By Tapas Dey | February 20, 2018
Setting at rest all speculations, fear and restiveness the election to the sixty member Tripura assembly came off on February 18 as per schedule announced much earlier by the election commission. The most prominent feature of the election was the gross mismanagement in holding it as votes in many polling stations had to wait 6/7 hours before pressing the buttons on EVMs. What this proved was the lack of care and training on the part of poll officials and mishandling of EVMs by untrained or poorly trained poling personnel. This suffering of the voters was avoidable and except in states where people live by politics and elections this could have caused serious problems , making a mockery of the sanctity of the poll process. A fodder for thought and decision by the election commission !
Now begin the long wait for the outcome of the election on March 3 when the EVMs will be opened for counting of votes. What the locked up EVMs contain will remain a secret till March 3, calculations are on in full swing to forecast or predict the likely outcome. While this is a hazardous job this time , an attempt at analyzing the context of the election and the issues spawned by it can be made. In many ways the just-concluded election can be compared with the pre-assembly poll scenario in 1978 when the left front had made its debut in state power ,taking advantage of the confusion in opposition ranks and fragmentation of Congress votes into shares for then CFD and newly formed Janata Party. In the Loksabha polls of March 1977 Congress had won the East Tripura (ST) seat and narrowly lost the West Tripura seat but a chain of events beginning with the fall of the Congress government headed by late chief minister Sukhamay Sengupta because of defection and resultant confusion worsened by anti-incumbency had finally led to the left front victory in polls held on December 31 1977. The Congress vote shared by CFD and Janata Party but all three parties failed to open account though the TUJS had won four seats. There is another point of similarity with the 1988 assembly polls in terms of anti-incumbency , caused then by militant violence of TNV and this time by the ruling left front’s 25 yearold stint in power and obvious failure on multiple fronts.
But this time the new factor is BJP which , quite unlike Congress, is an organized political force which attachés considerable importance to its ‘Hindutwa’ ideology. Since the BJP led NDA under the leadership of Narendra Modi had assumed power in Delhi in 2014, the BJP’s countrywide growth has been truly spectacular with as many as 19 states already under the party’s rule . In Tripura the BJP had a token presence only as the party had secured barely 2% votes in the assembly polls of 2013 but in the post-Loksabha polls of 2014 the party’s growth has been phenomenal mainly because of the comprehensive failure of the Congress to perform its role as opposition and the bankruptcy of the leadership. A series of events other than BJP’s emergence in power in Centre had facilitated the party’s rise and growth in Tripura. The replacement of late aged and ailing Sudheendra Dasgupta as state BJP president by young Biplab Deb, posting of Sunil Deodhar of RSS as ‘Pravari’ in early 2016 and subsequent BJP victory in Assam and capture of power in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh had given a new impetus to the BJP. Apart from this, the party leadership and cadre had worked tirelessly boosting up the anti-incumbency against the ruling left front , capitalizing on the follies and foibles of the complacent left.
Even though the left front had won 50 seats in the 2013 assembly polls with a share of 52% plus,the leadership failed to see through the effects a series of decisions on the part of the state government would have on the electorate. Among many unpopular decisions, the gross deprivation of employees and pensioners, discrimination in giving due benefits to the poor rural and hilly masses, heavy job loss due to court intervention and corruption in the leadership and even in the cadre base down the line worsened the situation . Needless to say, the BJP gleefully lapped up the opportunity and improved its chances by allying with the aggressive IPFT.
What the left front leadership forgot was the stark fact that the 2013 assembly poll verdict did not truly reflect the realities of situation at the grassroot level and the groundswell of discontent among the people. Out of the 50 seats captured by the left front in 2013, more than twenty had been won by slender margins of between 1500-500 votes . This reality, worsened by heavy anti-incumbency and BJP’s long and still-growing strength , worked in favour of BJP and , despite the Congress’s presence in the poll arena , the party is likely to break new grounds in Tripura. Apart from this, the left front’s entire campaign was on a negative plank packed with traditional tirade against Centre and Modi but , at the same time, BJP made specific and concrete promises to the electorate some of which including the announcement on giving smart mobiles to the entire youth force look populist. But the voters accepted this , going by the reaction the promises evoked. After long four decades except a brief interregnum of five years of Congress-TUJS rule (1988-1993) Tripura seems to be in for a political change with expected exit of the left front from state power.
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