, so it isn’t a big deal. But after their recent losses in bypolls in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, BJP winning a few seats in the North East would not be of significance.”
Reacting to BJP’s impressive show in Tripura, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said besides Congress-mukt Bharat, one could also say Vaampanth-mukt Bharat. “In a way the entire north-east is now with the BJP. Initially, we used to say ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. Now, I think we can say ‘Vaampanth Mukt Bharat’ also,” Prasad said.
The BJP Parliamentary Board will meet this evening to decide on the future chief minister of Tripura, where the party is likely to form a government. “Our Parliamentary Board (the party’s highest decision making body) will meet in the evening and take a call,” PTI quoted BJP general secretary Ram Madhav as saying.
Even though BJP did not declare any chief ministerial candidate during its campaigning, the fact that its state unit chief Biplab Deb would succeed Manik Sarkar as CM was a foregone conclusion, with his image smiling down from every poll banner across the state and also because of the absence of any strong leader who could rival Deb’s personality as they were mostly Congress turncoats.
Winners and losers in Tripura:
Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who has been heading the Left Front government for the last 20 years, was ahead in Dhanpur constituency.
The BJP’s leading candidates included state party President Biplab Kumar Deb (Banamalipur), who could be the next Chief Minister of the state. The other winners are Sudip Roy Barman (Agartala), Ratanlal Nath (Mohanpur), A. Rampada Jamatia (Bagma), Dilip Kumar Das (Barjala), Diba Chandra Hrangkhawl (Karamchara), Ashish Kumar Saha (Bordowali), Ratan Chakraborty (Khayerpur), Atul Debbarma (Krishnapur) and Sushanta Chowdhury (Majlishpur).
IPFT’s leading candidates included Narendra Chandra Debbarma (Takarjala), Mevar Kumar Jamatia (Asharambari) and Prashanta Debbarma (Ramchandraghat).
Among the notable Left candidates trailing were sitting Tribal Welfare Minister Aghore Debbarma (Asharambari), Forest and Rural Development Minister Narensh Chandra Jamatia (Bagma), Deputy Speaker Pabitra Kar (Khayerpur), Bijay Laxmi Sinha (Kamalpur), Samiran Malakar (Pabiachara), Manoranjan Debbarma (Mandai Bazar), Ratan Das (Ramnagar), Manindra Chandra Das (Kalyanpur-Promodnagar) and Chief Whip Basudeb Majumder (Belonia).
Among the Left Front’s leading candidates were Health and PWD Minister Badal Choudhury (Hrishamukh), Education Minister Tapan Chakraborty (Chandipur), Information, Food and Civil Supplies Minister Bhanulal Saha (Bishalgarh), Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Sahid Chowdhury, Assembly Speaker Ramendra Chandra Debbarma and Jail Minister Manindra Reang.