A little over six months from now, the Left Front will complete a quarter of a century in power in the tiny Northeastern state of Tripura. But if all goes well for the BJP, which has drawn up its own strategy of Operation Red Fort, it could also lead to the end of Left rule in the state. Biplab Deb, president of the Tripura state BJP unit, is working overtime to make that happen, and with senior Assam BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma – who also holds the post of convenor of the saffron party’s North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), one that is mandated to expand the party’s base in the region – making frequent trips to the state, it is for sure that Agartala is emerging as the most exciting venue for politics in the next few months.
The BJP, which had made significant inroads in the state’s panchayats, has also increased its vote-share in significant by-elections to two assembly constituencies – Khowai and Barjala – in November last year. In Khowai, its vote-share rose from 511 in 2013 to 12,395 in 2016. Likewise, in Barjala it went up from 232 to 2528 in a gap of less than four years.
There have been a couple of more indicators in the past two years. Though the Left Front had swept the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council elections in 2015 by winning 28 seats, the BJP came second with five. The BJP has also won four seats each in two municipal councils, and came second in five. It has also made its entry into the tribal area village councils.
And this week, six Trinamool Congress MLAs – those who had deserted Congress over a year ago – have virtually shifted to the BJP. They have made up their minds to support the NDA candidate in the Presidential elections, with the BJP claiming that by July-end they would be formally joining the party. And if that comes through, then the BJP will be making an entry to the state assembly even before the 2018 elections are announced! The TMC, which had started gathering strength at the cost of the Congress, is now facing massive erosion, with its members making an exodus to the BJP.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP’s mission man for the Northeast, may not have exposed his cards. But then he has already stirred up the mood – of party workers as well as voters – by touching two significant segments of the people. One, in his last trip to the state, Sarma has asserted that state government employees in Tripura could not remain deprived of central scales that are at par with Central government employees. Though their salaries were last revised in 2009, over 1.77 lakh state government employees in Tripura are still stuck in the 4th Pay Commission scale, and it was only after Sarma got BJP chief Amit Shah to promise central scale in his trip to the state in May that chief minister Manik Sarkar promptly announced increase in salary and pension.
Sarma and the BJP has also identified women as the second most important segment of voters to catch maximum votes. The party has started harping on the fact that crimes against women in Tripura have increased manifold, with Sarma describing the scenario as worse than that of Bihar. The BJP Mahila Morcha has been already put to work to focus on this issue on a regular basis, so that the message could reach every woman voter in the state.
Though Sarma has not openly admitted, he is also definitely working with the arithmetic of votes as he did in the case of Assam in 2016. The BJP had polled only 5.77 per cent votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Tripura. But with the Congress party’s support-base rapidly eroding, Sarma would expect its 15.38 per cent vote-share also to shift to the BJP. If arithmetic can turn tables, then Sarma must be also looking at the 36.53 per cent vote-share that the Congress had in the 2013 state assembly polls; the gap between the Congress and CPI(M) vote-share in 2013 was less than 12 per cent. Elections, after all, is pure arithmetic, and the BJP, with Sarma at the helm, has already proved it thrice – in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur – in a span of one year.