Manik Sarkar, who has been the virtually unchallenged Left front chief minister of Tripura since 1998, is a worried man. He refused to campaign for the Left-Congress ‘alliance’ in West Bengal and he has repeatedly warned of the RSS’s increasing importance in the state. The new challenge facing him, however comes from another direction: Mamata Banerjee, described by the opposition in Tripura as the “only antidote” to the Left.
After her landslide victory in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee is working steadily to expand her party’s influence in the North East, with Tripura the prime target — the Bengali population forms the largest ethno-linguistic group in the state with about 67 percent of the population.
Immediately after her swearing-in, Banerjee met a delegation of rebel Congress leaders from Tripura, led by Sudip Roy Barman who resigned from the Congress Legislative Party in Triprua after the electoral tie-up with the Left Front was announced. Since then many Congress workers have followed suit.
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Banerjee, who has long held pan-India political ambitions, is looking to capitalize on the relative decline of Congress strongholds in the north-east. While the BJP is looking towards Manipur after successfully pulling of a victory in Assam, Banerjee hopes that with a win in Tripura she will also be able to expand her party’s base in the region.
A weakening of the Congress should ideally suit the Left in the state but party officials said that the damage done to the party’s organisation in the state ran deeper. “The problem isn’t simply that of the Congress weakening. The Congress is our traditional enemy and they have lost the credibility they once had. But by tying up with them in Bengal, the Left cadre is unsettled. It makes us appear weak and while the organisation might have deemed this necessary in Bengal, the experiment has failed and the Left has been the ultimate loser,” said a senior Left Front leader from Tripura.
Sources maintain that during the Politburo meeting, Sarkar was one of the strongest voices against the `alliance’, arguing that the WB unit had transgressed the political-tactical line. Ultimately, the meeting concluded that the electoral pact between the CPM-led Left Front and the Congress in West Bengal was not in consonance with the party line.
But for Sarkar’s Left Front, the damage might already have been done as the Trinamool Congress is now in contention. As one CPM leader put it, “If there’s one thing that Banerjee knows how to do, it’s opposition politics.
She has always been a street fighter and the Left in Tripura has reason to be worried.”
Assembly election in 2018 are still a long way off. The Trinamool Congress’s strategy in the state is likely to be similar to the line they took in West Bengal – relentless opposition, continued dharnas and protests and looking to capitalize on the discontent of the people. For the Left in the state, the challenge will be to recover from the Left-Congress alliance in West Bengal.