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Tripura Assembly polls: BJP exploits lack of clear Opposition, emerges as voters' choice

In India’s democratic history, the election in Tripura is unprecedented in every sense of the term. It was the first direct contest between the ideological Left and Right in India.

The BJP’s win is momentous in its own right. It had a vote percentage of just 1.5 percent, in the previous elections, with most of its candidates losing their deposits then. To rise from there, to a vote share of around 50 percent, along with its coalition partner IPFT, is something which is perhaps totally unprecedented.

The BJP was able to do this due to a well-crafted election campaign and an effective strategy against the Left, in addition to the charisma of its national leadership.

The primary challenge for the BJP was to present itself to the electorate as a viable alternative to the Left. The fact is that there was no opposition to the Left Government for the past 24 years. The Congress central leadership perhaps was comfortable in sacrificing Tripura, in return of support of Communists in the UPA I and otherwise in the academia. A lot of BJP cadres told me in person that they had in fact defected from the Congress in 2013 to the BJP, when the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh along with the then Congress President, Sonia Gandhi, had cancelled their rallies in the state in the 2013 election campaign. The Congress’ entire state unit was practically abandoned by the central leadership.

Therefore, it is unfair to say that the communists were enjoying the support of the people for the last two decades or so, and hence were in power. The electorate voted the communists to power because it had no other choice. This was the window of opportunity which the BJP, with its election winning machinery, could effectively exploit.

BJP leaders celebrating in Tripura. Twitter/@RajatSethi86

BJP leaders celebrating in Tripura. Twitter/@RajatSethi86

As is the norm in setting up a political organisation in a new territory, it starts with effective booth level work. The strategy of booth level mobilisation and development of subsequent hierarchical organisational structure seems to have worked quite well for the BJP. The BJP built upon the organisational edifice of the RSS, which had been working in the region for the past few decades. It must be borne in mind that the RSS doesn’t work politically but socially. The social capital hence cultivated by the RSS was used by the BJP for its political advantage, especially in terms of organisational backing.

The BJP also deployed its most successful general secretary, Ram Madhav, to handle not just Tripura but the whole of the North East. He is known to be an out-of-the-box thinker and could broker alliances and agreements with politically relevant entities which were traditionally, and sometimes even ideologically beyond BJP’s reach.

The alliance of the BJP with Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) was a masterstroke. It seems that a large number of indigenous people of Tripura shifted their loyalties with the party because of this. At the time of writing, the IPFT was leading on 4 seats and had won 4 seats out of the total 9 seats it contested on. In other seats too this alliance therefore must have played a role in favour of the BJP.

The Left on the other hand, had shown its desperation even during the campaign. Eleven of the BJP’s party workers were murdered during the past few months of the campaign in the state. This is one of the primary strategies of the Left parties, whereby they aim to scare the voters of their political opponents from even turning up on election day.

It is important to stress that the Left motivated by the Communist thought, in its original form, doesn’t even believe in the democratic political system. Hence, the use of such methods, for political aims, is not entirely a surprise. Moreover, in the week preceding the voting day, several BJP candidates were attacked in an organised manner across the state and on the same day, conveying a clear message, that even the candidates are not safe. The motive was obviously to scare the party workers and the electorate.

With its decisive defeat in these elections, it can safely be concluded that the Left is rapidly losing its significance in the Indian society and polity, in line with the global trend. It needs to make suitable changes in its thought to make it workable with democracy or face an imminent extinction.

Raghav Pandey is a Senior Research Fellow with the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Bombay, Mumbai. He can be reached at raghav10089@gmail.com, Twitter: @raghavwrong

Follow live updates on the Tripura election results here.


Updated Date: Mar 03, 2018 17:32 PM

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