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Tripura Assembly Elections: In run-up to polls, how BJP built its army for battle against Left

Tripura elections: For a year now, BJP has been engaged in the mammoth task of building a cadre-based organisation, brick by brick, to match the CPI(M) and Left Front’s cadre based-army. Over 50,000 BJP and RSS workers have been engaged.

Written by Esha Roy | Agartala (tripura) | Updated: February 11, 2018 6:44 am
BJP campaign for Tripura assembly election BJP’s Tripura prabhari Sunil Deodhar said BJP has been engaged in the mammoth task of building a cadre-based organisation. (File Photo)

The fight for Tripura has been an unprecedented experiment in BJP’s electoral history, say the party’s leaders in Tripura. For a year now, the BJP has been engaged in the mammoth task of building a cadre-based organisation, brick by brick, to match the CPI(M) and Left Front’s cadre based-army. Over 50,000 BJP and RSS workers have been engaged, experts and trainers have been brought in from other parts of the country, and voters aggressively wooed across the length and breadth of the state.

“To win Tripura, and to be able to fight the communists,’’ says BJP’s Tripura prabhari Sunil Deodhar, who has been living in the state for two years now. A year ago, the BJP appointed its new state secretary, Biplab Deb, who is likely to be the party’s chief ministerial candidate in case of a win. “Since Biplab Deb took over, we have been building the organisation from scratch,’’ says Deodhar.

The BJP didn’t have to wait long to grab dissident Congress leaders who had joined the Trinamool Congress and were looking to jump ship once more. But the party had started working much before that.

Also read | Between Left and Right, Congress struggles for space in Tripura

“One of the first things we did was to build morchas — we have a yuva morcha (youth wing), mahila morcha (women’s wing) and morchas for SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities and farmers. These morchas were first set up at the level of mandals, then district, and then at state-level. We have managed to reach the grassroot workers and voters through them,” says Deodhar.

“These were set up in January last year and have become so strong now that as many as 10,000 women from three districts turned up for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in North Tripura recently, which is a huge number for such a small state,’’ he says.

Read | At seat of tribal movement, CPM assesses BJP and itself

After the morchas, the BJP appointed ‘vistaraks’ and ‘panna pramukhs’. The vistarak’s main job was to ensure that there was no infighting in the mandals and among local leaders. “We appointed 60 vistaraks for the 60 assembly constituencies. Unlike the morchas, they do not have to take take part in agitations, meet voters or be a part of the visible work. They have one job alone — to troubleshoot, quell fights between leaders and workers, make sure there is no dissidence and none of the internal trouble surfaces in the public arena. We brought in separate vistaraks for the tea gardens of Tripura — only 36 of the 46 tea gardens are operational. The tea gardens have a specific community of tribals from outside Tripura, so we brought in 36 vistaraks from Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand,’’ he says.

Read | The challenger: In Tripura’s bipolar politics BJP is the new key player

“The vistaraks are young men — all around 25-26 years of age. The idea was to take these young men and send them somewhere unfamiliar, have them handle crisis, and dedicate at least one year of their lives to working for the BJP in these areas. So, someone from Ghazipur would come and live in South Tripura for a year, or someone from South Tripura would be sent to live in North Tripura for a year,’’ says Deodhar.

The panna pramukhs are “page in-charge’’. Each polling booth has a voters’ list which is about 17-18 pages. Each page has a list of 60 voters. “A panna pramukh is someone who looks after the needs of all the 60 voters on his or her list,’’ he says, adding that these are the workers who are directly in touch with voters daily.

“It wasn’t very difficult to woo the Congress voter. For years, the Congress high command has neglected them. In the last elections, the central leaders didn’t even show up in the state. When we started keeping in touch with these families, they were surprised at the attention we were giving them,’’ says Deodhar.

He says the BJP worker has reached out to the CPI(M) voters and many disgruntled CPI(M) workers as well. “I guarantee a 25 per cent cross voting in this election,’’ he says.

Then came the ‘shakti kendra vistaraks’ — a vistarak in charge of every five booths in the state. “There are 3,400 booths in Tripura and 600 shakti kendra vistaraks, many of whom we have brought from Assam. Their job is to make sure that at the local level, the party runs like a well oiled machine. The ideal situation would be to have a shakti kendra vistarak for each and every booth in Tripura, but that is not possible yet,’’ says Deodhar.

While the BJP does not have a trade union of its own, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, affiliated to the RSS, was strengthened in the state and membership increased.

The BJP launched its ambitious online registration of voters. A phone number was advertised and the voter would simply have to give a missed call. The data was collated by the phone company and, from a call centre set up by the party, workers would call them back and register them. The registration grew to over 2 lakh by the time of the elections, claims Deodhar. Alongside the online registration, Deodhar says the ‘train samparak’ idea was launched.

“For one year, our train samparaks would travel on the daily train, for instance, they would board a train going to Dharmanagar at 6 am. They would wear Modi-T-shirts and hand out BJP pamphlets on the train. They would talk to passengers, take down their phone numbers, ask them their problems — from not having piped water to getting a gas cylinder — and pass it on to the mandals and party workers in Agartala.

“It is through the train samparaks that we managed to connect with 40,000 people in Tripura through WhatsApp. In some cases, we were able to help people through these samparaks. In one such case, a 22-year-old youth from Tripura, who was working as a driver in Saudi Arabia, was being tortured by his employer. We immediately tweeted this to Sushma Swaraj, and she had the boy reunited with his family within a week,’’ says Deodhar.

In order to train this army of workers, the BJP held ‘prashikshans’ or training camps. “Many of our workers had joined from the Congress. They had no idea about cadre-based politics. They had no ideology because the Congress has no ideology, so we gave them an ideology — of cultural nationalism, integrated humanism. We would teach them the history of the Jan Sangh. A three-day workshop was conducted at the state level, and we brought in RSS pracharaks and general secretaries (organisation) like V Satish, B L Santosh, Ram Lalji, Ajay Jamwalji and Muralidhar Rao to train them. The youth would live together, eat together. We taught them patriotic songs. The trained youth would then go to districts and train others, who would then go to mandals and train others and so on and so forth,’’ he says.

And then of course there is the social media team, with video editors, graphic designers, cartoonists, young people who speak English, Bengali and Kokborok — some from IIT, others from other premier institutes, who have given a year to work out of the party’s war room in Agartala.

Two weeks ago, another 400 vistaraks were brought in from Assam. “They are working specifically for the run-up to the elections. Looking at social media, helping candidates with their campaigning, giving any assistance that is required. It is not good enough for the BJP to simply make inroads in the state. We want to win at all cost,’’ says Deodhar.

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  1. R
    Feb 11, 2018 at 7:56 pm
    Very informative. Shows the amount of effort BJP makes in every election. Issues raked up by national media houses and discussions on social media are blissfully ignorant about real factors that a common man is affected by.
    1. S
      Feb 11, 2018 at 3:55 pm
      MODI(U)TURN CM Modi: Hum jara Congress ke mahasachib ko puchna chahta hun - desh ki janta ko jabab do, aap ki ish aadhar card ki jojana desh ko lakho crore rupayee dub gaye. PM Modi: Hum sab jante hai je samsad me aadhar act 2016 ab pass ho chuka hai. Ish act ko pass hone ke baad hame subsidy ho ya fuel ho tamam dushri subidhaye ho direct cash transfer ke liye aadhar ke proyog ke subidha ab hame prapto hai. CM Modi: GST kabhi safal nehi ho sakta. PM Modi: GST ek cooperative federalism ki ek nishan hai jo hame hamesha hamesha aur adhik takat le kar chalne degi. CM Modi: Hum hairan hun pradhanmantri keya kar rahe..Sab lok ehan jo chote byapari hai oh to samjhe. Unhone hamare ehan jo Kirane ki byapari hai, chote byapari hai, ish dukaney ko tala laganey ko byabastha kia hai aur bidesiyo ko, FDI ko, hindustan me retail dene ka aaj fsishla kia hai. PM Modi: Bharat me bhi bahut bari matra me bideshi punji ki jarurat hai. Foreign direct investment ki abasyakta hai.
      1. Ravindra Mallya
        Feb 12, 2018 at 8:32 pm
      2. Mayur Panghaal
        Feb 11, 2018 at 2:24 pm
        Where is the money for all this coming from is anybody's guess.Rest is a jumla
        1. Kay Bsoln
          Feb 11, 2018 at 5:50 pm
          from the same bank from which CPI(M) cadres are withdrawing money.
        2. A
          Feb 11, 2018 at 1:05 pm
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          1. Bhadrapati Devi
            Feb 11, 2018 at 10:07 am
            War on poverty in Tripura will be over if BJP win election. CPM keeps Tripura under the prison house of poverty and underdevelopment just to get vote from poor voters.
            1. A
              Feb 11, 2018 at 11:25 am
              If seems you are not aware of Cur ranking of India in international levels. May be you also forgot the promises of BJP it's present status like 15 lacs in Bank amount , Black money return, 2 crore s . You may find out how many s are actually gone . You need too learn the facts before comments . You can also have a idea of make in India in studying the Bullet train Rafal deals. In terms of Tripura : So much money flows in a small state like Tripura is not good for democracy . Election is a important aspect of democracy but win by any means of money power is not appreciated in media also. Election commission is more spectetor now's a days - I want to say failed miserably . That's reflect in international democracy that we are even lower than any small African countries.
              1. Kay Bsoln
                Feb 11, 2018 at 5:51 pm
                In International levels India stature has increased only. Were you dreaming India was in the first rank in all before BJP came to power. LOL
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