From ‘Full’ to ‘No’ Marx In Tripura?

The northeastern state of Tripura is going to the polls soon. The BJP is eyeing to dethrone the incumbent chief minister Manik Sarkar in the upcoming assembly elections in the state. The BJP is leaving no stone unturned to break the 25 years’ rule of the Left and grab one more state of the remote northeast. It has already kicked off a massive campaigning programme in the state. The BJP has an advantage in Tripura due to a rudderless Congress there and a strong anti-incumbency working against the Manik Sarkar government, writes MANORANJANA SINH

Anybody would be impressed with the vast election exercise going on in a three-bedroom flat of Shyamalima Apartments in the New Capital Complex area of Agartala. Sitting in this flat-turned-office is a suave RSS ex-Pracharak who was loaned to the BJP and made in-charge of Tripura state unit three years ago. Deodhar has since been burning the midnight oil, leading the rigorous exercise to give wings to the dreams of the RSSBJP to pocket one more state of the remote northeast.
Sunil Deodhar, an old expert on northeast issues, having set up an NGO ‘My Home India’ that later won him the Rashtra Shakti Award in 2005 for contribution towards integrating northeast with rest of India, has been holding the fort since late 2014 in the red citadel state of Tripura that borders with Bangladesh. Deodhar’s bigger claim to fame has been his success as campaign manager to then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi for his first Lok Sabha election from Varanasi. One can see all important BJP leaders swarming Deodhar’s apartment as well as youth leaders who are eager to be a part of his various election entourages. Deodhar refuses to admit that dethroning the incumbent chief minister Manik Sarkar would be an uphill task. He rattles off impressive statistics down to the block level.
You have to admit that he’s hands on. If you had not done your homework before setting foot in Agartala, you would never have guessed that the suave man sitting in the freshly starched kurta-pyjama with a colourful tribal gamcha around his neck is the ‘master strategist’ packed off by Narendra Modi to farflung Tripura soon after he finished with the Varanasi elections. So impressed was Modi with Deodhar’s ‘right-down-to-the-last-detail style of working’ that he was sent off to this remote corner of the country on what seemed then to be a ‘Mission Impossible.’
In Tripura, the challenge on hand for the BJP is 25 years of unbroken rule of the Left. Added to that is the image that incumbent chief minister Manik Sarkar has precariously managed to build for himself. The flip side for the Left is the changing fortunes of BJP in the northeastern region. Already, five of the eight states of the northeast are ruled by BJP/NDA. Recent government formations in Assam, Arunachal and Manipur have further enthused supporters. The quick succession of events in the adjoining state of West Bengal where BJP is gaining ground like never before has also cast a shadow on the Left prospects in Tripura. There is a growing feeling that BJP is emerging as an alternative in states where it was once unthought of. Coupled with all these factors has been the recent victories in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. No wonder then that the BJP is leaving no stone unturned in trying to break the red regime and dethrone Sarkar in Tripura.
The BJP has already kicked off an ambitious election campaign from December 27. The party plans to hold 60 rallies to be held across the 60 assembly constituencies of Tripura. The Prime Minister, BJP national president, Union ministers, MPs, MLAs, key office-bearers as well as Bollywood celebrities would start holding the fort in Tripura.
The man most confident of victory doesn’t want to lose even a minute. Sunil Deodhar seemed restive at his homespun office which is actually quite tech-savvy, with a young boys’ fleet armed with smartphones, laptops, cameras, vehicles and digital data…
Says Deodhar, “There were some good people in Congress and they have moved over to BJP now. Very soon, you will see one more Congress-mukt state in the country.” When I remind him that BJP’s share in 2013 assembly elections was a measly 1.4 per cent, he shrugs it off saying his party had little presence in the state then. Admitting that the journey has been uphill and so far his party had paid scant attention to this remote state, he alleges the state has a history of political violence and jungle raj.
“We are working hard and people love our state president Biplab Deb who is a young and enthusiastic politician from a humble background and carries a clean image. He has initiated a door-to-door campaign. People in Tripura are tired of the jungle raj that the Left has been running,” he laments.
A senior BJP leader, currently campaigning with the charming state president Biplab Deb, says that the Left has always been a master of well-planned rigging and corruption. He asserts that the growing strength of the BJP in adjoining West Bengal has played a significant role in changing mindsets in Tripura. Till then, people had believed that BJP had no presence in the east and northeast. And of course needless to add that BJP’s victory in Assam, its government formation in Arunachal and later in Manipur has set the stage for further consolidation of the party in northeast, he says.
There is no doubt that the BJP strategy to woo Congress and TMC leaders and make them join one after another in quick succession has added to the BJP clout in Tripura. Another smart addition took place very recently when six Trinamool MLAs joined the BJP and in the Barjala by-election the BJP emerged as number two. And after that, former chairman of TMC’s state unit Ratan Chakraborty along with 400 TMC workers also joined BJP.
At the hotel where I was staying, the mood was rather upbeat about the prospect of BJP forming the next government in the state. The Bengali gentleman who is the hotel’s owner was jubilant that the far-flung state would see whirlwind tours of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP national president Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and other political heavyweights in the weeks to come. He was quite clear that people in the state were waiting for a change. “There’s too much corruption in the Left government despite the fact that Manik Sarkar himself enjoyed a very clean image earlier.” Comparing Manik Sarkar to Manmohan Singh, the hotel owner said, “It’s no use having a personal clean image if you allow rampant corruption to take place right under your nose.” The message is clear. Manik Sarkar’s clean image has lost a lot of its sheen.
There is no doubt that BJP’s confidence to gain Tripura has increased after the formation of governments in Assam, Arunachal and Manipur. With five states already under BJPled governments, the party feels that it’s time for a Congress-mukt northeast as well.
Recently, the BJP national president made another important announcement appointing the Machiavellian Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is also the NEDA convener, as the election incharge for Tripura. Having proved his worth in Manipur where he could cobble up the numbers for a BJP-led government, Sarma’s appointment seems to have been made at just the right time. Sarma would be the new Nirvachan Prabhari and is expected to run a high-decibel aggressive campaign in the coming two months to further shore up the prospects of the BJP in the state.
Quite evidently, Congress’s decline came as a boon for the BJP. However, political pundits feel that the BJP has an advantage in Tripura due to a rudderless Congress there and a strong anti-incumbency working against the Manik Sarkar government. Their advice is that the BJP must up its ante and campaign keeping the regional issues in mind to win the upcoming elections.
Situation in Tripura is now changing fast, and the BJP’s resounding victories in other states will now directly impact the party’s prospects in the ensuing elections there. While people fed up with decades of CPM rule in Tripura were looking for an alternative, the new developments have given the people the final option to oust the Left.
A key BJP strategy in last two months has been to woo the tribal-dominated hilly areas of Tripura. According to the 2001 census, the Reangs and the Chakmas – two of the tribes targeted by the BJP – constitute a population of 1.64 lakh (16.6%) and 61,793 (6.5%) respectively. The total tribal population of tribals is 99.3 lakh and, according to the census, they account for 31% of the state’s total population.
“Our aim is inclusive development and promoting national integration. We are working towards a Congress-mukt northeast,” BJP general secretary Bhupender Yadav said recently.
In a booklet released recently, the CPM alleged that the BJP has grabbed the position of the main opposition in many states without winning a single seat in the polls by simply wooing senior leaders of other parties and getting them to join it.
“They are morally bankrupt as they have merely hijacked leaders from other parties. They have no base of their own. They are using the CBI and Income-Tax department to threaten and blackmail political parties,” Goutam Das, central committee member of the CPM, alleges.
Countering BJP’s allegation Goutam Das asserts that Tripura tops in per capita income in the northeastern region. “Considering that there is no big industry in Tripura, pushing per capita income to the topmost bracket is no small achievement. We have done what BJP state governments across India have failed to do,” he says.
According to Das, BJP’s efforts to woo tribal communities will not yield much result as the Left government has done a lot for the tribals on all fronts as well as in implementing the Forest Rights Act. He also said there are no instances of farmers’ suicide or starvation deaths in Tripura unlike what is happening in BJP-ruled states.
“I want to know how many jobs have been created during the last three years of the Modi regime – what about 44 lakh vacant posts in central government offices? The BJP cannot mislead innocent tribals by mere dressing up of Bharat Mata in tribal costumes,” quips Das.
Quite evidently, BJP is willing to go to any extent to wrest the balance three states in the northeast that are currently not under its control. With Nagaland and Tripura going to the polls now and Meghalaya in the next round, BJP has also toned down its ‘aggressive’ cow politics. The protests from the northeast states that have a large population of beef-eating indigenous people have in fact compelled the party leaders to change their stance on beef.
This leaves little doubt about the BJP’s intention to go to any length to ensure the lotus blooms across the northeast. An old man beckons me saying, “I don’t know if my vote has enough power, but I know that it’s time for a change.”

According to the census, the reAngs And the chAkmAs – two of the tribes tArgeted by bJP – form A PoPulAtion of 1.64 lAkh And 61,793 resPectively