The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has outdone its own performance in Tripura by winning 35 seats with an impressive 43 percent vote share. The scale of this improvement in performance becomes clear from the fact that 49 of its 50 candidates had to forfeit their deposits in the last assembly election, and the party had received just 1.54 percent of votes. Its ally, the Indigenous People’s Front Of Tripura (IPFT), too clinched 8 out of the 9 seats it contested this time.
It is true that the BJP had the anti-incumbency factor against the 25-year-rule of the CPM working for it. According to the CSDS-Lokniti election survey in the state, 32 percent voters were ‘fully dissatisfied’ with the Manik Sarkar government, while only 8 percent were ‘fully dissatisfied’ with the Modi government at centre.
That the BJP does deserve credit for its victory becomes clearer when we see that the same survey found that a majority of voters also viewed the last 5 years of the CPM government favourably, except when evaluating it on corruption, rise in prices, and employment. What worked for the BJP is that 41 percent voters chose a party after the campaign started, and nearly two-third of these electors chose the BJP. Here’s what was special about this campaign, which allowed the BJP to breach the red bastion:
Like any electoral victory, this one too was made possible by laying grounds for a strong organisation, which is essential for a strong campaign. The victory in Assam helped. Subal Bhowmick, Vice President of Tripura BJP, told me that the volunteer-strength of the party rose from 10,000 before its victory in Assam to more than 2.5 lakh now due to the the committed grassroots work of the BJP cadre.
The party drew support from workers and leaders of the CPM, the Congress, and Trinamool Congress, who had become disillusioned with their respective parties. Then there were also defectors, whom the BJP effectively wooed .
In organising the party for the election, the BJP focussed on almost each individual booth. “Today, out of 3,214 booths in the state, we have booth committees ready in 3,209 booths. In every booth, there are 15-17 pages of voters, with 60 voters in each page. We have appointed panna pramukhs for each page, whose duty is to knock on each door in a fortnight,” Sunil Deodhar, the party incharge of Tripura, had said before the elections.
Tripura fares well on multiple social and health indicators. That doesn’t, however, mean that the state doesn’t need change. For example, it has the highest unemployment percentage in the country according to an IndiaSpend analysis. The BJP focussed its energy on targeting such failures.
A shortcoming of the Communist government was that they paid no attention to cues of the tribal population of the state. The result has a correlation with that. Over half (55 percent) of the tribal voters chose the BJP-IPFT alliance compared to a third (36 percent) that stuck to the Left. The non-tribal voter was equally divided between this alliance and the Left. The Congress wasn’t apparently an alternative, with a large chunk (83 percent) of its traditional voters shifting to the BJP-IPFT alliance.
Since the grand old party remained inert in the state, BJP took this opportunity by promising infrastructure in tribal areas and proper facilities to the community. It stitched a strategic alliance with the IPFT, a party that demands a separate state for tribals. In keeping a distance from this particular demand, it allayed the fears of the non-tribal population, while allowing the IPFT to win the reserved seats, portraying a dominant Bengali attitude of the Sarkar government.
The failure to implement the 7th pay commission, lack of infrastructure and jobs, and allegations of corruption further hurt the incumbent government. Development, unemployment, and a change in government were among the five top issues that the voters focussed on this election according to the post-poll survey by CSDS. The BJP ensured that it was seen as capable of delivering on those fronts.
So the state government’s inability to pay about 1.5 lakh of government employees according to the norms of the 7th pay commission became a major poll-plank, painting the Left government anti-labour. The party also ensured a probe in the Rose Valley Chit-fund scam in which ministers of Manik Sarkar’s former cabinet are accused.
For a region that is neglected by New Delhi, the BJP has amply made it clear that it is serious about working in the North-East, whatever that might entail. That the party sent a minister every 15 days to the region means that the intent also got communicated to the electorate.
Narendra Modi himself addressed four rallies in the state. UP CM Yogi Adityanath too addressed about half a dozen rallies in the state, eyeing votes of the followers of the Nath sect to which Adityanath belongs.
The elaborate lengths to which the party went can be seen in the fact that Sunil Deodhar, the RSS pracharak being considered the architect of the victory, has been camping in the state since 2014, when he was made BJP-incharge of the state. Earlier that year, he was incharge of Varanasi, from where PM Modi won his Lok Sabha seat.
The party’s move to have leaders like Ram Madhav and Himanta Biswa Sarma dedicated to furthering the party’s reach in the North-East is clearly paying off now.
The author is a part of the Youth Ki Awaaz Writers’ Training Program.