Ending hours of suspense, the BJP has finally decided to name its candidate for the prestigious Agartala seat in Tripura.
In a late evening announcement on January 29, party leader Arun Singh said Ms Papiya Datta, a State Unit General Secretary of BJP, will be the party nominee in this seat, which has been for long a bastion of Congress stalwart Sudip Roy Barman.
It is a different chapter that in 2018, Roy Barman won the seat on the BJP ticket.
Electioneering has picked up slowly in this Northeastern State, which was once a red forte, but the BJP has been in power for the last five years.
The saffron party leaders, including from Centre, have brought in several key infrastructural changes like the new look airport at Agartala and also a number of road projects.
Amid the heat and dust of yet another round of fierce contests, the BJP has an advantage.
Interaction on ground zero suggests that many CPI-M cadres and supporters have decided to shift allegiance to the BJP, and many openly attribute the Congress-Left alliance to the same.
An employee with a private company, Tota Biswas, says, “In 2018 also, such a scenario was seen. When the Sitaram Yechury-Mamata Banerjee axis was worked out during demonetisation in 2016, people decided to support the BJP. The Left has not learned any lesson this time; they tried to work out an alliance with the traditional rival Congress”.
Analysts say the BJP was always ambitious to penetrate Tripura deeper. But the so-called ‘communist orientation of the Bengali middle class’ used to pose a severe challenge. This umbilical cord between Bengalis and the communists was broken in 2018. It only got ‘better’ for the saffron party this year after the Congress and the Left agreed to form the Democratic Secular Front.
“We have been let down again,” says Kutu Debroy, a voter in Kamalpur, where the CPI-M has decided to allot the seat to Congress quota. Debroy, 42, says, “This is a traditional communist seat. The Congress party has no existence, and they just gave away the cakewalk for sitting BJP leader and Minister of Food Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Manoj Kanti Deb”.
In North Tripura, contrary to the common belief from Kamalpur, the Congress has fielded a comparatively “much weaker” candidate Ms Rubi Gope, and she will be no match for Manoj Deb.
Deb, in 2018 had defeated CPI-M nominee Ms Bjoy Laxmi Singha by a margin of 2959 votes. Ms Gope, on the other hand, is a former Gram Pradhan and may only enlist support in her locality.
Meanwhile, Congress stalwart Sudip Roy Barman told ‘Organiser’ – “We are confident of doing well in the polls”.
On the alliance with the Left, he said the Congress is sticking to its decision to field 17 candidates in this year’s polls as against 13 left for the grand old party by the communists.
“We are sincere about the alliance with the Left parties. This was a practical decision, and so we had decided to bury her old competition and formed the alliance— Democratic Secular Front,” he said. However, negotiations are still ongoing to ensure that the partnership forged between the Left and Congress remains intact.
“There were already reports of serious resentment and frustrations among the Congress workers who felt that it would not be possible for them to work together with the CP-M,” says Agartala-based analyst Manas Paul.
In the first list of 48 candidates released on January 28, the BJP named 11 women candidates.
The Lotus party also fielded Union Minister Pratima Bhowmick to contest from Dhanpur.
This segment was a red forte and was represented by Marxist veteran Manik Sarkar. The former Chief Minister Sarkar and a few other senior Leftist legislators have decided to stay away from this year’s polls in Tripura.
According to BJP’s list of candidates, Chief Minister Manik Saha will contest from Town Bordowali in Agartala, while senior leader Rattan Lal Nath will contest from Mohanpur.
From Kailashahar, the BJP nominee will be sitting MLA (and former CPI-M leader) Md Moboshar Ali. The former Marxist joined the BJP on January 27 in Delhi.
In 2018, the BJP achieved a significant milestone in the Christian stronghold and tribal majority Northeast when it stormed to power in Tripura and ousted the Marxists. Nearly 80 per cent of the State’s 3.8 million people in the State are Bengali-speaking Hindus, mainly migrated from earlier East Pakistan and now Bangladesh.
The Lotus poll strategists banked on pressing issues like unemployment, women empowerment and industrialisation to garner support.
“The mandate in Tripura was crucial as it gave a big encouragement for BJP workers across the country and especially in other parts of Northeastern States,” UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had said in 2018 after the election results.
One significant advantage for the BJP this year is that the communists feel marginalised across the State and hence have settled for an alliance with their traditional rivals in the State, the Congress.
The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress tried its luck in last year’s assembly by-polls and Municipal polls but needed help to make a mark. Essentially the State does not have much of a Bengali Muslim population. Hence, West Bengal Chief Minister’s popularity in her State will make little difference in Tripura.