The anti-Left of Tripura and their one-way voting

Two in every five voters call themselves anti-Left, Nine in 10 of them say they voted for BJP-IPFT

Written by Shreyas Sardesai | Updated: March 5, 2018 5:37:15 am
Tripura Assembly Elections, IPFT BJP alliance, Tripura govt, Manik Sarkar, CPM in Tripura, Tripura Left Front, Meghalaya elections, Nagaland elections, Indian Express Tripura BJP chief Biplab Deb after the results were declared in Agartala on Saturday. (Express Photo: Abhisek Saha)

Tripura’s anti-Left voters wanted poriborton at all costs this time and their resolve to see the back of the Left Front government has resulted in an unprecedented success of the BJP-Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) alliance. Those opposed to the Left — mostly tribals and some non-tribals — decisively shifted their allegiance from the old (tried and failed) options of Congress and Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra to the BJP and the IPFT, whom they saw as being best placed to bring an end to the 25-year-long Left rule.

While this is quite apparent from the result itself, a post-poll survey conducted by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) helps make sense of the massive anti-Left consolidation that took place. Nearly two-fifths (38%) of close to 2,000 voters interviewed across the state described themselves as “anti-Left”; and nine of every ten (89%) of them voted for the BJP-IPFT.

Also read | Meghalaya and Nagaland: Behind fractured verdicts, affinity for local candidates rather than parties

During the 2008 election, a similar survey by Lokniti in Tripura had found the proportion of those describing themselves as “anti-Left” at only a little over one-fourth. This is not to say that the old CPM voters did not switch allegiance to the BJP this time around. They certainly did but not to the same extent as the old Congress voters did. In the present survey, four in every five (83%) of traditional Congress voters were found to have voted for the BJP-IPFT as opposed to one in every five (21%) of traditional Left voters. It seems a complete collapse of the state Congress put paid to the Left’s hopes of returning to power for a sixth successive term.

There was a near-unanimous consensus among voters, even those who voted for the CPM, that it was the BJP (together with IPFT) that was the main challenger to the Left parties. The post-poll survey found nearly nine of ten respondents holding this opinion. This strong belief seems to have prevented any division of the anti-incumbency vote. In fact, so strong was the anti-incumbency sentiment that only one in every three voters said they wanted the Manik Sarkar-led government to continue. On the other hand, 45% wanted it voted out with the rest remaining noncommittal.

What’s more, the survey found a far greater proportion of voters to be fully dissatisfied (32%) with the LF government’s performance than fully satisfied (24%) with it. Interestingly, voters made a clear distinction between the last five years of Left Front rule as opposed to its 25-year-long rule. While they rated the latest tenure quite positively on most aspects of governance — healthcare, education, roads, drinking water, electricity supply and the like — they were not as generous when it came to assessing the Left’s 25-year record, particularly on industrialisation and job creation. For a plurality of voters (25%), it was development that was the single most important voting issue; 13% voted for change and 5% said they voted keeping rising unemployment in mind.

Even as the performance of Sarkar’s government received a mixed review, the survey found the Narendra Modi-led Union government rated high among Tripura’s voters. Full satisfaction with its performance was over three times greater than complete dissatisfaction (27% as opposed to 8%). This perhaps partly explains the massive crowds during rallies addressed by the Prime Minister.

The BJP’s high pitched campaign, in fact, seems to have made a huge impact on voters’ minds as well. The survey found that two in every five (41%) voters made their choice after the campaign started, and a whopping two-thirds of them ended up voting for the BJP. On the other hand, among the 55% who said they decided their vote before the campaign, the Left did better than the BJP (54% to 39%).

The BJP’s controversial alliance with the IPFT, an organisation that has been leading a movement demanding a separate state for tribals and had launched a blockade in the state for nearly two weeks last year, seems to have paid rich dividends for it. The alliance won 17 of the 19 tribal seats that went to the polls. The post-election survey found over half (54%) the tribal voters (who have traditionally aligned themselves with the Left) voting for the BJP-IPFT and only a little over one-third (36%) voting for the Left.

The IPFT’s separate state demand, in fact, found high support among tribals. Asked if they supported the separate state demand as opposed to greater autonomy, nearly half the tribals opted for the former whereas a little over one-third said they supported greater autonomy. Non-tribals, as expected, were found completely against the separate state and this perhaps partly explains why many of them (49%) voted for the Left, although not with the same intensity as tribals did for the BJP-IPFT. Other than the emotive separate state issue, the RSS’s activities in tribal areas and a sense of neglect by the Left government may also have played a role in pushing tribals towards the BJP-IPFT. The survey found that among tribals, Christian tribals voted for the BJP-IPFT in a greater proportion than Hindu tribals (64% as opposed to 51%).

There was a clear generational divide in voting trends. Younger voters voted for the BJP-IPFT in far greater numbers than older voters. While the alliance bagged nearly 55% of the votes among voters aged between 18 and 45, it netted about 45% among older voters. For the Left, it was the other way around. Finally, men seem to have played a greater role in bringing about the BJP’s victory than women.

As per the post-poll survey, the BJP-IPFT led the Left parties among male voters by 12 percentage points in terms of votes polled, but quite interestingly trailed the Left among female voters by 2 points. This gender gap is more pronounced among non-tribals than among tribals. However, even among the latter, while tribal women voted for the BJP alliance in greater proportions than for the Left, they did so with a much lower intensity than their male counterparts. Women of Tripura perhaps weren’t as enthused by the prospect of the BJP coming to power as men were.

Thus the victory in Tripura was clearly on account of a strong anti-incumbency sentiment which the BJP capitalised on through an important strategic alliance with the IPFT. This helped the former consolidate the Adivasi vote and the anti-Left vote, and also secure the support of those fatigued by long years of Left rule.

(The author is associated with Lokniti-CSDS)

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