With just a few days to go for the key polls, ruling Left Front, BJP, Congress is busy in formulating the final strategy. Tripura has been ruled by the Left Front since 1978 with only a five-year break in between 1988 and 1993 (when a Congress-led coalition ruled). The incumbent Chief Minister Manik Sarkar has been in power since 1998, making him one of the longest-serving state chiefs in the country. Sarkar’s government scripted what has been called one of the rare success stories of insurgency in the North East.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Indian National Congress (INC) are the main political parties in the state. The last Tripura election for the Legislative assembly of the state was in Feb 2013. The CPI (M) had won 49 out of the 60 assembly seats. The CPI won only 1 seat while the INC won 10 seats in the election. According to official sources, a total of 320 nominations from different political parties and independent candidates have been filed for the Assembly elections in Tripura,
After having been the main opposition party for 25 years and in power twice in Tripura, ahead of the assembly elections, the Congress party finds itself in rush to patch together alliances and retain its declining support base, even as the BJP looms large on the horizon. In India’s 65-year electoral history, the country’s dominant Left party, the CPM, has never been in direct confrontation with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with such ferocity as it is now in a northeastern state. The BJP, with its aggressive entry into the state’s politics this year, is seen as posing a threat to the ruling Left Front in Tripura. The Congress, on the other hand, is in a state of dismay, troubled by infighting and resentment against the party leadership.
Political developments in Tripura however, have set the stage for a face-to-face battle in the Assembly poll as the saffron outfit has emerged as the key opposition party in this Communist-ruled state. Hundreds of Congress workers have joined the BJP in the past two years. The BJP has also embraced several leaders and activists from different extremist tribal outfits that keep appearing, merging, splitting and disappearing in Tripura. BJP has recently formed an alliance with Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), an anti-Left party that had been demanding a separate state for the tribal population. The strength of the state assembly is 60 members and the BJP is going to contest on 51 seats. The Party has reportedly kept nine seats for its alliance partner, Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura. Left Front has enjoyed in the state, and raised questions as to whether anti-incumbency might finally kick in the northeastern state this time.
As with most long-serving governments, the Left government in Tripura has seen good days and bad. Thus, while it has been credited with reducing militancy and getting the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) withdrawn from the state by investing heavily in a local police force, it has lately come under attack over its stance on the partition of the state. The movement for a separate state called Tipraland (also spelt Twipraland) has been led by the tribal-based Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT). The party has demanded that a separate state be carved out for the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) areas, which constitute two-third of the state territory and is the home to the tribal, who form one-third of the population.
The tribal and non-tribal population have been at odds with each other in the state and the ethnic tension along with a demand for autonomy of tribal regions have been deciding factors in the political history of Tripura since the 1940s. Partition and Bangladesh’s independence led to the migration of a large number of displaced persons into the state. The large tribal population has also ensured that a third of Tripura’s Assembly is reserved for its tribal population.
Congress is facing a few issues in the state. The Congress had won 10 seats in the last election but has lost ground after tying up with the Left in West Bengal. The Trinamool Congress has showed eagerness to expand to Tripura but has suffered heavily from defections of top leaders. This leaves the BJP to take the challenge to the Left as it has made steady gains in vote share in the state’s elections. According to sources the Congress’s decision to go soft on the Left Front over the past decade has led to a sense of disappointment among party leaders and workers in Tripura, where the Communists are still their main rival. The BJP did not win any seat in the last state assembly polls but emerged as the main challenger to the ruling CPI(M). Tripura will go to the polls on 18 February and the results will be declared on March 3 along with Nagaland and Meghalaya.