The state of Tripura goes to the polls on Suday. It is probably the only state in India that still suffers from extremely basic issues like 'availability of drinking water' as an election concern even after 70 years of Independence.
The BJP released its manifesto and vision document on 11 February, and it contains drinking water as an issue, along with the development of basic infrastructure, health etc. It is indeed a matter of surprise that the Communist government hasn’t done anything on the human development front, which has yielded the Opposition with electoral questions like these. Especially, when the Communist ideology talks about human development as the primary role of the State and the economy.
Tripura starts to present the basic electoral problems to anyone, from the moment one lands at Agartala Airport. The capital city lacks even elementary infrastructure like proper roads. It takes at least twice the time to travel by road as compared to any other capital city in the country, even the travel from Agartala Airport to the city.
The strategy of the BJP is to seek a mandate for equitable development of the tribals and the Bengalis. The tribals and the other indigenous communities have never been truly given any significant electoral weightage, even when they make up a significant 30 percent of the population. To this end, the BJP has strategically aligned itself with Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), which represents the interests of the tribals. Ram Madhav, the national general secretary of the BJP and the in-charge of the North East region, told Firstpost that the alliance makes perfect sense because the tribals are present in 37 Assembly constituencies and not just the 20 which are reserved for them. Hence, he is confident of securing the majority.
In terms of development, the Communist rule has been marked by 'cadre raj', where the CPM-run government has fundamentally rationed out government benefits through the network of the party cadre. This essentially means that one has to join the party, to even remotely expect any governmental benefit to flow to them.
This provides a very fertile ground for the growth of a party like BJP, where even neutrals will look to support it. Moreover, the CPM is also facing an anti-incumbency of 25 years, which becomes more problematic because these 25 years have seen very little visible development.
The BJP has chosen the obvious slogan of 'chalo paltai', meaning to topple the incumbent, which makes much sense. During the Amit Shah roadshow in Mohanpur near Agartala city, there were people of all age groups coming out in support and in huge numbers. Although these may not be indicative of a definitive BJP victory in the election, it certainly is important in a state like this, where the victory margin hardly exceeds a thousand-odd votes.
A day earlier, when upon entering the BJP election office, there was a vitiated atmosphere, caused by the death of a BJP booth president, who was an auto rickshaw driver by profession and had been missing for a few days. His dead body was found hanging from a tree. Abhorrent incidents like these are quite unimaginable in any other part of the country, except perhaps Kerala. Political violence of this magnitude continues unabated even when the elections are just a week away.
I spoke to a large number of people in and around Agartala, where he BJP is strong, which is reflected by the response of the people. One elderly couple at a popular tea shop in Agartala, told me that the support for CPM was due to the abandonment of Tripura by the Congress, otherwise it would have been difficult for the CPM in 2013 to form the government. In that year, the rallies of former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi were cancelled at the last moment, which made the people feel abandoned. The CPM received the mandate because of the absence of another viable alternative.
It is interesting that BJP, hasn’t had any political standing before this in the state. This is manifest in the fact that the BJP hasn’t had a single MLA in the state in its history.
Even a respectable number, which may even be as little as 10, is a massive achievement for the BJP in the state. Hence, coming to power will be no short of an electoral miracle. The BJP is already the chief Opposition replacing the Congress and the TMC. The popular opinion in the city is that the Congress has a larger number of flags than votes.
Nevertheless, the results will be very interesting to see, irrespective of the outcome.
The author tweets @raghavwrong
Updated Date: Feb 12, 2018 10:11 AM