Tripura Assembly Election 2018: Anti-incumbency combined with an aggressive BJP may end Left's long rule

As the election date for the Assembly election in Tripura comes closer, media reports have raised questions as to whether anti-incumbency might finally kick in the state.

FP Politics January 31, 2018 14:20:28 IST
Tripura Assembly Election 2018: Anti-incumbency combined with an aggressive BJP may end Left's long rule

As the 18 February election date for the Assembly election in Tripura comes closer, multiple media reports have pointed to the long tenure the Left Front has enjoyed in the state, and raised questions as to whether anti-incumbency might finally kick in the northeastern state this time. After all, 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.

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 Thus, while it has been credited with reducing militancy and getting the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) withdrawn from the state by investing heavily in a local police force, it has lately come under attack over its stance on the partition of the state.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 tribals, who form one-third of the population.

The party has also ceded political ground to the BJP which recorded wins in the 2017 Assembly byelections and also picked up more than 50 seats in the urban local bodies and panchayats, reported Hindustan Times.

The government has also received a jolt after a Supreme Court order upheld a Tripura High Court verdict terminating the jobs of 10,323 government school teachers, citing irregularities. However, in a fresh order on 14 December, the apex court extended the termination deadline to 30 June, 2018 instead of 31 December, 2017.

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. These areas have traditionally supported the Left, according to DailyO.

Tripura Assembly Election 2018 Antiincumbency combined with an aggressive BJP may end Lefts long rule

File image of Manik Sarkar. PTI

However, the BJP is making inroads in this part of the electorate as it recently announced an alliance with the IPFT. "After a series of discussions, the BJP and the IPFT (NC Debbarma faction) formed an alliance to fight unitedly against the ruling Left," Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, also the BJP in-charge of the Tripura elections, told the media.

According to the deal, the BJP will field candidates in 51 of the 60 seats and the IPFT in nine. "If any leader of other parties is keen to enter this alliance, he or she has to contest on BJP's lotus symbol." On the IPFT's separate state demand, he said the Modi government and a BJP-led government in Tripura — if one is formed — would take steps to develop the socio-economic condition, education, language and culture of the tribals.

According to Scroll, three 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.

For its part, the BJP has been constantly attacking against the CPM with its party president Amit Shah saying said a regime change in Tripura had become inevitable as the incumbent government had failed on many fronts, including combating crimes against women and unemployment.

The BJP has also claimed that the state has not developed at a quick enough pace despite a continuous, stable rule, according to Hindustan Times. It lags behind in several development parameters, such as health facilities and employment. The party's morale will also be buoyed by its membership numbers which have risen from 15,000 before the Lok Sabha election in 2014 to over 2 lakh by the end of 2016. This is an increase of 14 times in three years.

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