The 2018 election season is officially underway in the country after the Election Commission announced the election dates for three northeastern states — Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland — on Thursday. Elections in Tripura will be held on 18 February, while Meghalaya and Nagaland will vote on 27 February.
In the last couple of years, BJP has been trying to gain further ground in the northeastern states. And after its spectacular win in Assam, it has been able to form government in Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. As three more northeastern states go to polls, the party will once again look build on its earlier gains in the region.
Of the three states, the party views Tripura as the big prize. This was acknowledged by BJP general secretary Ram Madhav who told The Indian Express, "The Tripura election will be the battle royale for us in this round of elections." Taking aim at the CPM government in the state, he said, "We firmly believe that Tripura deserves better and needs to throw out this government. That’s why we have given the slogan Chalo, paltai (Come, let us change)."
Tripura has been ruled by the CPM for the last 25 years. The current chief minister Manik Sarkar, has held onto his chair for an impressive 20 years. However, the BJP is now trying to disrupt the Left's influence in the state.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is a heavyweight Assam minister, has been chosen for major responsibilities by the party ahead of the upcoming elections. Sarma is also the chairperson of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA). As Sarma has a strong grip on the volatile politics of the northeast, the BJP has reposed much trust in him.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is also putting in a lot of work in this direction which is seen from the regular visits to the area by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and other office-bearers. The BJP feels that it will succeed in defeating the CPM this time. It is nearly certain that the fight this time will be between the CPM and the BJP.
While the Left government has been credited with reducing militancy and getting the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) withdrawn from the state by investing heavily in a local police force, it has lately come under attack. The tribal-based Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) has repeatedly brought up the demand for a separate state called Tipraland (also spelt Twipraland). 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 tribals, who form one-third of the population.
In July, the IPFT blocked the vital NH8, the state's lifeline, and the lone railway line for more than 10 days to demand a separate homeland, causing an acute shortage of essential items and much hardship to the people. It withdrew the blockade after the Union home ministry agreed to hold discussions to resolve the issue.
The large tribal population has also ensured that a third of Tripura's Assembly is reserved for its tribal population. These areas have traditionally supported the Left party, according to DailyO. To counter this support, the BJP is looking at a a possible alliance with the IPFT. However this alliance causes an ideological dilemma as IPFT's ideological bent might not sit well with BJP's larger plans. However, reports state that the alliance might be imminent.
According to Scroll, two other parties have sought to take advantage of CPM's weakening in the state. However all three seem unlikely to mount a substantial challenge. 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.
Furthermore, the BJP will also look at the Assembly election as a way to gain the two Lok Sabha seats Tripura possesses, Hindustan Times reported. This is relevant because even with the "Modi Wave" in 2014, the Northeast gave the Congress eight Lok Sabha seats while giving none to the BJP. The saffron party is aiming for 20 seats in the 2019 General Election and has worked towards it by forming the North-East Democratic Alliance with regional players as well as getting its tallest leaders to visit the region.
The report also gives another reason for the BJP to invest in Tripura. A defeat to the incumbent government will marginalise the Left nationally. It will also deal a severe blow to the Left's efforts of putting up an opposition to the Narendra Modi government in the 2019 General election.
BJP leaders also feel that success in Tripura would provide huge impetus to its poll preparations in West Bengal.
With inputs from agencies.
Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 13:02 PM