To the surprise of many, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has improved its voteshare drastically in Tripura, registering an increase of over 30 percent in Borjola and a six percent increase in Khowai constituencies, when the two went for Assembly bypolls this week. Though the ruling CPM won both seats, BJP's improved performance is an important development in the state.
The tectonic shift in the voter base in favor of BJP comes at a time when the Narendra Modi government at the Centre is vehemently criticised by the opposition for its currency demonetisation policy.
In the 2013 Assembly elections, BJP had merely managed an average voteshare of 1.87 percent. On the other hand, the CPM bagged 49 seats out of 60 in the state with an average vote share of 48.11 percent in the state. A total of 23,58,492 voters participated in the 2013 elections.
Though the election commission has not uploaded its statistical report on its website following the bypolls, the numbers have already been counted by experts.
As per the draft electoral roll published by the chief election officer in Tripura, there were 38,970 voters in Khowai, of which BJP bagged 2,528 votes. In Barjala a constituency, it BJP bagged 12,395 votes out of 39,154.
The Sentinel, an English daily published from Guwahati, went on to declare BJP as the main anti-Left force in the state.
Interestingly, the CPM's voteshare hasn't shown a declining trend; the BJP's increase in popularity has come at the cost of the Congress and Trinamool. "Khowai is the constituency from where the Left movement originated in Tripura. Borjola is like any other constituency in the state, so the spike was higher here," said Manas Pal, a senior journalist from the state, who went on to attribute the rise in voteshare to the anti-incumbency factor against the Left regime.
"The CPM is ruling the state since 1993. So, anti-incumbency has always been here, despite the undiminished popularity of the chief minister Manik Sarkar," he said.
Pal maintained that the anti-incumbency didn't have any outlet since there was no strong opposition in the state. But by playing a pivot role, by raising the issue of unemployment among the youth, the BJP has done its chances a huge favour.
Furthermore, he said, the demonetisation move, which has caused much mud slinging among political parties, has actually worked in the saffron party's favour in the NorthEastern state. "Voters in Tripura are very politically conscious. During elections here, we normally have over 90 percent turnouts. People have clearly liked the demonetisation policy," Pal said.
The contentious citizenship amendment bill, that proposes granting citizenship to Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh, has also led to the swelling of emotions in favour of the BJP.
"The proposed amendment is likely to have a bigger impact in states like Assam and West Bengal, because of the large number of Hindu migrants there, it's an emotional issue in Tripura. Hence, it has big support," said Biplab Kumar Dey, president of the BJP's state chapter.
Tripura is a Bengali-dominated state with 30 Assembly seats for the general category, 10 reserved for scheduled castes and 20 for scheduled tribes. The two constituencies which witnessed bypolls weren't reserved. The 20 seats reserved for tribals may play a decisive role in determining who forms the next government at the state. The BJP's future in the state, which is heading for elections in 2018, will depend on its strategy for these 20 tribal seats, experts say.