BJP’s steady increase in popularity in Tripura is no longer a secret. Party leaders have been preparing for the Assembly elections in 2018 by nurturing a tenuous “alliance” of the local tribal parties — Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) and Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT), both of which demand a separate state of Twipraland — while maintaining “strategic ties” with newcomers like Trinamool Congress.
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But with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s increased attacks on the Modi government on demonetisation, party leaders said their strategy is now likely to change.
Till now, the BJP in Tripura had worked towards a “strategic alliance” with Trinamool. A BJP leader said: “We had hoped that Trinamool and BJP could work together to overthrow the corrupt Left rule. But if Trinamool continues with its opposition to the BJP, it would make matters very difficult.”
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“It all depends on Trinamool. There are already a number of issues within their party unit in the state. We feel that before 2018, the party will break up with a number of their workers and leaders joining the BJP,” the leader added.
In the recently concluded bypolls into two Assembly constituencies of Barjala and Khowai, the Left Front won as expected. But the BJP is ecstatic. In what is possibly the BJP’s best performance in the state, party leaders maintained that the party’s improved performance has established that the “alternative to Left” in the state is BJP, not Trinamool.
In the Barjala seat, where the BJP was confident of doing well, the party got 12,395 votes in comparison to Left’s 15,769. BJP spokesperson Mrinal Kanti Deb said, “It is apparent that since 2014, increasingly, BJP has become the obvious opposition to the Left Front government in Tripura. In the last Assembly bypolls, we had done well. But at the time, Trinamool wasn’t in the picture. But here we have established that in the plains, the fight is between Left and BJP. In Khowai, where which we were confident of doing well, our margin is over 50 per cent more than Trinamool’s.” The TMC had managed to get 5,692 votes.
While the victory has emboldened the BJP, it has also reiterated the need for an urgent change in its existing gameplan, as the Left’s hold over the tribal dominated hilly seats is still virtually unchallenged. The BJP had banked on North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), which would include tribal parties such as IPFT and INPT. The demand for a separate Twipraland remains key for IPFT and INPT and BJP has been courting both parties, periodically, in hopes of creating an alliance that would challenge the Left, said sources.
BJP leaders said Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma, who is also the convener of the North-East Democratic Alliance, is likely to hold talks with the two parties for an alliance with the BJP for the 2018 state elections.